An industry veteran’s long-term perspective played an important role in his multi-generational practice
After graduating from high school at age 18, Jeffrey Wilson was taking a year off for some much-needed soul-searching before going to university. He had a full-time job and was considering whether he should take a business course, or choose political science and become a lawyer.
He was also investing on his own at the time, and a decision to approach financial advisors with questions led to a life-changing invitation. “They said I had a keen interest for my age and asked if I’d thought about entering the industry,” he said. “That led to an introduction, then on to licensing and training.”
His career gathered momentum from there. Over three decades, he found himself working with young families that had kids, as well as older individuals with children and grandchildren. As he laid out plans and guided them through the milestones of their lives, his practice naturally grew to accommodate the different generations.
“I’ve learned that to last in this business, you can’t just think about the person in front of you right now,” said Wilson, a Sun Life financial advisor who also holds Elder Planning Counselor (EPC) and Certified Health Specialist (CHS) designations. “You have to consider what happens as they go from being young parents to retirement. At that point, you realize how beneficial it is to establish a relationship with the next generation of clients.”
Like many advisors, he started out assuming that a solid relationship with his clients would guarantee future business with their children and grandchildren. But firsthand experience and professional conferences have taught him that the transition often isn’t that simple.
“Part of it comes down to generation gaps,” he explained. “The style and fashion of doing business will differ from one generation to the next, even within the same family. For instance, millennials nowadays will not pick up if you try to phone them from the get-go; to them, that’s an interruption. But if you text and say you need to speak with them, they’ll text and then call you back.”
He has also learned the importance of engaging the younger generation early on. When his clients bring their teenage children along on a planning meeting, he invites them to sit down and listen in. Even if they don’t understand everything, they pick up enough to develop the right financial habits early when they embark on their own journeys.
“And you can’t assume that financial needs will be the same across generations,” he added. “Even within the same family tree, everyone has different challenges to contend with from work, colleagues, as well as other fronts. So a cookie-cutter approach definitely won’t be sustainable in an inter-generational practice.”
Wilson said doing the right thing for the client for the right reason — thinking about their problems globally and from a long-term perspective — has been a major part of his success. By prioritizing his clients above all other parties, he has cultivated an upstanding reputation and tremendous goodwill.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, however. Some clients want to achieve a set rate of return, but it might require them to go outside their ideal risk profile; in that case, Wilson said, it falls on the advisor to give their best recommendation based on the know-your-client information available as well as other factors that could affect their long-term outlook.
“At the end of the day, the final decision rests with them,” he said. “We just have to do our best to ensure it’s based on facts and not feelings. Some may insist on something that you’re not prepared to do for them as a professional; in that case, be prepared to lose their business. But I find that most clients end up making the right decision.
“And there are lots of times where I’ve sat with clients and the best advice was to stay with their current pension plans, which means I didn’t make any money at that point,” he continued. “But down the line, maybe when they retire and need someone to manage their portfolio, I believe that decision to do the right thing will come full circle.”
That long-term mindset lies at the heart of Wilson’s working philosophy. Whether it’s for his clients or for his practice, he has always balanced his attention holistically between the present and the future — and it’s something he believes all advisors should do.
“There are times when you work in the business, and there are times when you work on the business,” he said. “If you’re not thinking about how you can sustain your business and maintain your professional status, you need to start. Some people may believe hard work is enough, but it can actually only go so far.”