I usually defer things like financial planning to my husband. He’s always been the “finance guy.” I tend to avoid anything to do with numbers because I’ve always found it intimidating. I scored a very sad 33% in high school math and, although I take charge in all other aspects of my life, when it comes to numbers and money I tend to squirm away.
But when I met with a financial advisor, I left thinking, “I can’t believe I waited so long to do this!” I found it incredibly empowering and the professional insight, information and clarity I came away with boosted my confidence level when it comes to managing my money.
So what should you prepare when meeting with a financial advisor for the first time?
I met up with advisor Stephanie Vaarsi1 from Sun Life Financial in Toronto. She says, “You should have your goals sorted out. What are your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals? Do you know if you’re having kids? Do you need to buy a house? Do you want an emergency fund? What’s important to you?”
The next things to prepare are your financial statements. Vaarsi suggests you look for “group benefits, mutual funds, TFSA or RRSP statements that you have, insurance policies, debt, assets, mortgages, what your monthly payments are -- the more information you can bring to a meeting, the better.”
The first meeting is usually a discovery session, so your advisor can learn about your personal goals. It takes about an hour. After that, you may be assigned some homework and asked to find any additional financial documents for your follow-up meeting, usually about a month out. This will help your advisor make the best, customized suggestions for you.
The second meeting is normally where your advisor will present a report to you with recommendations. Vaarsi shares her method: “My philosophy is to enlighten and educate clients so they understand where they are and where they want to be and if they have the information and the solutions they need to get there.”
After their second meeting, some people are ready to start picking out their products, Vaarsi says. Others need to digest all the information presented to them and will want to set up a third meeting to discuss implementing her suggestions.
So what should people in their late 20s or early 30s do to take control of their finances?
For someone like me who doesn’t know where to start, Vaarsi suggests making a financial plan. You don’t need to wait to have money to start this plan, she explains. “You need a financial plan before you have money, or even when your income is low, or even when you think you can’t take action. Where you start really depends on what your financial goals are.”
What about the fees?
Vaarsi often sells no-load mutual funds -- which means there’s generally no commission or sales charge paid by you when you buy or sell the mutual funds. There is a management expense ratio (MER) fee, however, which can typically range from 1.8% to 3% per year, and that’s paid to the company managing the mutual fund. The MER may also include a trailing commission, which is paid to the dealer and is meant to cover the cost of advice to the client. A portion of the trailing commission is paid by the dealer to the financial advisor. A financial advisor such as Vaarsi generally earns 1% of the value of your portfolio per year, paid monthly for her services.
Vaarsi also points out that newlyweds should not be afraid to interview different advisors to find one that jibes with both of them. It’s important to be on the same page as your partner, because money can be a big stressor when you’re first starting out.
1 Stephanie Vaarsi*, CLU®, Sun Life Financial advisor
* Mutual funds offered by Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc.
Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is a member of the Sun Life Financial group of companies.