The trials that forge close client relationships

A long-time financial advisor speaks about the tight bonds that form as she stands in her clients' corner

The trials that forge close client relationships

Melanie Adams clearly remembers her fateful decision to accept a full-time financial advising job. She had been working part-time at a bank in Toronto while going to university, which was supposed to put her on the path to becoming a teacher or a doctor.

“I was completing financial courses at the same time as my university courses, and I was doing pretty well at the job,” explained Adams, Sun Life Financial advisor and CLU at Adams and Associates Financial Solutions in Barrie. “I liked the work I was doing, I saw a lot of opportunity for movement in branch banking at the time, and I felt like I needed a break from school after four years of tertiary education. So I accepted, thinking I could always go back to do my post-grad if I became unhappy.”

That never happened. Instead, she managed to extend her banking career to nine years, after which she set out on her own and began her longstanding partnership with Sun Life. Today, her book of business is largely composed of people who are 40 years old and above — business owners, professionals, and couples — and starting to think more about planning issues. That includes preparing for their kids’ post-secondary education, making sure they’re putting their resources in the right place during those key income-earning years, planning for the unexpected, and planning for their retirement.

“I strongly believe in taking clients through a goal-based planning process, looking at their insurance, investments, estate planning, and other aspects that relate to their financial future,” she said. “I don’t focus on any specific area; I just try to look at how each area affects the others and make sure they have a plan that considers all facets as a whole.”

Adams has found that her holistic approach to financial planning works best with those who are very engaged. Her ideal client is someone who wants to come in and meet with her team, review their investment and insurance portfolios together, and collaborate closely to establish the most tax-efficient and time-efficient path toward their financial goals, and she makes that clear with every prospective client that walks into her firm.

 “When we bring in a new client, we discuss how we work, the type of work we do, how we’re paid, and what everyone’s expectations are so that we’re able to give the best service and advice we can,” she said. “And they understand that we’re looking for a mutually good fit, because we always hope it will be a long and positive relationship.”

Having a positive relationship is crucial especially as they assist clients through difficult transitions. When it comes to career change, clients need to be aware of the impact a pay change or change in business will have on their financial situation, goals, and timelines, as well as the safety nets they’ll need to prepare. As for unexpected deaths and illnesses, Adams and her team work to make the claims application and approval process as seamless as possible for clients who have insurance policies with them.

“In those cases, we want to make sure that they don’t feel stressed about their finances, because that’s why they bought insurance to begin with,” she emphasized. “It is important for clients to review their plans and goals when they receive an insurance pay-out or an inheritance. Making the right choices can make a huge impact on their financial security for a lifetime. They don’t have to make quick decisions; they can step back and take their time, and we’ll be there when they’re ready.”

She also recognizes the particular care that female clients need during times of crisis. Whether they’re current clients or new ones, she has helped women who faced unexpected illness, death, and marital breakdowns, which forced many of them into roles for which they were sorely unprepared.

“We’ve had many female clients who were managing the budget and the day-to-day money matters, but weren’t necessarily involved in the majority of the planning and investing,” she said. “As a woman and not wanting to be in that position myself, I want to ensure they can stand on their own two feet and not be in a position where they’ve never written a cheque. We can help walk them through the planning and decision process and build that confidence.”

Over time, helping people create financial plans has let Adams earn her clients’ trust, learn about their lives, and share their joy at every milestone achieved. But because insurance plays a key role in her holistic practice as well, she has also helped them through events that test people’s spirits and form strong bonds.

“I’ve had people fight, walk out of the office, cry — and we’ve cried with them,” she said. “As professionals, we try to act as a neutral party. But being that involved with their lives and seeing them through all those changes and milestones, you can’t help but share a few tears and a lot of laughs.”