THE POWER OF EM­PA­THY

Al Jones used to work on a govern­ment farm teach­ing life skills to kids with big prob­lems. Now, he’s a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor who ad­vises clients on fi­nan­cial plan­ning, in­surance and in­vest­ments — and the change in ca­reers is not that big a stretch

Investment Executive - - BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS - BY WENDY CUTHBERT

Al Jones grad­u­ated from so­cial work to fi­nan­cial plan­ning in the 1990s. He says the gap be­tween his two ca­reers is not nearly as wide as it may seem.

al jones the so­cial worker used to help in­ner-city youth meet the chal­lenges of liv­ing and work­ing on a farm that’s part of a treat­ment fa­cil­ity de­signed to help trou­bled kids find their path. Al Jones the fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor now helps fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als meet the chal­lenges posed by life events, in­clud­ing di­vorce and death.

And if not for the threat of a long com­mute, this dra­matic ca­reer change might never have oc­curred.

Jones says his so­cial work was in­tensely sat­is­fy­ing. Liv­ing and work­ing with kids who had been ex­pelled from school, he tried to in­stil the im­por­tance of cre­ativ­ity and com­mit­ment to solv­ing prob­lems. But he found it nec­es­sary to make a change when the pro­gram was al­tered in a way that would have forced him to travel daily be­tween his home in Bar­rie, Ont., and down­town Toronto — a three-hour com­mute.

So, partly as a re­sult of a re­cruit­ment sem­i­nar by Lon­don, Ont.-based Lon­don Life In­surance Co. in 1996, Jones made the leap to be­com­ing a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor. But while that shift sounds dra­matic, he points out that help­ing clients choose in­surance and in­vest­ment prod­ucts in­cludes help­ing them ne­go­ti­ate life chal­lenges.

“When you’re work­ing with hard-toserve youth or fam­i­lies, you’re try­ing to iden­tify what their goals are and you try to work cre­atively with them to cre­ate so­lu­tions,” Jones says. “The nice thing is that I’m still in the same busi­ness of prob­lem­solv­ing and help­ing in­di­vid­u­als.”

Jones, 56, is pres­i­dent of A. Jones Wealth & Es­tate Plan­ning Inc., a Bar­riebased in­de­pen­dent in­surance and in­vest­ment prac­tice aligned with Free­dom 55 Fi­nan­cial, it­self a sub­sidiary of Lon­don Life. He earned his cer­ti­fied fi­nan­cial plan­ner’s des­ig­na­tion in 2002 and his char­tered life un­der­writer in 2004.

Jones’s ros­ter, which con­sists of about 600 clients, con­tin­ues to grow — mainly by referral, as clients re­fer friends and ac­quain­tances who of­ten are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lifechang­ing events, such as di­vorce, in­her­i­tances and lay­offs. Jones takes time with each prospect dur­ing the ini­tial in­ter­view, typ­i­cally spend­ing well over an hour dis­cussing his or her sit­u­a­tion.

Jones then asks th­ese prospects to go home and think about whether they can com­mit to his ad­vice; he com­pares this ap­proach to his work with trou­bled youth. Only when prospects have agreed to Jones’ ap­proach will he be­gin draw­ing up a fi­nan­cial plan, which can in­clude both in­surance and in­vest­ments. His book of busi­ness com­prises about 30% in­surance prod­ucts and 70% in­vest­ments (seg­re­gated funds and mu­tual funds).

Jones re­lies en­tirely on com­mis­sions, but says that the level of ser­vice he pro­vides gen­er­ally ex­ceeds client ex­pec­ta­tions. That ser­vice in­cludes meet­ing with clients at least twice a year — and more of­ten if clients re­quire fur­ther guid­ance. This fre­quency of con­tact is sup­ple­mented with reg­u­lar outreach to clients, mainly on the phone, and by tak­ing note of spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

Jones also hosts events with speak­ers that tar­get the needs of spe­cific groups of clients: for ex­am­ple, a re­cent se­niors’ event dur­ing which a speaker shared in­for­ma­tion about the rules re­lat­ing to es­tate ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

When it comes to help­ing clients through life events, Jones has ob­served — like many ad­vi­sors — that di­vorce can be highly de­struc­tive, both emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially. So, about five years ago, he be­came in­volved with Col­lab­o­ra­tive Prac­tice Sim­coe County, a group of pro­fes­sion­als who help sep­a­rat­ing cou­ples use me­di­a­tion to re­solve is­sues such as child and spousal sup­port, di­vi­sion of as­sets and other prob­lems re­lat­ing to fam­ily break­down with­out the need for a court ap­pli­ca­tion. Th­ese meet­ings con­sist of two lawyers, one for each party, and two “neu­trals” — a so­cial worker and a fi­nan­cial ser­vices pro­fes­sional — who help the cou­ple nav­i­gate their next moves.

Be­ing in­volved in the lo­cal com­mu­nity helps Jones both build his prac­tice and con­tinue with the ac­tiv­i­ties he has al­ways en­joyed. He loves to cook and has hosted sev­eral “bake-offs” with clients. In fact, recipes are posted on his web­site.

Jones is serv­ing his first year as trea­surer and sec­ond year as trus­tee for the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Fi­nan­cial Education. Some­how, he also finds time to vol­un­teer with the Grey & Sim­coe Foresters and serve as chair­man of the Vaughn, Ont.based PACE Credit Union. (He holds the ac­cred­ited credit union di­rec­tor’s des­ig­na­tion con­ferred by Dal­housie Univer­sity). To free up more time, he has be­gun the process of del­e­gat­ing parts of his prac­tice to oth­ers so that he can re­fo­cus his ef­forts in other di­rec­tions. Jones re­cently hired a ju­nior ad­vi­sor in or­der to spend more time on his top clients.

Jones’s gift for em­pa­thy goes back a long way. As a child, he at­tended a sum­mer camp ev­ery year that was geared to­ward low-in­come kids. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence, he says, that was life-chang­ing and which helped him de­velop his skill for con­nect­ing with many kinds of peo­ple.

Jones re­mained in­volved with the camp for al­most two decades, grad­u­at­ing to coun­sel­lor and, even­tu­ally, di­rec­tor. Jones met his wife, Sue, at the camp when they both were coun­sel­lors there. Partly as a re­sult of Jones’ con­nec­tion with na­ture, he chose to study out­door ther­a­peu­tic re­cre­ation at Hum­ber Col­lege and the Univer­sity of Water­loo. He also played foot­ball through high school and col­lege.

That’s not to say life al­ways has been smooth sail­ing for Jones. As a large black man with an ath­letic bear­ing — he stands over six feet tall — Jones says he’s al­ways had to be con­scious of how he presents him­self when visit­ing clients and prospects. He is aware that his name pro­vides no clues to his race and he of­ten catches peo­ple by sur­prise at a first meet­ing. In one in­stance, a young black woman greeted him at the door, sur­prised to see that her pre­con­ceived no­tion of what an in­surance sales­man named “Al Jones” might look like was in­ac­cu­rate.

Peo­ple bring their own per­cep­tions to the ta­ble when deal­ing with race, Jones says, and it can be an ad­van­tage or a dis­ad­van­tage, de­pend­ing on whom he’s deal­ing with. For ex­am­ple, new Cana­di­ans are of­ten very wel­com­ing, while some mem­bers of “old money” cir­cles in Bar­rie still strug­gle with prej­u­dice. “Peo­ple [can be] stuck in their ways,” Jones says.

But Jones is a self-de­scribed “peo­ple con­nec­tor,” as likely to know a good plum­ber as the right lawyer to do a client’s will. So, it’s not sur­pris­ing that his busi­ness has grown mainly through re­fer­rals.

To thank th­ese clients, Jones holds an an­nual din­ner event. This past year, the event fea­tured Greg Pol­lock, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Fi­nan­cial Ad­vi­sors As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada (a.k.a. Ad­vo­cis), who dis­cussed the sec­ond phase of the client re­la­tion­ship model (CRM2) and what it means for ad­vi­sors and their clients. Jones has long been in­volved with Ad­vo­cis and is cur­rently a board mem­ber.

Al­though Jones still has the ear of a tal­ented so­cial worker, he has man­aged to drop some of the con­vic­tions of his former ca­reer. For ex­am­ple, he used to refuse to give up on clients when they strug­gled with com­mit­ting to a plan. Those days are over.

“Now, I’m bet­ter able to dis­cern those who aren’t will­ing to com­mit,” Jones says. “At some point, you have to say, ‘This [client] isn’t in your best in­ter­est’.”

A self-de­scribed “peo­ple con­nec­tor,” Jones’s busi­ness has grown strongly through re­fer­rals

PAUL LAWRENCE

Al Jones, who has his own prac­tice in Bar­rie, Ont., un­der the Free­dom 55 ban­ner, vol­un­teers widely in his com­mu­nity and is ac­tive in Ad­vo­cis. Af­ter many years in the busi­ness, he now asks new clients to make sure they can com­mit to his ap­proach.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.