Wellness – particularly in recent years – has become a term we see more and more. From physical wellness to mental wellness, to spiritual wellness, many of us are now in tune more than ever with what wellness can look and feel like, what impacts it, and what it means to us personally.
While not necessarily the new kid on the block, a type of wellness you might not be as familiar with is financial wellness – what it looks like for your unique situation and how your financial services partner can help.
The good news is you should be able to have a financial wellness conversation with your bank at any time as a prospective or existing client – whether it’s because you want to know what’s possible for getting a loan, are trying to plan for retirement, or quite simply just want a better sense of where you’re at and what’s possible for the future.
So, how do you prepare for this kind meeting? We asked Neil Howatt, Personal Banking Manager in our Kamloops Banking Centre for a little insight into the kind of information you’ll likely need to gather, as well as some important things to think about, including the type of relationship you want with your bank.
Financial well-being: There are many different definitions of financial well-being. A commonly accepted one is being able to meet current and ongoing financial needs; feeling secure about your financial future; and being free to make choices that allow you to enjoy life. – Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
Doing the prep work: 6 tips
#1: Be ready to share – your banker’s going to ask you lots of questions! “People often seem surprised by how much info we need – and why, for example, if you’re exploring the possibility of a mortgage we’d request things like T4s or an employment letter to verify what you’ve told us,” says Howatt. He explains this information helps your banker get a clearer picture of your financial landscape and is all in your best interest because it ensures a fulsome and accurate financial wellness assessment.
“Just be aware that your banker might ask you for a lot of information at once,” he says. “If I’m meeting with a client, I always send them a bit of a grocery list ahead of time for what we’re going to talk about, including a checklist of key documents to bring. And I always preface it with yes, this may feel like a lot, but I’m only going to ask for it once, and it helps me better understand and help you.”
#2: Provide the information – and in a timely manner. While your first inclination might be to hold your cards close to your chest (we get it, these are your hard-earned dollars!), you’re setting your banker up to do a way better job of advising you if you simply tell them, honestly, what’s going on – in fact, it’ll actually save you time because they’re going to find out eventually anyways.
“It may sound surprising, but I want to do your deal. So give me reasons to say yes, because I’m on your side. Maybe you didn’t want to tell me about this lemon of a used car you financed because you’re embarrassed. Or maybe you’re reluctant to share that you have $100,000 at another bank, or that you owe your brother-in-law $50,000 because you co-signed on his truck. But this is information we need to know so we can best help you. I’d rather know it all up front than piecemeal it together over a two-week period,” says Howatt, adding that every good banker understands bad things can happen to good people and will support you through the process without judgment.
#3: Provide as much detail as possible and make sure it’s accurate. Howatt says pretty much everyone is asked to fill out a personal financial statement that gives a snapshot of their assets and liabilities. Proactively gathering this information ahead of time (including the interest rates on your investments and your liabilities) can not only give you more confidence going into a meeting, but it also makes the conversation more productive right off the bat.
Having a really good handle on how much you already owe is also important, adds Howatt – particularly if you’re speaking with your bank about lending options. For example, you might not think the overall amount you owe on your credit cards is a big deal because the minimum monthly payment is small, but the total amount is what’s going to impact a lending decision.
Pro tip: Howatt really advises against attempting to ballpark your financial details versus taking the time to accurately track them down. “Maybe you guess that your mortgage is $2,000 a month, but it’s actually $2,000 bi-weekly. That makes a big difference to your actual monthly cashflow, which of course impacts your financial wellness picture and could lead to some surprises,” he says.
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#4: Be open to the possibility of changing course. “The advice you got 10, 20 years ago, might not be the best option for you now and going forward,” says Howatt, explaining you should expect to review your current financial strategy with your banker to make sure it’s still working for you.
“Maybe you got a decent job 15 years ago and your banker was very good at saying you should put $100 a month away in a mutual fund. And flash forward to today and you haven’t done anything about it, or really given it a second thought. And then in that financial wellness meeting maybe you find out you’re actually in a super risky mutual fund that’s been underperforming. A big part of financial wellness is financial literacy – and that starts with really knowing where you’re at. If you’re making $100,000 a year, is $100 a month going to get you to where you want to be when you retire?"
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#5: Be prepared to talk about life events – including succession planning if you’re a business owner. “What do you want out of retirement? How are you planning for your kids’ education? What about estate or succession planning? It’s actually not unusual how little thinking some people do about these things,” says Howatt.
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He explains people often put this off because these questions can be really hard, especially if it’s about things like life insurance or designating a beneficiary – which can get even trickier if you have a blended family or there have been multiple marriages. “We ask those difficult questions, and we know they’re difficult. But I’m going to ask you them because they’re important to your financial wellness. And while you don’t have to answer right on the spot, you do need an answer eventually.”
For business owners, questions about succession planning often involve ensuring everyone has the same vision of the future. Howatt says through some conversations with clients they’ll discover not everyone is on the same page. “I’ll have a conversation with a business owner and ask about their exit strategy. Right away the go-to is often, well I’ll just sell my business to my competitor and that becomes my retirement. But what if the week before I met with their competitor and asked them the same question and they said the same thing? Or maybe the plan is to sell to the general manager. But have you paid him enough so that he has the down payment needed to buy your business?”
Howatt adds that for family businesses, it’s also critical to confirm that your children not only want to take over the business, but are in a financial position to do so. “We ask the hard questions. Sometimes people know the answers, sometimes they don’t. But at least we ask,” says Howatt.
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#6: Think about what kind of relationship you want with your bank – and the expectations from both sides. People have lots of options when it comes to banks and products, so to help pick your financial wellness partner, you should consider how you’d like to engage with them. There are essentially two main types of banking relationships – transactional and relationship-based. CWB of course falls deeply into the second bucket.
“Some people just want transactional and never want to talk to their banker. They may be purely interested in getting the best rates and are ok if that means sacrificing on service,” says Howatt. “That’s absolutely fine. Just decide what’s important to you before coming in. The kind of relationship we offer is based on open communication, which needs to flow both ways. We want to talk to you and get to know you, and to do that we need information from you – we’re going to ask you lots of questions. But the benefit is that, for example, you call me and tell me you’ve lost your job, then maybe 15 minutes later you’ll have an email confirmation in your inbox that you’re skipping your mortgage payment this month. That’s the value of a relationship. Do you want to pick up the phone and get a hold of your banker every single call? Think about what you want from the relationship and the role you’re willing to play in it, too.”
Finally, it’s likely you’ll leave your financial wellness meeting with some homework to do. Like any good student striving for success, just be diligent about doing it. This could include tracking down additional information and making some decisions about your next steps (especially when it comes to investments and where to place your money), or meeting with other experts on the CWB team (like CWB Wealth advisors).