Health care planning is part of investment planning in pandemic era, RBC wealth head says

CEO of RBC Wealth Management Canada David Agnew in the company’s Toronto offices, on May 12.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

More than two years into the pandemic, Canadians are beginning to realize the sudden impact a major health crisis could have on their retirement and financial planning, and it’s not just concern about COVID-19, says David Agnew, chief executive officer at RBC Wealth Management Canada.

Financial advisers are now incorporating health care planning into the conversations they are having with clients as part of their long-term financial goals. RBC Wealth, through several partnerships, has taken it a step further by launching information seminars with medical professionals to discuss various health care risks such as dementia, advanced care plans and specific women’s health issues.

“COVID has been a wake-up call for all Canadians to prepare or update their financial affairs, but also beyond the pandemic, people are now living longer,“ Mr. Agnew said in an interview. “Clients are much more concerned about what health issues they could be facing, as well as who will take care of them if they can no longer be at home.”

Mr. Agnew has spent the past 12 years overseeing RBC’s wealth management businesses in Canada including the bank’s brokerage RBC Dominion Securities, RBC PH&N Investment Counsel, investment bank RBC Royal Trust, RBC family office services and RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc.

That includes one of the country’s largest full-service securities brokerages with 1,900 securities advisers and 110 investment counsellors who oversee about $510-billion in assets, as of March 30, for high-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth families in Canada.

Throughout Mr. Agnew’s 37-year career with the bank, he has navigated his fair share of recessions and market meltdowns. Mr. Agnew joined RBC in 1985 as an investment adviser in Montreal. In 2003, the same year the SARS virus hit Toronto, he was named national director of RBC Dominion Securities, and then chief executive officer of the brokerage in 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis.

In June, 2020, only several months into the pandemic, Mr. Agnew reached out to Samir Sinha, the director of health policy research at the National Institute on Ageing (NIA), and the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto.

“The pandemic has put Canada’s entire health care system under enormous strain, exposing gaps that are expected to widen as the baby boomer generation continues to age,” Mr. Agnew adds. “I asked him where he saw the greatest need and what we could do, as a firm, to help. He was quick to identify two areas – financial education and fraud protection for older Canadians.”

The conversation was the start of a partnership between RBC Wealth Management and the NIA, a think tank at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University), to help older Canadians prepare for numerous financial scenarios that may occur later in life when age-related medical conditions may arise and advanced care may be required.

The number of Canadians over the age of 85 is expected to reach 2.6 million by 2050, up from around 844,000 in 2021, according to research conducted by the NIA. The organization also estimates that long-term care costs will more than triple to $71-billion by 2050 from $22-billion in 2019.

“Part of the challenge, both within government circles and in the broader society, is that health and finances are often treated as separate domains working in separate silos,” Michael Nicin, executive director of the NIA, said in an interview with The Globe. “But in the face of an aging population we really need to help bridge the gap between financial planning – whether it’s fiscal policy at the government level or individual retirement planning – and health issues, including how individual Canadians can prepare to live longer.”

“People need to know where they’re going to age, where they’re going to receive care, what the health care system is able to do for them, and what they have to do on their own – including the cost of private health care.”

A power-of-attorney document is one of the more common legal forms brought up during conversations around wills and estate planning. A recent RBC Wealth Management survey reported that about 71 per cent of Canadian adults do not have a signed power-of-attorney document, which authorizes a trusted individual in case of a personal emergency or other circumstances that may require someone to make decisions on their behalf.

“COVID-19 has only added urgency to the need to plan for these situations,” Mr. Agnew said.

In 2020, the NIA began to track how prepared Canadians are when it comes to unexpected health issues. It found that 80 per cent of Canadians had no written plan about their wishes should they become incapable of consenting to or refusing treatment for medical purposes, and fewer than 50 per cent have had a conversation with a trusted family member or friend about preferred health care treatments should they become incapacitated.

As a result, Mr. Agnew has begun to incorporate more health care planning into the discussions his advisers are having with clients. Conversations can touch upon advance care planning, incapacity and having a trusted person of contact in case there are signs of cognitive decline, as well as how to detect signs of potential financial abuse in those who are vulnerable.

“Health and wellness has been a huge focus for us – and not just during the first year of COVID but it has been ongoing,” Mr. Agnew said. “It strengthens our relationship with clients and they begin to trust us with more of their financial needs.”

And those conversations could be contributing to growth. Assets for the entire Canadian wealth management division have jumped to $534-billion, as of March, 2022, up from $425-billion in assets for the same period in 2020.

Along with the NIA, RBC Wealth has also partnered with care-management company Elder Caring Inc. and Women’s Brain Health Initiative, a charitable foundation that conducts research on brain aging disorders that disproportionately affect women. The partnerships include a series of in-person and online seminars for clients that feature medical professionals discussing various health care risks they may face in the future and how they can prepare ahead of time.

More than 6,500 clients across the country have attended four separate health-related discussions virtually on topics such as the early signs of dementia, long-term care and women’s brain health.

“Our relationship with clients is well beyond just investment management and that has just accelerated even more during the pandemic,” Mr. Agnew said.

“We saw what happened in long-term care homes during COVID-19, and now people are paying much closer attention to where they want to live in retirement, who will be taking care of them – and how to ensure they can afford that kind of care.”

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