How ethnic advisors are supporting their diverse mix of clients

The Globe and Mail consulted Certified Financial Planning Professional Kelly Ho with Vancouver’s DLD Financial Group Ltd to discuss how second-generation Canadians, who embrace both cultures and want their financial plans to reflect this.

One of Kelly Ho’s niches is helping clients collaborate personal finance ideas they learned in their country of origin with perspectives from their newly chosen country.

“The easiest part is doing the financial plan. The hardest part is really understanding what’s important to the clients,” says Ms. Ho, certified financial planner (CFP) and partner at DLD Financial Group Ltd. in Vancouver.

And what’s important to immigrant and second-generation Canadian clients often differs from what she calls “the North American way of thinking” – ideas based on individual or nuclear family needs instead of a multigenerational lens. For example, adult kids actively helping aging parents financially may be an expectation in some countries, but is seen as optional in Canada.

Ms. Ho, whose parents immigrated from Hong Kong, says devotion to family stems from many first-generation Canadians recalling the hardship of moving to a new country. They also remember their parents sending money back to their home country regularly, and those values stuck. For example, Ms. Ho spoke of one client who can manage his personal budget well, but admitted when it comes to his parents’ needs, he has no financial limits. “That tells me a lot about this client’s values and what they’re willing to do,” she says.

Other clients plan to foot the entire bill for their kids’ post-secondary educations and also pay for their first house as per their cultural norm, she adds. It’s part of Ms. Ho’s job to factor these items into the financial plan, not dictate ideas that go against a cultural philosophy.

“We don’t impose our values onto their planning,” she says. “How can we structure their financial plan so that it speaks to their values but also can get them to your goals? It’s really trying to find that happy medium.”

These issues have meant she and her firm have focused on coming up with more meaningful, open-ended questions, Ms. Ho says. She finds that new immigrant clients want to learn more about Western values and are looking for an advisor to help them demystify the differences between cultures. Ms. Ho is fluent in Cantonese and is “getting better at Mandarin,” which she says can help with overall communication and getting a message across. But most of Ms. Ho’s own client base are second-generation Canadians, who embrace both cultures and want their financial plans to be reflected as such.

“They want someone who can relate to them as they will be divulging the most important and personal information they will ever divulge to anyone,” she notes.

Understanding differences and encouraging learning

Iftikhar Mahmood, CFP at CreateWealth Planning in Markham, Ont., decided to partner with a portfolio management firm to focus more on learning what makes his clients tick. “I have more time to talk about the touchy-feely stuff [such as] what retirement looks like for them, their goals, [and] investment goals.

He says his Muslim faith helps him understand what’s important to clients of a similar upbringing. For example, eschewing interest-bearing investments and any investment concentrated in gambling, weapons, pork, and alcohol is a must. When he onboarded some new clients, Mr. Mahmood heard the previous advisor didn’t take the time to learn about the differences in how Muslims may want to invest their money.

Nabila Mirza, wealth specialist and CFP at connectFirst Credit Union Ltd. in Olds, Alta., says another challenge can be how different countries define wealth. She notes that South Asian countries tend to emphasize owning multiple real estate properties, but not investments and other assets. “They don’t understand that they’re concentrating their assets heavily in one sector versus diversification,” she says.

While Ms. Mirza understands how some ethnic clients may feel more comfortable with an advisor who looks like them – she has some – she also notes they may be missing out on learning opportunities. She encourages clients to cast a wide net, do a thorough due diligence process, and ultimately, work with an advisor who makes them comfortable. But she also notes that as a first-generation Indo-Canadian who grew up in Qatar, Olds’ predominantly white rural community welcomed her “with open arms.” She adds that collaborating with a different ethnicity may open up new avenues of discussion.

“If you meet someone with the exact same background, there’s nothing new to bring to that conversation,” Ms. Mirza notes. “Just learning from each other brought my clients closer to me. They’re respectful of our differences.”