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Tech Gives Blueshore Financial Advisors More Time To Talk With Clients

Financial advisors at Blueshore Financial, a credit union based in Vancouver that works with many high net worth clients, pay special attention to the needs of women.

Ilana Schonwetter, an investment advisor, said she had worked with a finance writer to see how women fared in retirement savings compared to men. If women earn 87 cents on the dollar, you’d expect their retirement savings to be somewhere around that percentage as well. But if they both save 10% of their earnings, and women tend to be a little more risk averse so their rate of return is a little lower, the result is that women retire with only 77% of the nest egg a man has, she said.

Blueshore’s wealth management business benefits from the way many financial advisors deal with women, she added dryly.

“A lot of advisors direct their entire relationship to the man. Even when a husband and wife come into meetings together, the entire conversation is focused on the man, and the woman is not made to feel part of it.”

At Blueshore, women are heard.

As a credit union, Blueshore may start with some unfair advantages over banks or brokers — it is owned by members and treats them as owners rather than just customers.

Schonwetter said Blueshore uses technology to support advisors and give them more time to work one-on-one with clients. It has used a customer relationship management system from Avolin for more than 20 years and uses Temenos for core banking. It offers a robo advisor from Aviso Wealth in a hybrid model that also offers access to a dedicated financial advisor.

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“I get a lot of clients reaching out with concerns, such as ‘one of my parents passed and I am expecting this level of inheritance, or I just deposited $1.5 million in my account as the result of selling a home. Our organization is a little more unique in that we are not a traditional bank — more a boutique with a holistic approach.”

She starts by sitting down and listening and asking questions. It is often an emotional topic, especially if she is working with a woman whose husband has died.

“In most cases we will get started by having the woman come in and sit down and start to chat about her current financial circumstance and try to understand her level of understanding around finance and investments, such as asset classes, risk appetite and diversification.”

Her first bit of advice is to encourage women to take their time.

“Anyone who inherits should take time to understand these areas before making any decisions. Do not be rushed into any decision, do not let your husband’s advisor push you into anything, get comfortable. Make sure you are comfortable. Our job is to tie together the client’s financial goals and provide a comfort level with the right allocation of products to get peace of mind.”

That might mean starting with a very conservative, safe portfolio with some guaranteed investment contracts (GICs) and some stocks and bonds. As the client’s level of knowledge grows, or they show interest in higher returns, she can change the portfolio to include more stocks and stock and bond ETFs. Listening is the key, she added.

“I have received so much feedback from women saying ‘This is the first time was I feel like I am being heard, the first time that things have been explained to me in a way I understand.’ Many women have not been treated as an equal family member. They are considered an add-on item, their input is not valued and they feel spoken down to,” she said. ‘I thank all the male advisors for doing that — we benefit from their business perspective.”

When I talked with Alyson Clarke, a senior analyst at Forrester, about women and investing, she warned me against assuming women just inherit money — many are successful professionals who have created their own wealth, she said.

Schonwetter agreed.

“I am seeing far more successful women who are very financially independent — they have been successful at building up their own wealth. I have been working at this over 25 years, and the number of successful women in my practice today is significantly greater.”

She also sees women who have taken over a family business from a husband who has died or become incapacitated. “I have seen women running male-oriented businesses as the result of death. There might be some growing pains to take on a leadership role, but it still gets done,” she added.

“We have $6.5 billion in assets under management,” said Schonwetter, “and a lot of them are high-end clients we have acquired from the big banks. They say the experience here is so much better. We don’t claim to be the cheapest, but technology has allowed us to scale.”

She sees Blueshore’s adoption of advanced technology as a competitive edge, especially compared to the firms with aging financial advisors who don’t do tech well.

“There are certain advisors who have been in business for 30 years but have one year of experience times 30,” she said. “Technology helps free up our time to be in front of clients and be working toward positive outcomes,” she said.

“I love how the company has invested in tech to do what we do best. If not already left behind (older phone-focused advisors) they soon will be. You have to embrace change. Technology can be your friend, create efficiencies. The last year has taught us you can be present and feel connected without being across the table from a client. I have always embraced any new technologies that have come our way.”

Two tech tools that Schonwetter and other advisors often used during the pandemic were video conferencing with clients and e-signatures which allowed them to sign documents remotely.

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