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It’s summer – use your time off to spruce up your financial plan

Fire up the barbecue, lie in the hammock, plan a vacation or refocus your financial plan.

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Summertime – and the living is easy. No more heavy coats and snow boots. Just step outside and enjoy the nice weather. Fire up the barbecue, lie in the hammock or plan a vacation.

Financial advisors enjoy those things, too, and are relieved to have the pressures of RRSP deadlines and taxes in the rear-view mirror. But they also understand that the summer months remain an important time for client recruiting and cultivating client relationships.

"I'm just as busy in June and July as I am in January and February," says Kevin Dunphy, a certified financial planner and president of Dunphy-Molloy & Associates Ltd., an advisory firm with Investment Planning Counsel in St. John's. "We don't really step back in the summer months – 12 months a year we're prospecting, and 12 months a year we're talking to our clients," he adds.

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Ryan Gerstel, an investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy in Toronto, also engages with his clients consistently during the year, but notes that in summer, with the immediacy of final RRSP contributions and tax issues out of the way, there is less time sensitivity and also more flexibility in terms of how time is spent meeting with prospective new clients or existing clients.

"Summertime allows us to discuss issues that might be on [the client's] mind but are often swept over with RRSP contributions or taxes, or things that are much more apparent over specific times. We can refocus on what the plan looks like from an overall big picture, discuss the level of risk they're comfortable with, and how much risk they're taking, and go back to the core planning routes," he says.

Financial advisors also encourage their clients by reminding them that relatively quiet periods like summer are not times to let up on their savings plans, but rather to maintain a consistent effort while contributing all year round. An example would be monthly contributions, involving dollar-cost averaging, to their registered retirement savings plans (RRSP).

"I'm a big believer in consistency and process when we establish any plan," says Mr. Gerstel. "All the things we do with clients are very much driven by what we create for them on a financial roadmap. We strive toward saying …'Here's the benefit of continuing along a certain path, and doing it consistently, and not letting up in the summer, or when something else kind of overwhelms it.'"

Maintaining that consistency over the summer months helps to ensure that various concerns about their portfolio are addressed and don't slip through the cracks, and it also serves to relieve pressure later in the year when deadlines loom, such as the March 1 [non-leap year] deadline for RRSP contributions for the previous calendar year.

"They don't have to do that February scramble of coming up with $5,000, or $10,000 or $20,000 for their RRSP, because they discussed it in June or July, and they know there's a plan in place. So there's not that big pressure of 'It's the last two weeks of February. I'd better get that RRSP contribution in,'" Mr. Dunphy notes.

Mr. Gerstel says he generally likes to meet with clients on a quarterly basis face-to-face if geography permits, and to focus on different items in those meetings.

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"Leading into RRSP or tax time, there may be more focus on strategies in order to benefit from RRSP savings or strategies to reduce taxes where possible. Then [we would] spend the other months – whether it's the summer months – discussing longer-term situations that are important to the client, whether that's business succession planning, estate planning for future generations, or, even as they move through different life cycles, what we need to amend in the initial plan," he explains.

"So there's a continual process of monitoring, and all of the meetings have a theme so that the clients get a chance to discuss different elements of their financial plan, and it all ties together in different quarters by focusing on different things," Mr. Gerstel adds.

Mr. Dunphy says he, too, has established a review schedule with all of his clients, with the frequency of those meetings during the year depending on factors such as where they are in their life cycle, the size of their account, and whether their personal circumstances have changed.

Of course, everybody being human and wanting to do things when the weather is warm that aren't available at other times, experts acknowledge they face challenges in getting clients to turn their attention to finance during the summer months. So while it is important to engage, they understand that allowances have to be made to accommodate client schedules and personal desires.

"Throughout the [rest of the] year, I will probably do 18 to 22 meetings a week. In the summer months I probably cut that back to 12 to 15," says Mr. Dunphy. "People are on vacation. [Also] in Newfoundland and Labrador, summers are short. So do you want to go see your advisor at 4:00 on a nice sunny afternoon? Or do you want to go home and put on the barbecue?" he asks.

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