Welcome back to the 325th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Brenda Hiscock. Brenda is a financial planner with Objective Financial Partners, an advice-only advisory firm based in Ontario, Canada, that works with clients on project-based financial plans, and also offers outsourced paraplanning to other Canadian advisory firms.
What's unique about Brenda, though, is how she not only came to the financial services industry without any financial background, but did so despite a very financially challenging upbringing, and while navigating challenges of homelessness, bankruptcy, and alcoholism in her 20s, through which she not only persevered and rose through the ranks as a financial advisor, but has been able to leverage those real-world experiences and challenges to provide an even deeper more meaningful level of engagement with her current clients and how their financial pasts can impact their financial behaviors in the present and future, too.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how, while Brenda was still in high school, her mother died suddenly and she was left with the responsibility of caring for her younger sibling which created a large financial burden that Brenda couldn’t handle despite working 2 jobs and eventually led to her becoming homeless and beginning a cycle of alcohol addiction as a coping mechanism, how Brenda learned after her early struggle with alcoholism and 2 failed stints in rehab before finally getting sober 19 years ago that being able to work from home with a flexible schedule wasn’t just a nice-to-have for work/life balance but essential for her to have the space she needed for her mental health, and how Brenda’s perspectives on financial planning and especially the benefits of insurance were so deeply shaped by both her financial struggles as a teenager after her mother died without life insurance, and her financial stability after disability insurance kept her from falling back into homelessness when she was diagnosed with cancer just 1 year after getting sober and had to take a year off from work to get the care she needed.
We also talk about how, when Brenda realized she would have to take care of her younger sibling, she asked for help and her high school placed her in a cooperative education program that got her a job as a teller at a credit union which began her career in the financial services industry, how, later in her career, Brenda began a job in insurance (because she knew how important having insurance can be) but ultimately found that her first-hand experiences in the benefit of insurance didn’t make it any easier to sell insurance and prospect for new clients, and how Brenda’s effort to find the right position for her in the financial services industry ultimately led her to financial planning where she realized that she could have a greater impact in the lives of clients as she could use her personal experiences and life lessons to educate them on how to properly handle their finances and break through their emotional issues with money.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Brenda shares how she always thought she wasn’t good with numbers but found she enjoys financial planning because she can combine her intuitive math skills with her love of working with people, educating, and having deep conversations that can impact the future of clients’ lives, how Brenda is continually working on making peace with the struggles she has endured through her life but feels that they were necessary to get her where she is today and to become a living life lesson to others in the importance of having insurance, support from others, and a good financial plan of your own, and why Brenda believes it is important for younger, newer advisors to not only find mentors but be ready to proactively ask their mentors for help in achieving their career goals to ensure they get the support and wisdom they want and need.
So, whether you’re interested in learning about why Brenda feels it is vital and beneficial to have life and medical insurance, how Brenda overcame her addiction and cancer diagnosis, or how Brenda helps her clients get past their emotional connections with money, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Brenda Hiscock.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Brenda Hiscock
- Objective Financial Partners
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Hotline
- The National Alliance to End Homelessness
- Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- Credit Counselling Canada
Looking for sample client service calendars, marketing plans, and more? Check out our FAS resource page!
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Michael: Welcome, Brenda Hiscock, to the "Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Brenda: Thanks so much for having me, Michael.
Michael: I really appreciate you joining us today to have what I think is going to be a really powerful conversation around the paths that we sometimes take into the industry and through the industry and how we get here. I find there is a phenomenon in the advisor world that, I find a little bit from the industry and both from consumers, there is this sometimes latent expectation, if you are a financial advisor who works with money, you must have from money, you must have some money background, at least in your schooling, if not in your home life and upbringing...
Michael: And to some extent, I think that was amplified by the industry itself, that for many years literally tried to recruit people who came from money, who came from affluent zip codes because in the sales-based roots of the industry, if you grew up around money and your parents had friends with a lot of money, then when you started out in the industry, you could go get your friends and family and bring them in and they would have money and you would be able to sell them stuff or collect assets or do something to grow the business. So, in a sales-oriented context, recruiting people from fairly affluent zip codes was essentially a marketing and growth strategy for a lot of advisory firms.
We've taken some steps away from that, I think, but there is still this phenomenon that, I don't know an expectation or a tendency of view that advisors must have money backgrounds to be in the money business. And I know you have lived a very different journey than that. And so, I am looking forward to talking about just I think a broader understanding of what brings people to the financial advice business.
Brenda: Sounds great.
How Brenda Dealt With Homelessness While Starting Her Career [06:49]
Michael: So, as we get started in the discussion, would love to just hear some of your story of what brought you to the financial services industry and what this journey has been for you.
Brenda: Well, I actually started fresh out of high... In high school actually, I was in a co-op program in grade 12, and I had a situation where I was responsible financially for my family, and so my school was able to find me a placement that was a paying placement and it was in a credit union. And so, I went and did a co-op program there and I really enjoyed it. And the woman there, Jackie, my manager, she really became a mentor for me and really believed in me.
Michael: So, help me understand a little bit more of the circumstances. I think you said you were financially responsible for your family coming out of high school, which is a fairly young age for a lot of us to be financially responsible for family.
Brenda: Yeah. Well, I was raised by a single mother of four children and when I was 12 years old, she had a massive stroke and was in the hospital for 18 months, and ultimately passed away when I was 14.
Michael: Oh my God.
Brenda: I had an older brother and sister who for their own reasons, my older sister had to move away when I was about 17 and my brother was in school, and so I was responsible for the family and my younger sister. And so, I was having to look after the finances for my family. And so, I had that job and I worked full-time in the evenings at a golf club as a waitress.
Michael: And this is all through your teenage years in the middle of high school?
Brenda: This was in grade 12 and probably the year after that, I continued to do that.
Michael: So, then what was the journey of how you ended out in the credit union?
Brenda: Well, that was the cooperative education placement that they put me in, and it turned out to be a fantastic fit. I was working at the Workers' Compensation Board Credit Union. And the manager there really took me under her wing. She ended up hiring me at the end of the program and kept promoting me. And when I was about, I think 18 or 19 years old, she actually had me flying all over Ontario and giving speeches about the credit union. And I'd walk off the plane and the people would be absolutely shocked at this little girl because I was super tiny, I was 18 years old, and there I was to give these speeches to all of the workers' compensation board offices. And that got me started on public speaking, which is probably my first love.
Michael: So, what was the, I guess what was the nature of the role when you were hired in? What was the credit union hiring for at the high school level?
Brenda: I was a customer service rep. Back then, we called it a teller, so I was serving the customers, doing the deposits and withdrawals. But I stayed there for a few years and got promoted to a marketing manager with different roles within that credit union.
Michael: So then, what was the evolution from there to ultimately get in the direction of financial advisory business?
Brenda: After I had my son, I think that I stayed home for a little while, and then I went back to another credit union. I felt that at the credit union, I worked my way up to a branch manager at a credit union and I did not really see anywhere else in the credit union system that I was interested in going. And I felt that the banks were a bigger platform for me to go into. So, I actually took a step back by going into the bank and went down from being a manager at a credit union to a personal banker at the CIBC and then worked my way up to being a manager there.
Michael: Oh, interesting. So, from the credit union perspective, I am going to presume just a little bit of a smaller organization overall only so many branches, only so much, I guess, home office infrastructure. So, you get up to the branch manager level and look around, I guess the only jobs left are corporate home office kinds of things that were not appealing to you at that point?
Brenda: That is exactly correct.
Michael: So what was it you were looking for or wanted to do or would have wanted to see as next steps?
Brenda: I think I saw myself initially as managing people and being a manager, and that was the direction I really saw myself heading into. And then what happened was, along the way in my career, I had also done some in-house training programs and things like that, and I really enjoyed it. And quite frankly, being a branch manager at the bank taught me that was not meant for me. And so, I then got cancer and when I was ready to return to work after cancer, I decided to go in another direction. And I went to insurance for a very good reason.
Michael: When, and what was that?
Brenda: When my mother died when I was 14, she had no life insurance. And so, as a result, I had no opportunity for post-secondary education for my sister and myself. We ended up getting evicted from our home when I was 18. And that was probably the thing that had the most profound impact on me on my whole life. And so, those were very challenging events.
Michael: And so that was underway as you are getting going at the credit union and...
Brenda: While I was at the credit union, actually, I got a phone call that all the things were being removed from my home when I had made arrangements with the people. I was living in metro housing, and I had made arrangements with the people to delay my eviction. My father was going to send money to cover it. And they did not follow through on that promise and they went ahead with the eviction anyways. And so, because I had the rug pulled out from under me, it has taken so much time to be able to build up the ability to feel any trust.
Michael: Yeah. I can imagine that, awful for anyone at any age, but going through that at 18, a lot for an 18-year-old.
Brenda: Had my mother had life insurance, my entire life would be different. I would have been able to have paid rent every month, I would not have had to have worked 2 jobs for 3 years, we would not have been evicted, I would have been able to go to university. I just cannot stress enough how important life insurance is. And on the flip side of that, when I got cancer, I had insurance and all my bills were paid for me while I was off sick. And so, those two conflicting lessons made me very interested in moving towards insurance.
How Alcohol Addiction, Cancer, And Bankruptcy Affected Brenda’s Career Journey [14:14]
Michael: So, I want to come back to the insurance side. But take me back a little bit more for a moment on the banking side and the credit union to banking. And I was struck in particular that you said like you were so interested in making a transition that you went from a manager at the credit union to private banker on the bank side, which it sounds like technically was a step back in the hierarchy, in the comp structure to get to move forward again. How do you navigate that, taking step back to take step forward since there is often like some very real financial consequences and dynamics to doing that?
Brenda: Well, to be really, really frank with you, I was having problems with addiction at the time, and the personal banker role, I did want to move to a bigger environment, but also the personal banker role was easier to manage with the problems that I was trying to work with behind the scenes personally.
Michael: So, was that in coping with addiction itself or because you were trying to go in a direction of therapy and something in that direction and needed a job that was more accommodating around it?
Brenda: Well, I think I really was trying to accomplish 2 things. I knew I wanted to work in a bigger environment. I wanted to be able to control my drinking. And so, I felt if I took a step back, I could get my drinking under control, also be in the environment where I wanted my future to spring from and go from there.
Michael: So, what was it about the shift that was of interest to help get drinking under control?
Brenda: Just that there would be less responsibility from being a branch manager at the credit union to being a personal banker at the bank.
Michael: So, all the pressure of the role and the leadership and the management not conducive when you are trying to manage to addiction.
Brenda: But what ended up happening is I continued at the bank and ended up being promoted to a branch manager there.
Michael: So, out of the frying pan into the fire, I think is the saying.
Brenda: Yeah. And that is really where things exploded in the end and that is where I had to get help.
Michael: So, how did you navigate that in industry context and a work context?
Brenda: I never, ever disclosed anything to my employers about that particular problem, but we had an EAP program, employee assistance program where I was able to…they assisted me in getting me into rehab.
Michael: Okay. So, how does that work relative to the work environment? Was this you had to take time out of work to go into a full-time live-in rehab facility? Was this part-time running in parallel?
Brenda: I ended up off for 18 months and I never went back to the bank after that. That is when I went to insurance. So, I was off for 18 months. I did 2 failed stints in rehab about 3 or 4 months after the second time, I ultimately was able to stop and went to AA and got help there. And that is when I made the decision that I wanted to move into insurance.
Michael: Okay. And then you said somewhere along this journey cancer showed up?
Brenda: So, then I moved into the insurance business and got a fantastic job at Freedom 55 as a training manager. So, I was training all of their new advisors how to be advisors. And it was just a dream job for me. And almost as soon as I started working there, I was diagnosed with cancer. In fact, I was diagnosed with cancer on the one-year anniversary that I stopped drinking. That is almost 19 years now. And so, I was diagnosed with cancer almost as soon as I started working there. And I was gone for a year. And luckily, I had disability insurance in that situation, which was really helpful and that really reinforced what I was doing.
Michael: Can I ask, what kind of cancer was it?
Brenda: I had breast cancer.
Michael: Okay. And so, you were out for a full year of chemo and radiation and whatever else has to go on to get through cancer treatment before you can come back to work?
Michael: So, how do you handle this with a new job where you have to tell them, "Hey I am so enjoying the new job, but I have cancer and have to go away for a while"?
Brenda: Actually, the bigger thing that I had to tell them even earlier on was that I had gone bankrupt because when I had got sober, I was in terrible financial straits. And so, I had to go bankrupt, and they still were willing to take me on and do the special compliance that had to be done with my licenses. I had my life insurance and mutual funds license, and so they had to do the proper reporting for that. And so, they really stood behind me with that. 3 months later, I am diagnosed with cancer, they still stood behind me and held my job for me. And then finally a year later, I was really able to go back and do that job.
Michael: Wow. That is a lot coming at you.
Brenda: Yeah. And that job, I was the training manager for, I think, a little over a year. And then I got promoted there to being a director of advisor development. So, I would recruit and train new advisors. And the thing you said about seeking out advisors in those high-wealth postal codes is 100% true.
Michael: So, what is it like for you at this point go, going through these jobs in the industry where it sounds like work tends to go pretty well for you when you are in and going with the flow? A lot of these roles lead to promotions relatively expeditiously for you into management and leadership positions, but then these challenges are still there along the way of coping with drinking and coping with cancer and coping with bankruptcy and all these pieces that keep knocking you back along the way. So, I guess I am trying to understand visualize how do you keep moving forward through that environment when all this stuff keeps knocking you back?
Brenda: Well, these things have been a big challenge for sure. I am still in the process of overcoming. I think we spend our lives overcoming things. But at the same time, what I have decided to use all of these situations for is to really helped me to understand how much our emotions and our thoughts affect our behaviors around money because I have been through myself because I had the rug ripped out under from me and lost my home.
I am 57 years old, I only bought my own home, I think it is almost 2 years ago now for the first time. I had every excuse in the world why I could not buy a house. But the reason I would not buy it is because ultimately, I was scared that they were going to take it away from me. And up until the closing day, it was a really, really terrible emotional time for me. And it actually brought back all of those old feelings and made me realize that thing that happened when I was 17 actually is still interfering with my life.
Michael: So, help us understand more how does this fear show up around you didn't want to go buy a home, you wouldn't go down the journey of even looking at a house?
Brenda: It was always something like I was not going to be a homeowner. I am a middle-of-the-road investor and I know that numerically, it makes sense to be a homeowner, but I always had reasons for it. I just do not want that responsibility, I do not want this. I did not even realize, myself, that I was lying to myself. And so, these things that are in the background, I find that people who grow up in poverty either do things to ensure they stay in poverty or overstay so much that they cannot spend anything.
Michael: So, what ultimately has started to shift this cycle for you that you got to the point you were ready and willing to buy a house?
Brenda: I think it is just been an evolution really of just really slowly coming to terms with everything about myself and really trying to dig a little deeper into why I do some of the things I do when it does not make sense. And it is because so many times our emotions behind things are affecting what we are doing subconsciously.
Michael: So, does that show up in conversations you have with clients now?
Michael: Not necessarily so your backstory, but that dynamic and that realization?
Brenda: Yeah. Not my backstory, but certainly, I talk to my clients, all of my clients about emotions around money. I want to know how they feel about money. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? How was it talked about growing up? What experiences have they had? Are they investing because of what their friends say? And really, sort of, going through all their beliefs around money, so that we can understand where they might get in the way of the plan that looks so great on paper.
Michael: Is that literally some of the questions that you ask is money a good or a bad thing to you? How was money talked about when you were growing up?
Brenda: Yes. And do you find that you overspend? Do you underspend? Do you self-sabotage? Do you sometimes do things that you cannot understand why you do them? Because if people spend irrationally and they keep doing it all the time, then they probably need therapy before they can actually deal with the financial plan, in some cases.
Michael: So, how do you open up these conversations with clients because just that is some weighty conversation to have with the client in what may be very early on in a planning relationship?
Brenda: Right in my introductory call I really, I introduced the idea that we will talk a little bit about your thoughts and your beliefs around money so that I can better understand how those may enhance or get in the way of the plan so that we can talk about ways to deal with those potential barriers or benefits.
Michael: Interesting. And so, they know coming in that this is going to be part of the conversation?
Brenda: Yes. And quite frankly, there is some people we go deep and there is some people that we do not. I have to assess their willingness and readiness for it as well.
Michael: Okay. Because I was going to ask, do you get clients who are like, "Nope, Brenda, I am just here to get advice on my money. Don’t want to go down this conversational road"?
Brenda: I have never actually had that much of a direct no to any of it. I think I am a pretty good reader of people, and I can sense how deep I can go depending on the person. And it has been something that just in the last two or three years has just become more and more important to me and a bigger and bigger part of my planning.
Michael: And is there systems or tools or trainings that you have been through in doing this? Or are these just questions and conversations that you've found from experience and from having lived a version of this journey yourself?
Brenda: I have done a lot of research online, and also there is a program through FP Canada that I am going to be taking called the "3H Program” and it really talks about the emotional part of money. And so, I see that the industry is trending in the right direction, and I am seeing a lot of financial therapists and things like that. And I do not aspire to do that, I really enjoy what I do with the financial planning, but I do like to build in some of what I think is really key to the success of a plan. And that is how we think about money and the ways that we might get in our own way.
Michael: So can you distinguish those for me a little more from your end? What is the difference between doing financial therapy and staying on the financial planning side, but bringing some of these conversations and dynamics in?
Brenda: I think a financial therapist is not so much running projections as they are speaking to someone who is having financial challenges and talking through the why's about why they are having those challenges and digging really deeply into that and getting to the root causes, whereas I am introducing it and just talking in a more general way about things.
How Brenda’s Passion For Insurance Led To A Career In Financial Planning [28:27]
Michael: Okay. So now, take us back to this journey that you were on. You come to Freedom 55, teaching training advisors, cancer comes along, spend a year battling, getting through, victorious over cancer. You come back to work, get promoted into director of advisor development to recruit and retain advisors. So, what comes next on the journey?
Brenda: I actually ended up meeting a family that had their own business, a father, and 2 sons, and they were looking for someone to look after a little book of business. And so, I thought I would like to try being an insurance salesperson. And so, I went and worked with that family, and I tried that for a couple of years, but it was not for me. I then still remained working with that family for a number of years and became their in-house planner. And they had expanded to about 6 advisors, and so I did all the in-house planning for their clients.
Michael: All Right. So, tell me more about this evolution then. So, you went to the firm to get deeper on the insurance side. So, I guess you'd been training it at Freedom 55 and said, "Okay, I want to go in and do this first-hand at the new firm."
Brenda: I felt like that because of my experience with having no insurance when my mother died and having insurance when I had cancer and how strongly I believed in it, I thought that I could transition that into a sales practice, but I discovered that is not who I am. So, when that part did not work out the owner of the company had said that he wanted to start to do some planning for his clients, some retirement planning.
And so, we actually hired Jason Heath, who is who I now work for, and he did a couple of plans for us. And I really liked the process, and I delivered the plan that Jason had created for our client, and I asked if I could do that. And so, they created a job for me where I was an in-house planner for them for a number of years.
Michael: So, I want to come back to the evolution, the planning side a moment. But just curious what was not working for you about going out on the insurance end with just like the passion and life story and first-hand experience perspective you have on the importance and value of insurance?
Brenda: I think I was challenged by the prospecting. I think that is a skill that is so, so very important. And one that is just not my strength.
Michael: So, having the conversations about insurance, finding the people to get in front of, to have the conversation about insurance, not so good?
Michael: So, the firm decides, we want to be doing more on the financial planning side with this growing number of retiring clients. And so, now, help me understand what did they do initially? I think you said they hired Jason Heath to do plans for us. Who's Jason Heath relative to the firm and what were they doing?
Brenda: Jason Heath is the owner of the company that I currently work for. So, he does unbiased financial planning. And we also do white-label planning for advisors. So, advisors can hire us to make plans for their clients and they can put their own logos on them. And so, we hired Jason to do a couple of white-label plans for our clients. And I really liked what he did, and I liked delivering the plan, and so I talked to the company that I was with about becoming an in-house planner. And so, they decided to do that.
Michael: So, how is that transition from being on the insurance sales and prospecting side to moving to a more, I guess, functionally at that point internal role as the in-house planner?
Brenda: Well, that was something that I wanted. I was still servicing the clients that I had brought on and dealing with that, but my main role became the in-house planner.
I wanted to get away from doing the sales, I did not, I felt that it was not for me, and I wanted to go back to... I think ultimately, my biggest talent is educating. And so, financial planning, you are educating, maybe it is an audience of 1, maybe it is an audience of 1,000, but I really like to break down complex things into simple pieces. And I think that is very helpful when you are delivering that type of information to people.
Michael: So, how did the role work within the firm? What was the structure of the role to say you were their in-house planner?
Brenda: So, there were 6 advisors and they would identify a client who they wanted to do a financial plan for. So, I would attend the fact-finding meeting and I would gather the information for the plan, and then I would create the plan, and then we would have a meeting with a big screen and I would deliver the plan, and then I would help them with the implementation of it.
Michael: Interesting. So, there is essentially two advisor folks in the room, whoever it was that brought the client in originally, I guess, normally was more focused on the insurance side since the firm was doing insurance business, and then...
Brenda: We also did investments as well.
Michael: Okay. But they are, I guess at that point the advisor is mostly focused on specifically the insurance and investment products and implementation. If the client wants a plan, that actually does not come from that advisor, that came from you all the way to you are doing fact-finding plan, construction plan delivery?
Brenda: And we made it a big deal. We would have food for them at the presentation and it was like a free service for them. We really built it up as a very big add-on. And so, they would typically be looking at maybe they are selling an insurance policy, so I am going to model the insurance policy into the overall plan just to show them how it all plays out. So, bringing their proposals to life.
Michael: I am struck just because for a lot of advisory firms, they still ultimately have it set up where the advisor who is the primary on the relationship is the one that delivers the plan. And if there is in-house support, it tends to be more behind the scenes and construct the plan and create the deliverable, but not necessarily do the delivery. So, I guess I am just curious, what was it like for you going through this process of fact-finding plan, construction plan delivery for someone, that was not originally your client and was not necessarily going to continue as your client because at some point, I assume it goes back to the original advisor, but you are, you are in with them for this financial plan journey stage.
Brenda: Yeah, really that is the only stage that I am really a part of. And then I am working with the advisor to clarify the implementation portion, but really, my job was to just be delivering the plans and showing how if they implemented what the advisor suggested, how it would all play out financially for them. And so, they saw having me there as a bonus we have got this expert who comes in and focuses just on this element of things, and that was how they presented it to the clients.
Michael: Is it hard to get up to speed that quickly on a client to just do and deliver the plan when you come coming into a relationship that is already ongoing with the firm, but new to you and you have to get up to speed really quickly?
Brenda: Well, not really, because when you are fact-finding, you are really just gathering what you are going to be using as assumptions that you are going to put into software and build a plan from it. Same with what I am doing now, I am gathering a fact finder and some investment statements, and then I am creating assumptions out of that. So, really, the fact-finding, the discovery process was to gather what assumptions that I would be using in the plan and then presenting those assumptions to the client.
Michael: And so, the firm did not charge separately for this was a free service included for valuable clients that they wanted to do more and deeper work with, presumably, but there is no separate fee charge for plans in this environment.
Brenda: It was baked in.
Michael: Okay. And did you say even laying out food at the presentation?
Brenda: Well, they had nice little snacks. They made a big deal out of it. We had a lovely room, and we had a big screen, and it was a nice presentation.
Michael: What was the genesis of setting it up that way?
Brenda: I think the advisors had thought they wanted to do it that way. That family just provides amazing client service to their clients and they really liked to go above and beyond, and I think they saw that as a way of differentiating themselves.
Michael: And so then, how much financial planning activity was going on? Are you, like every month there is a new plan or 2, every week there is a new plan or 2? How much pace was going on through this?
Brenda: I was probably doing probably 1 every week or so.
Brenda: And then there were other things associated with the job, but it was mostly the planning.
Michael: So then, what ultimately led to a shift? You'd said you are not there anymore, you moved on to another firm. So, what ultimately changed if this was feeling like a better, more rewarding role for you?
Brenda: Well, I think that the company, I sensed that they were trending in a little bit of a different direction. They were restructuring things with their business. I had known Jason for quite some time and I knew that he did fee-for-service planning that did not have any sales built into it at all, so it would not require any sales on my part. And so, I approached him and talked to him about potentially working for him, and we went back and forth for a few months, and then eventually I decided to come on board with him.
Michael: So, what was the concern for the company you were at? You said you sensed they were restructuring going in different directions. Does it mean they were not as into the financial planning and were going back to lean more heavily in the insurance and investment end, or was something else shifting?
Brenda: I think that the father was retiring and there was just different things going on within the business, name changes and things like that. And I sensed that my role may not be something that I would be able to continue to develop.
Michael: Okay, new leadership, new priorities, have to reassess where we fit with the new leadership and new priorities.
Brenda: And by no means was anyone pushing me out the door, anything like that. There was also the appeal of the freedom of right of being able to, if I am working with objective where I am now, I have always really liked working from home and working my own hours, and I struggle a lot with a great deal of structure. And so that also played a part in it as well, is that I am able to work from home in my new job, and that works very well for me.
Michael: Well, I am struck just by your comment working from home and struggle with a great deal of structure. That feels very not credit union and bank like where you spent your earlier career.
Brenda: Yeah. Well, to be frank with you, I think that people who have addiction, that usually stems from mental health challenges, having no father growing up, my mother dying when I was really young. There was a lot of trauma in my life and being evicted and things. That has led to prob challenges with anxiety and depression. And so, those are much easier to manage when I am in an environment where I can dictate my time better and manage myself better.
So I have had to find a way to work with the challenges that I have that maybe are never going to go away, but still have the maximum success that I can have because I love this business so much and I believe so strongly in what I do, but I also have to honor the fact that I do have some challenges sometimes and working from home really, really reduces those challenges for me.
Michael: So, I guess indirectly reflecting back is that actually part of the point the corporate structure and the rest that went with the credit union and bank environments as well as the management and all the structure that you have to live within to facilitate management was part of the stress that was then amplifying the addiction and making these challenges worse early on because you were in a highly structured environment when that is not actually your happy place?
Brenda: Well, for the longest time I thought it was not my happy place because of my addiction, I had thought that it was just because I was sick all the time from drinking that is why I did not like that environment. But I have been sober for almost 19 years now, and I know now that the office environment sober or not sober, it doesn't serve me well because some of the residual things that are left behind from burying my trauma in alcohol for all those years is some depression and anxiety that I have very well under control, but certainly, working from home is much easier to manage it.
Michael: So, you can see looking back 19 years sober now, that was not visible at the time?
Brenda: Well, honestly, I missed a lot of work time through all those years too because of being so sick all the time from all of the drinking, and so that was always a problem as well. Another great benefit of what I am doing now is I am paid for the amount of work I do. I am paid on commission, I take on what I can. So, if I am having a challenging time, I just do not take on as many clients and I have decided in this work environment to be completely open with my employer, and he is been amazing.
Michael: So, I was actually going to ask in that in that vein for just the history of these challenges that you have navigated through you have been incredibly candid and open in the conversation here, but do you bring this level of openness with employers? I know this can be a really sensitive issue to talk about with employers and not all necessarily handle the conversation well. So how do you navigate this in an employment context? Are these part of your job interviews or perspective discussions with new employers? Does it come up later? Do you prefer not to open the door at all unless it gets opened? How do you handle this?
Brenda: I generally in the past have not opened the door. I think that in this particular role, I did, and I am glad that I did, and it has been helpful. I think that it can change people is perception of you because I can function perfectly well, I just do not want to be in an office five days a week, and if I am, then I am going to struggle. And I know that. And so, if I am not in that environment, then generally things go quite well for me.
Michael: So, what led you to the decision you wanted to broach that conversation this time if you haven't necessarily in the past for all the very good reasons you explained?
Brenda: A couple of years ago I was having some challenges and I needed to reduce my workload. And I just decided to be open and explain what was happening and I got great support for that.
Michael: Okay. So, this wasn't something that you had talked to the firm about when you were interviewing or coming in, but it was a conversation you broached when you got to the point of saying, "I think I need to dial back my client load to just adjust my work-life balance, and let me give you a little bit of my backstory as to why"?
Brenda: Yes. If anybody ever wanted to dig back in... My son's a journalist and back in 2015, he asked if he could tell my story for "Bell Let's Talk Day." And so, my story, he wrote from his perspective what it was like growing up with an alcoholic mother, and I let him do that. So, I actually outed myself in 2015. So, if anybody wanted to find out, they could have looked into it themselves.
Michael: Okay. And so, it sounds like part of the indirect peel of the advisory environment, particularly in a fee-for-service firm, where the business is a little bit more contractual or I guess transactional, like you take the client, you take when you take them and then you don't if you need to dial it down, is it gives you a little bit more of a dial that you can dial the activity up and dial the activity down.
Brenda: Yeah. To be quite frank with you, I haven't had to do that in a long time, but I'm cognizant of the fact that I want to honor my limitations and if I was to switch jobs again ever that I would not want to work full-time in an office, it would have to be a hybrid type of a situation.
How Objective Financial Partners Structures Financial Plans And Where They Stand Today [47:39]
Michael: So, now help us understand just the advisory firm that you're in today and who they are and what they do.
Brenda: So, we are a fee-for-service firm, and we sell our time and our expertise. So, we don't sell any products, we don't sell any insurance products, any investment products, we just sell advice. So, people approach us for retirement planning, investment planning, specifically, I deal with a lot of expatriates and disabled clients and their families. And so, expatriates specifically is a bit of a niche. There's not many people who work with them. I work with many clients who live overseas. And when you're overseas, there's a lot of risks with tax reporting, there's a lot of risks with some really poor investment products that get sold out there. And so, we're able to work with clients to help them avoid pitfalls and to really understand how to build their own pension.
If they're overseas they're not collecting these government pensions that they would in retirement, and they're also not building a pension through their employer typically. And so, they're in charge of designing their own retirement.
Michael: Now, you said you don't do investment products, but you do provide investment planning. I'm just trying to map this relative to our traditional industry world, so, is investment management and the investment implementation side part of your model, or are you only providing the investment advice, "Here's the things that you should buy or how you shall allocate your portfolio," but then you have to go do it yourself?
Brenda: They do have to implement it themselves, but we often will provide introductions. So, we do have vetted out advisors. We do not receive any commissions from any advisors. So, in some cases, advisors will offer our clients reduced fees to offset what they would've paid us. But really, we interview a lot of different advisors out there so we can introduce people to advisors. Really, my job as I see it, is to educate people on their options. So not everybody needs to be with an advisor. Some people maybe should be with a robo-advisor, some people should be do-it-yourself. Some people can do a self-managed ETF portfolio.
So, the way that I see my job is that I educate my clients on all the different options that are available in the marketplace and how each of them work. They then go off and they make an informed decision. Because I've now told them all of the options, how they work, the pros and cons. They pick a direction and then I work with them to implement that direction. So, if someone buys an investment plan, it comes with a year of ongoing service so that they are able to look at... So, I'm assessing their risk tolerance, I'm giving them commentary on their current portfolio. We're often talking about government benefits, insurance, other things like that. Educating them on the options that are available in the marketplace, talking about structurally things they could do to have their portfolio be more tax efficient and/or align with their risk tolerance.
And then once they've made their decision as to how they want to move forward, then I'll make introductions or I'll review their ETF choices for appropriateness, but I'm not able to recommend any specific stocks, ETFs or anything like that.
Michael: Okay. So, how does this work from a business model perspective? what does the firm charge for financial plans and investment plans?
Brenda: It ranges quite a bit. Our minimum fee just to do any work with us at all is $1,500. A retirement plan can range anywhere from probably $2,500 to $5,000 or $6,000. Investment planning can run anywhere from a couple of thousand to maybe three or $4,000. So, it really depends. And then comprehensive plans, many people will get a retirement and investment plan together, and that'll usually run somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000.
Michael: Okay. And so, all of these are just like one planning project at a time. It's like there's no assets on management. Is there any ongoing model, pay an ongoing retainer to be an ongoing client of the firm or people just come as they need their plans, one plan at a time?
Brenda: We do a great deal of ongoing service. So, many of our clients are self-directed investors and many self-directed investors benefit from some oversight, because when you're a self-directed investor, you have an emotional attachment to your investments, Even I do myself, and so I have someone else look at my investments every year to give a black and white view. And so, self-directed investors will also often have us on a retainer where they'll pay us a specific amount per year, depending on how much time they want from us, how many meetings they want, and we'll meet with them a couple of times a year, review their portfolio, talk about any questions they have and be available to them throughout the year.
Other people may come back and they'll do full renewal, full new plans each year. And so, the costs really vary for ongoing service. But many of our clients work with us continuously, and almost all of them come back periodically.
Michael: So, what would a typical ongoing be for one of these self-directed investors who still wants to come back periodically and meet, I think you said like, meet, review the portfolio, talk about whatever other questions they have?
Brenda: Typically, I'll set it up then I'll do two 30-minute meetings with them throughout the year. And then before those two 30-minute meetings they'll send me a list of questions for that meeting or topics they want to cover. And then I'm also available for any other questions, they will have phone calls, emails, etc., throughout the whole year.
Michael: And what would a typical cost be for that scope of engagement?
Brenda: It could run probably 1,500 up to 2,500, depending on how many times they want to meet, how long the meetings, how much servicing. Corporate clients of course are more complex.
Michael: Because ultimately you price this all behind the scenes, like the number of hours it's going to be, and hours times rate is the project for your planning fee?
Brenda: Yeah. I basically always, I like to work with flat fees versus charging people by the hour. I don't like to work that way. So, I'll always, in the back of my mind, yes, I'm calculating the hours and providing a proposal, but if I go over a bit, I'm not going to be charging them for that. I try to do project fees, unless it's a substantial change and they need a whole redo of a plan, then there could be extra fees, but very rarely.
Michael: Is there a target hourly rate that you try to back into for what this is intended to build around?
Brenda: Our hourly rate is [C$]350.
Michael: Okay. And why is it that you prefer to quote the flat fees instead of quoting the hourly rate and just billing them for whatever it actually takes?
Brenda: Because then I find people will limit themselves more and I'm sitting there with my watch, whereas I like to just understand what they need and give them a price and then they say, "If that price is too high, then I'll go back and I'll say, "How about we take out these things and it's this price?" And so, I'd rather do it that way so that they're not sort of... I find by the hour, we tend to get not as much done with the project and just bits and pieces.
Michael: Well, I like the way you frame that point that if you try to understand what they need and say, "Here's what it's going to cost you," and give them a price and they say that it's too high, that can be a good conversation since we can say, "Well, okay, then what would you like to take out?" Like, "You're biting off a little more than you perhaps meant to chew because here's what it costs to do all the things that you just asked for." So, if that doesn't fit your budget, I don't have to lose you as a client where you go away, "Let's have a conversation about if this is more than you wanted to pay, what can we remove from the scope to bring this down to a project that you're more comfortable with."
Michael: That's a fantastic conversation.
Brenda: Yeah. I'm trying to make sure that...my ultimate goal is to make sure that people get value. So sometimes people come back to me and say, "Brenda, I think I need to rerun my plan." And I'll ask them what changes have taken place and I'll help them to determine if there's value in redoing the plan right now or if we should wait. And so, if I'm honest, 100% of the time, I'm going to have my clients coming back all the time. If someone doesn't need a rerun of their plan and it's not going to make a material difference in the outcome, I'm going to tell them that.
Michael: Well, I'm struck as well that just you've said, "Many of your clients are self-directed investors, and I think the traditional view is, almost by definition, do-it-yourselfers, do it themselves, they don't call advisors. So, I guess, help us understand, how do you end out with so many do-it-yourself for clients who we're calling do-it-yourselfers, but they're hiring you for advice?
Brenda: I have to think, I think so much of our business comes to us through Jason Heath's article. So, Jason Heath is the owner of the company, and he is a very well-known writer for many of the major publications in Canada. And so, that brings a lot of people through our door for sure.
Michael: Okay. So, he does a lot of writing about, I guess planning and investments in consumer publications and so do-it-yourselfers are the people who tend to read consumer publications. So that's who ends out reaching out because that's the audience he's reaching.
Brenda: And I also think that with do-it-yourselfers, I find that when they're getting closer to retirement, they start worrying a little bit more about their portfolio and they might want a second pair of eyes on it. And so, to me, all do-it-yourselfers should be having some oversight just because of that emotional connection to the portfolio. And so, many of our clients are self-directed investors and I think that that's a great thing because they really do need a second pair of eyes to look at that portfolio and see if it matches their risk tolerance, if it matches their goals. Because so many of self-directed investors, they invest in what they know, so they don't end up with a well-diversified portfolio because they know all about one sector. So that's where they'll target their investing.
Michael: And so, from the business end, it's consumer publications and the media side that just that brings the flow of prospects who are coming in and willing to pay the fees that you charge for these kinds of, I guess functionally, advice only plans, like no insurance, no investment implementation, you just pay us for the advice and we give you the advice?
Brenda: Yeah. We really don't do any marketing, it's strictly Jason's articles. I think he's starting to do a tiny bit of marketing now, but it's pretty much all...and we have a constant flow of prospects coming in.
Michael: So, I've seen a number of firms over the years that do these types of models or start these types of models, but then eventually some subset of clients says, "How would you just help me implement this stuff more directly?" And some of those firms go from hourly in project fees into also doing the assets on our management. But I think you said your firm is focused on building a network of other advisors and refers all that out. So, I guess I'm just curious, why all the, like referring out in joint work instead of doing some of this internally, even if you're not marketing it, just like the clients who want more help on implementation?
Brenda: Because you cannot provide unbiased advice if you've got something for sale, it's literally impossible no matter how honest you are. And so, because I have nothing for sale, I've got no skin in the game, and as a result, then I'm educating my clients on good solid choices available in the marketplace. I accept whatever direction that they go in because they're now educated. As soon as we start selling something, we have lost our objectivity or as soon as we take commission from any advisor, we've lost our objectivity.
Michael: And so, I guess, and you've lived this because you did live planning in other firms that come from the insurance and investment end, so do you actually feel that difference in practice or what you do now versus the planning you did at prior firms?
Brenda: I totally support the planning that I did with my previous employer. They're excellent and very ethical advisors, and so everything they did was done with full integrity, but I can see how it would be very easy to manipulate plans towards your sales.
Michael: So, then how does it work with, I guess, joint work with other advisors? who do you refer out to or how do you decide when and where to make a referral out?
Brenda: So, if my clients have reviewed the information I provided and said, "You know what, Brenda, I think I want to work with an advisor," I'll usually introduce them to 2 or 3 advisors to start, and I'll also provide them with a good list of questions. And I like them to go off and have that meeting on their own because I want to see how the personalities mix. Then they'll usually make a decision about who they're going to work with. Then that person will put together a portfolio, and then often we'll have a meeting together to look at everything. If they're staying with their existing advisor and just making modifications with the portfolio, then I'm going to look at the changes that advisor makes.
So, my relationship is complimentary. I am not here to be an adversary to anyone's advisor or to knock other people's advisors. I'm really there to very diplomatically, if I see problems, point them out. But I try to be as harmonious as possible because I don't think anyone's looking for a combative situation. And I think many advisors if they've got something for sale, they're going to knock all the things the other person is doing, whereas I try to approach it from a little bit of a different direction.
Michael: But I am struck by that, you said you may refer them out to an advisor, the advisor, he goes through whatever their process is and puts together a list of recommendations, and the client may still come back to you to essentially vet or second look the other advisor's recommendations just to double, triple check, make sure that you agree with the recommendations that they're making.
Brenda: Yes, the advisors are usually totally on board with that. And so, what will happen, especially if it's re referrals because we've have worked with these advisors in the past and we know them, and so they know our process. And so, we look at what the end result of the portfolio is just to be sure it jives with what we've discovered, and again, that complimentary relationship. And sometimes clients with advisors still retain us for ongoing services and we meet with them and their advisor annually.
Michael: And so, how do you decide who gets onto this referral list of advisors you may be sending opportunities out to?
Brenda: Well, we interview... Jason looks after a lot of that. So, I guess a lot of people approach Jason and then we have many advisors, so we have meetings every two weeks of the certified financial planners at our firm, there's four of us. And so, we have a meeting every two weeks, and often those meetings are investment firms visiting us to tell us about what their product shelf is. And so, we vet them all out and we've got a list of ones that we believe in, and so we'll introduce them, and we'll always introduce them to more than one person so that they can get a feel for a few different personalities and see what works best for them. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter to me which one they pick, we vetted these advisors out and think they do a good job, so I want them to pick who they feel they would work best with.
Michael: So, I'm struck by this. So, in essence, you've got an internal meeting every other week of all the CFPs that for at least some of those meetings, it's an external advisory firm that hopes to get referrals from you that essentially explains and pitches their services to the whole slate of advisors, so you can all vet them together and you can all decide together whether you like them or not, or they pass muster and I guess you just get to make a connection with them directly. So at least if the firm says, "This is who we’re referring out to," you're not referring out to someone blindly, you met them in the vetting meeting.
Brenda: Well, we certainly don't meet new advisors every two weeks, we meet as CFPs every two weeks. And we meet with estate lawyers, we meet with cross border accountants, we meet with immigration attorneys, we meet with all kinds of resources to help us including investment advisors. And then over the years, we've built up a list of it's not a huge list, but a list of advisors that we refer people to and also insurance people as well.
Michael: Okay. So, every other week just, it can be a wider range of anyone you might be referring out to, because at the end of the day, you can make a lot of referrals, so a lot of different contexts or as you said, "There's legal, there’s insurance, there's accounting, there's investment, and any and all of those can be opportunities for referrals since you're operating on an advice only basis.
Brenda: Yeah. A lot of our biweekly meetings are just us talking about best practices and what's going on and those sorts of things, administrative things. We have them for an hour every second Wednesday at 4:00.
Michael: And do you worry about just... It feels like the risk or concern that you refer out to an advisor who turns out not to be great at what they do, do you worry about that from, I don't know, a brand risk or reputation risk or a liability risk?
Brenda: There's always going to be a risk. They could go to a robo-advisor and have a bad experience. They could have a bad experience with an advisor. So, if that's the case, then we try to help them find someone else and try to find a different solution. But I really put the interviewing on them so that they can find a good personality fit. So, I'm not pushing them to pick someone. And in fact, if they want to stay with their own advisor, I'm perfectly happy to work with their existing advisor as well.
Michael: You don't do any revenue sharing or referral fees or other arrangements with who you're sending the business out to?
Brenda: No, nothing at all. I'm paid strictly commission on the projects that I take on.
Michael: Okay. So not commission in the context of insurance commissions or investment commissions, just internal comp for you as you get a percentage of the planning fees, project fees that you do, that's the...
Brenda: Exactly. A portion of my...
Michael: ...commission fee. The fee is the commission or however we would word that.
Brenda: A portion of the commission goes to the company because I've got an assistant and I've got all these, I've got a cross-border tax expert, we've got in-house corporate accountant, we've now got estate services, we've got all this support, we've got office space. And so, I give a portion of my commissions to the company and plus they feed me clients, and so I'm paid on commission per project.
Michael: Okay. And so, it's not necessarily like a salaried role. It's you get paid a portion of the advice fees that come in every time you do an advice engagement with a client.
Brenda: There's no salary with this role, which that can be stressful sometimes as well.
Michael: Okay. But I guess the flip side is, it sounds like they've got enough of an ongoing marketing pipeline at this point that it's transactional business, but the ongoing flow of transactional business is somewhat stable and ongoing. It's not like one month, there's just no new clients coming in and no one's getting paid on anything.
Brenda: No, no. And I've been here for almost seven years, so we've done very well.
Providing White Label Plans And Financial Planning For Expats As A Valued Service [1:09:22]
Michael: So, then part of what you'd mentioned earlier is that the firm also does white-labeled financial plans for other advisors?
Michael: So, help me understand what that offering is.
Brenda: So, what we do is some advisors will hire us to create plans for their clients. So, they'll send us the information for the plan, we'll create the plan with no logos or anything, and they'll put their own logos on it and deliver it themselves.
Michael: I'm thinking of that relative even to the in-house planning business you did at the prior firm, in this context, you're not seeing the client at all though. you're just getting an info on a piece of paper?
Brenda: Exactly. Back when we hired Jason at my old company, that's what he did. He provided us with a white-labelled plan that I delivered to the clients. And so that's what we do. We create the plan for the advisor, they put their own logo on it, they deliver it, because the advisors often want to focus on the client relationship and the investment management, and the insurance and all of that. Getting to understand software and really modeling things properly takes a lot of time to learn how to do it right. And so many advisors recognize that they may make a lot of mistakes by doing their own client retirement plans. And so, they'll hire someone out for their higher-net-worth clients, and they may or may not charge their client for that service.
Michael: Interesting. So, you don't have any interaction with the client at all, and I'm presuming that means you charge the firm and then the firm can decide whether they're going to build the client the same amount or build the client a holistic planning fee and deduct your costs from it, or if they're just going to absorb the cost, you build the advisory firm to do behind the scenes, like pure planning plan construction work?
Brenda: Exactly. And then what they choose to do regarding billing, etc., is entirely up to them.
Michael: And I guess just from a practical, like liability ends, it's their client and their plan, so at the end of the day, it's up to them to make sure that what's presented in the plan actually fits the client, but there wasn't anything lost in translation about the client's circumstances. That stays their responsibility?
Michael: Okay. So is this a...
Brenda: there's disclaimers on all of our plans.
Michael: Yeah. Well, because I imagine, it is a little bit difficult at some point to make sure you got all of the details when you've never interacted with the client directly.
Brenda: Oh, and if there's a mistake, we're happy to fix it.
Michael: Sure. And so, is this a significant portion of the business? Is this a big piece of the ongoing planning activity or just come periodically?
Brenda: I would say, "For myself personally, no. I think it's a rather small portion of the business. Because a lot of my focus is on expats that takes up a lot of my time. Andrew Hallam wrote the "Millionaire Expat" book a number of years ago and he recommends our firm in his book. And every time a new edition comes out, we get a lot of prospects. And I'm signed up to do some wellness seminars in some schools overseas coming up. So, I think that part of our business is actually going to grow.
Michael: Interesting. And so how did you get the nod in Andrew's book?
Brenda: I think Jason and him met a number of years ago before the book came out and Andrew really liked what Jason was doing and put his name as a recommendation in his book for dealing with expats. And by the time Jason hired me 7 years ago, he was at his limit of clients. And so, I've been taking on everyone since then. And so, I've been doing almost all of the new expat work that comes into the firm, and I really enjoy it.
Michael: Interesting. I guess just because there are so few firms that work on a pure advice-only basis if you're a book writer, a media type looking to refer out to someone in that context, there just aren't a lot of firms to refer out to, so you find when you like, you tend to talk about them a lot.
Brenda: Yeah. Teachers are a huge part of our expat client base and that's because Andrew Hallam, who wrote that book was a teacher and he delivers a lot of presentations in schools. And lately, I'm getting requests to do presentations in schools, and I'm also doing wellness presentations here in Ontario as well now. And that's something that I'm really excited about. I really think financial literacy is so important and really needs to be available to everyone, and I think wellness seminars are a great way to introduce that.
Michael: And so, you see, I guess marketing and activity growing further in the direction of doing those kinds of wellness financial literacy seminars?
Brenda: It's coming to me and so I think I'm going to see how... I've got a couple of them coming up over the next couple of months and I've done a few and I'm just going to see if it brings me clients, and then if it does, then I'll continue to do it because I do have to get some business out of it for it to be profitable, although I do charge for the seminars. But ultimately, I have to gauge how things go with it. But if it does make business sense, it's something I definitely would like to expand.
The Surprises Brenda Encountered On Her Journey [1:15:08]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about building a career in the advisory business?
Brenda: Actually, I came into it thinking that it wouldn't be something that I would like at all because although I'm good at math, I've never had a love for numbers, and I absolutely love what I do, even though I don't love numbers, I understand them very well. But what I love is educating, and what I love is people and I love deep conversations and I'm able to have all of that in this career, and I'm able to really help people feel peace of mind. And so, the surprises were all really good because for a number of years, I kept thinking I'm in the wrong business because I'm not a numbers person. But I came to realize that the fact that I'm a people person and the fact that I really love relationships and helping people is really what makes this business so appealing.
Michael: And so, relative to the discussion that we had at the beginning, do you find there are challenges in the background that you've had with money in your own financial journey in working with clients in the industry today?
Brenda: To be honest with you, I have struggled with imposter syndrome quite a bit throughout my career, and I feel like I'm over it now, but I really struggled with that for a long time because in the background I knew where I was, especially in the years that I was drinking and working and just a lot of financial trouble quite frankly during those years when I was so, so sick and just feeling like such an imposter all the time. And so, it's taken a lot for me to overcome that feeling of being an imposter and recognizing what I do bring to the table, and my life experiences have so much to offer in terms of financial lessons. I'm a walking lesson in why life insurance is critical to a family so that you don't end up in the streets and without the opportunity to be educated.
And also, on the flip side of that, when I was a single mom with cancer, I was able to be supported and be okay with a year off of work because I had insurance. And so, I just feel like my life in many ways is a story about financial planning, good and bad.
Michael: So, what led to the shift that the imposter syndrome eventually went away? Was there a crystallizing moment that it turned and changed and went away?
Brenda: Certainly, when I got sober, it began to diminish. In many ways, I believe there was a degree of being an imposter when I was drinking because I was just so sick all the time. But when I got sober, that lingered for a long time. And just because to this day, I'm not a hugely wealthy person and I don't really aspire to be that, but I think that it's just really coming to terms with what I do bring to the table. And I really do believe that I bring a lot to the table and that my story actually is beneficial and not detrimental to what I do.
Michael: I liked how you framed that, "My story is beneficial, not detrimental to what I do."
Brenda: And it took me so long to understand that because it really is like my empathy, because I've been through so much, it's so easy for me to empathize with other people because when someone's been through something, I've probably been through something similar kind of at some point.
The Low Points On Brenda’s Journey [1:19:05]
Michael: So, what was the low point for you on this journey?
Brenda: I remember sitting on a bench when I was a bank manager at the CIBC and knowing that my drinking was completely out of control and making a decision sitting on the bench that day that I was just going to drink until I died because I just couldn't quit. And it's interesting that shortly after that is actually when I did quit. But that was sort of the... I don't know, for some reason, that always stands out to me as I believe that's when something happened.
Michael: So, what changed that you were able to quit shortly thereafter?
Brenda: I don't know that anyone can explain why they quit, because I tried to quit every Monday forever, and I don't really understand how I finally was successful. I remember, because I was having seizures when I would stop drinking, I remember going to the doctor and asking him if he would give me 3 days' worth of Valium so I wouldn't have seizures. I planned the day, I stayed in my bed for 3 days and had horrible…all the hallucinations and everything. And on the third day, I went to an AA meeting and there was just this woman there and she saved my life. And I guess that's... Somehow, I don't really know how I ended up stopping, but I think rehab was the beginning of the end.
Michael: Rehab was the beginning of the end of the cycle, of breaking that cycle for you?
Brenda: Yes, I was unsuccessful both times in rehab. In fact, went to the liquor store on the way home both times, but I couldn't lie to myself anymore because you learn a lot of really good things in rehab, and rehab is a really good thing. And although I didn't get sober in rehab, rehab was the stepping stone, I believe that actually helped to finally make it happen. And I feel…my son was 13 and he always believed in me and I feel like he was starting to give up on me.
Michael: Because your son's, I guess early teenage years at this point?
Brenda: He was 13. I was drunk until he was 13 and that's really hard to live with. But I've been sober for more than half of his life and I remember being so happy when that day came.
The Advice Brenda Would Give Her Former Self And Younger, Newer Advisors [1:21:40]
Michael: So, as you look back on this journey through the industry now, anything now you wish you could go back and tell you 10, 20 years ago about the steps you were taking on the advisor career journey?
Brenda: That even though so much of what I felt like I was doing felt disjointed, it actually came together beautifully. And because of the credit union and the bank, then the insurance, then being a professor at Seneca College, then doing planning, I've got this experience in all of the realms and it felt like jumping around, but it actually benefited me greatly because my experiences in all of the areas of planning. My experience is holistic.
Michael: Hmm. So, I guess in that context, what advice would you give younger, newer advisors looking to start a career today?
Brenda: I think you really have to have a really good plan in place and apply yourself, and stick to your plan, and join groups, and find a mentor. Mentors have probably been the biggest piece of my career. I've been so blessed with wonderful bosses throughout my career who believed in me more than I believed in myself. And if you can find a good mentor who's a good match for you, most people are happy to be a mentor and guide you along in your process and really try to understand what it is that you want to accomplish, and then fill in the details about how to get there.
Michael: And how did you find your mentors?
Brenda: I was lucky enough that my mentors were my bosses. And it started right out of high school with the credit union where this woman just believed in me so much and promoted me constantly, flew me all over Ontario. I had never given a speech in my life. She sent me afterwards for facilitation training on training the trainer to be a facilitator. And I've just had people who have really believed in me, that family that I worked with were so, so strong and behind me and gave me so much support. Where I am right now is an incredibly supportive environment. I've just been blessed with really, really great bosses who have been amazing mentors, but I had to really make sure that I went and asked for help. You really have to ask, it's not just going to come to you.
Michael: So, how do you broach the conversation to ask for help? Because I know for a lot of people, that's scary, it shows vulnerability, it shows weakness sometimes, or at least that's the perception? I know a lot of folks that really struggle to ask for help, particularly from their boss because they're trying to look good in front of the boss.
Brenda: And this is where it's important to have clarity of what your final goal is, so what is your end goal? And depending on what that end goal is, then you want to approach your boss and say, "This is where I would like to get to, what steps do you suggest that I take?" And really look at their expertise and be asking them for their assistance and their support in helping you to understand what path may be the best to get you where you eventually want to be, and what changes you may have to make to get there. You have to be open to receiving constructive criticism if you want to move ahead. And a lot of people don't ask because they're too afraid of criticism, where criticism is the thing that usually propels you forward if it's delivered in the right manner.
Michael: Interesting. So, the path for you in finding mentors wasn't necessarily just a function of finding the people, it was then actually going to them and saying, "Hey, here's where I want to be with my career, what do you think I should be doing? What changes do you think I need to make?" And then actually being ready for them to give you potentially hard feedback about what those things need to be?
Brenda: Yes, absolutely. 100%. And just being open that you're looking for help. People love to be asked for help. People love to be looked up to provide advice and support.
What Success Means To Brenda [1:26:25]
Michael: So, as we come to the end here this is a podcast about success, and one of the things I've always observed, just the word success means very different things to different people. And so, to me, you've had this incredible career and journey of success through a lot of adversity and challenges along the way, but I'm curious how you define success for yourself at this point?
Brenda: Success for me means that I'm able to use my experiences to help other people so that they don't have to feel ashamed of anything. And success also to me just means that I can feel at peace with myself. Of course, I want to have financial freedom and I think everyone wants that, but more than anything, I want to just be at peace with myself and the things that I do in my life.
Michael: "Well, I really appreciate your willingness to share your experiences here, and I'm certain there will be some advisors who find solace and inspiration and feel helped by what you've shared. So thank you, so much, for joining us, Brenda, on the Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Brenda: Thank you so much for having me, Michael. I really appreciate it.
Michael: Absolutely. Thank you.
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