People are People

contributed by Virginia Dhondt, CFP® (US & Canada)

stopI feel a little like Andy Rooney today. As I recall, he “complained” about many topics. Currently, I find myself complaining about generalizations. I recently attended a conference for financial planners where session topics included women and Gen Y; during conversations I was, of course, asked about working with Canadians.

Women are not a niche market. Just a few years ago, my grandma was telling me about an appointment she had with a doctor. The doctor didn’t speak to her one single time. He spoke to my grandpa during the entire appointment. Yes, this occurred in this century!

More than half of the US and Canadian populations are women. In both the US and Canada, the vast majority of women are involved in the household financial decisions. A 2012 BMO study found 82% of Canadian women are either the primary decision maker or have equal responsibility for household financial decisions.

Women are more educated today than ever. But somehow, overall, we still aren’t “reaching the top rungs of corporate leadership” with women holding only 16.9% of directors positions on boards in the US and 13.1% in Canada.

I appreciate the growing awareness that women make a lot of the financial decisions in households, that women and men may have different communication styles and needs, and even that there may be some different planning issues. However, women are not a “niche market.”

Planning issues that may need to be addressed when working with women, such as longer life expectancy and smaller pension benefits, are not specific to women, just as investing is not specific to men. Men are increasingly staying home with their young children, losing several years of earnings; of course, some men live longer than women. Generalizations about any of these issues are going to continue to miss the individual’s unique situation.

Generational differences are overrated. In addition to discussing the target market of women, there were several sessions discussing marketing to or employing members of Gen Y. For the record, my husband and I are not members of Gen Y.

During these sessions, I heard that Gen Y:

  • Is grateful for the ability to work remotely
  • Wants a clear career path
  • Wants access to technology.

Hmmm, maybe I am Gen Y after all.

I am grateful for the ability to work remotely a few days monthly; it saves me about 5 hours of driving time and I am able to work on projects with fewer interruptions.

I have a fulfilling career; I do not believe that a career path is specific to any generation.

I have a smartphone, a laptop, an iPad, and a PC. My husband will rarely do business with a company that has no website or he has to call rather than email.

Of course, when one of the conference sessions discussed how access to technology was so important for Gen Y clients, I understood the implication—they grew up with technology in a different way than we did. But then I thought about a video conference I had the previous week with a client, age 64, and the week prior with another client, age 50. My mother-in-law, who refused to use a computer when she was still working, and another relative who is age 93, both have Facebook accounts now.

You have hockey in Arizona? Yes, we have hockey in the desert. Not all Canadians love hockey; not all Arizonans have never seen a game! We work with Canadians and Americans from coast to coast. Just as I could not describe all Americans in one way, I cannot describe all Canadians in one way. Just as a Texan can be similar to or different from a New Yorker, neighbors and family members can have glaring dissimilarities.

Labels such as business owner, executive, retiree, grandparent, caregiver, can help us identify some of the primary planning needs someone faces.  A dual citizen and a green card holder may have different cross-border planning issues and solutions. Age may indicate a stage of life such as retirement, but we cannot generalize or assume. Some people never retire—think Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen!

For many Canadians who are able to move permanently to the US, the tax savings more than make up for any additional costs they may incur. However, this is not always the case. As we evaluate each individual situation, we move away from any initial labels or generalizations to discover what is best for the client’s specific goals. We move past the numbers, the taxes, the analysis, to determine what matters.

For example, I work with clients who want to move to a state with one of the highest income tax rates and highest costs of living in the US. After analysis, we agreed they will not be significantly “better off” financially by moving to the US. However, for this couple, moving to this community where they have already established strong ties is a decision about lifestyle, not finances. With careful financial planning, they can make the move they desire.

In another case, clients want to move back to Canada after working for many years in the US. Although we analyzed and discussed the financial advantages of remaining US residents, they never developed strong ties in their US community and all their family ties remain in Canada. They have worked and saved to achieve their goals, including building a dream house in a beautiful Canadian locale, so even with the significant tax cost of living in Canada they will incur relative to retiring in the US, they will be financially stable. By working together to define their goals, we were able to develop a financial plan for their situation; they can do several things prior to their move north that will improve the long term financial picture, and they are comfortable knowing they are on track to achieve their retirement goals.

I enjoyed attending the conference, collaborating with colleagues from all over the world, and hearing ideas about working with people of all types—women, young people, retirees—to finds solutions to the issues they face. Contact KeatsConnelly if you need help defining and achieving your long-term goals.

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