Financial planning is serious business. Well, usually.
By day, certified financial planner Jeanette Brox works as a senior financial consultant with Investors Group Inc. (IG) in Toronto, carefully considering the investment and financial planning needs of her clients. Whether Brox recommends mutual funds, life insurance or disability or critical illness insurance, she has devoted her 21-year career to caring for her clients, many of whom have been with Brox from the start.
But in the evening or on weekends, you might spot Brox making her way onto the stage for an open mike night at a comedy club, where she transforms the serious side of financial planning into tongue-in-cheek comedy.
Brox offers a few samples:
“Some people are counting on a magical inheritance to help them with their retirement. Kind of a bummer, considering their parents are doing something so selfish as live.”
Or: “I know a neurosurgeon who makes half a million dollars a year, but can’t figure out why he only has $3.92 to his name. I told him to look to his six ex-wives and 10 kids.”
To Brox, comedy is a way of helping her unwind and taking some of the pressure off dealing with the sombreness of real-life financial planning situations, such as the problems faced by delaying saving or indebtedness.
“Every single day of my life,” Brox says, “I am very serious and deal with serious matters. Looking after people’s financial well-being is a serious job. So, comedy is really my outlet.”
As is the case with many advisors, Brox didn’t start out in financial planning. Born and raised in Waterloo, Ont., she moved to Toronto and attended York University, where she earned a business degree, then studied accounting as an avenue to get into management.
Brox worked as an accountant with a couple of small businesses before moving to the telecommunications industry and taking a sales position with Motorola Cellular Canada, quickly becoming the company’s top rep. She was promoted to management and aided dealers in setting up their stores. When the dealers learned of Brox’s background, they came to her for accounting and business advice.
“My uncle,” Brox says, “whom I considered a mentor, told me that when I was finished with all this, I should get involved in financial planning because I was good with numbers and also very good with people.”
In 1991, Brox took his advice, turning over a new leaf and becoming an advisor with IG. “It seemed to me,” she says, “to be a natural transition.”
Since then, Brox has concentrated on two target markets. The first is women – women, like herself, in management positions, earning decent money and in need of financial advice.
“I find most women like to talk to other women about their finances,” Brox says. “But, more important, an increasing number of women find themselves becoming the breadwinner, either by choice or by circumstance. I perceived giving them advice as a more equal opportunity.”
The second market involves the preservation and transfer of intergenerational wealth. Brox noticed at her own family get-togethers that talk often centred on financial issues, such as the quickest way to pay down a mortgage, how to pay for a child’s education or long-term planning. The chats piqued an interest in helping families manage the intergenerational wealth transfer.
“I thought, very quickly in my career,” Brox says, “that I would like to home in on some area of expertise – working with women, yes, but not at the exclusion of families.”
When Brox meets a new client or client couple, often first-time investors, she creates a family tree that includes the client’s extended family members who may be interested in financial advice but don’t know where to start.
“So, I tell my clients,” says Brox, “that I am in the practice of helping people build and preserve their wealth.” This strategy, she adds, has proven to be “absolutely amazing” at generating referrals.
Brox has had young couples refer her to their parents. Or, if she starts with the parents, they refer her to their children. When a child grows up and gets married, there is a domino effect of referrals: first, the fiancé is invited to meet with her, then the fiancé’s parents – and so on.
Brox likes to meet with a client’s children for a few minutes when meeting with the parents to give the next generation an idea of how the flow of money toward savings works. When clients’ children receive RESP money as a gift, the child will have the honour of handing it over to Brox to deposit in the fund.
“The parents will call me and tell their child that ‘the Money Lady’ is coming over,” Brox says. “I bring cookies. I see money as a family matter.”
Brox now manages about $50 million in client assets and has a client base of about 300 families.
While the financial services industry is changing, Brox says, good financial planning will always be needed because of uncertain markets and the often difficult situations that inevitably occur in everyone’s life.
“There are new norms appearing,” Brox says, “and we can’t take a “rear-view mirror’ approach. Every generation brings with it some new challenges, and [financial planners] will always be needed. Our role in the future, though, will require more creative thinking.”
Brox gives the example of a couple whose marriage fails and a provision is put in the separation agreement that if the main supporter dies, there will be a payout to the surviving spouse via a life insurance policy. But Brox is concerned that little thought is being given to what happens if the main supporter becomes disabled: “I’ve seen maybe one separation agreement in which disability insurance was made a provision. I find that very alarming.”
Brox cites recent statistics that reveal that the average length of a disability that lasts more than 90 days is 2.9 years. And the chances of becoming disabled for 90 days or longer at least once prior to age 65 are one in three.
In addition to Brox’s amateur standup shtick, she also is a mentor for Youth in Motion, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that helps young, at-risk women overcome a range of employment barriers in the labour market. As a mentor, Brox, who is married, provides one-on-one guidance to a young woman to help her set achievable career objectives.
“A desire to help people”
Jeanette Brox, a senior financial consultant with Investors Group Inc. in Toronto, has built a successful practice by specializing in women’s and family issues.
She offers the following tips on building a financial advisory practice:
– Relate to your clients. Being a financial advisor, Brox says, means you are in the “human relations” business.
“You have to learn how to create and develop long-term relationships,” Brox says. “You have to have a desire to help people. That may sound Pollyanna-ish, but I think that’s how I have been able to sustain 21 years in the business.”
– Get certified. Says Brox: “For people already in the business, I always say: ‘You have to become a good professional, study hard, keep abreast of the economy and the markets. Above all, get your certified financial planner designation because it’s the gold standard of financial planning.”
– Position yourself as an expert in a specialty. Focus on a specific market and area of advice in which you are going to shine.
– Market yourself. Take advantage of technology, including social media. Brox has her own website (www.jeanettebrox.com). And she offers financial planning tips on YouTube.
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