With 27 years of experience in the industry, today’s guest Rona Birenbaum explains the importance of technology in the financial services field, as well as how financial planners can stay relevant through all the changes. Rona is an honours graduate of York University’s Business School, a CFP, and an insurance advisor. In 2000, she founded Caring for Clients, a premier fee-only financial planning firm. In 2016, she started Viviplan, a low-cost, fee-only financial planning fintech company that’s the first of its kind in Canada.

Wealth Professional Canada named Rona a Woman of Influence in Financial Services and one of the top 50 advisors in Canada for three years running. Rona is also a guest personal finance columnist for both The Globe and Mail and The Medical Post. Hear what she has to say about her two businesses, how she builds relationships with clients, and how she’s using technology to help bring financial planning services to more Canadians.

Topics Discussed in This Episode:

  •     How Rona came up with the business name Caring for Clients
  •     How Viviplan makes financial planning more affordable for all Canadians
  •     Rona’s high-level financial planning process
  •     How Rona builds relationships with clients
  •     The types of questions that Rona asks clients to build engagement
  •     How to make sure that financial advisors really care about clients
  •     The importance of patience in building Rona’s companies
  •     Whether it would be easier to run a financial planning company today
  •     The challenges of scaling Viviplan’s services and how technology fills the gaps
  •     Viviplan’s service tier structure
  •     What Rona thinks about how financial planning will evolve in the future
  •     What kind of person would be a good investor or partner in Viviplan
  •     Rona’s words of wisdom for financial planners getting into the business now

Links and Resources:

Caring for Clients


Rona Birenbaum

Rona on Twitter

Quotes from Rona:

“The idea and the concept is to use technology to bring down the cost of delivering that advice.”

“What really sets us apart, and what I think needs to set anybody apart in a service business is the degree to which they get to know their clients, understand the unique attributes of their clients, can relate to their clients on a very personal level.”

“The journey of a startup is never a straight line, so there needs to be an alignment of mission and values.”

When you listen to Rona talk about her work, you’ll notice that her mission is to help as many Canadians as possible with their finances. This includes the impact her two companies are making, as well as the volunteer work she does with Junior Achievement to bring financial literacy to Toronto schools. In this episode she is no different, offering wonderful advice and motivation to our listeners ‒ so make sure you catch the whole show. Below, we’ve collected some key points from the recording:

  • Why Viviplan?
  • How financial planning will evolve in the future
  • Rona’s three tips for getting started with fee-based financial planning

For more on Rona’s planning philosophy, how she engages clients, the challenges and opportunities that Viviplan is facing, and more, listen to the full episode through the link above, or on iTunes or Stitcher.

Why Viviplan?

There’s no question that Rona’s first company, Caring for Clients, is successful; in fact, Wealth Professional Canada named them the top independent firm in 2017. But then, why found another company in the financial services space, and a robo-planner at that?

It all comes back to the spirit captured in the name of her first company: caring for clients.

Rona felt that one on one, the scale of her impact was limited. She and her fellow advisors have only so many hours in the day and can only help so many people. As she puts it, “the idea and the concept is to use technology to bring down the cost of delivering that advice.” She wants to make financial planning available and affordable for everyone.

Viviplan will allow her to reach even more Canadians and help them plan their finances at a price point that’s at about a quarter of traditional fee-for-service planning. For those looking for short- or long-term planning that’s affordable and a little more hands-on on the client’s part, Viviplan can be a great option.

While they’re still working on funding to build the technology and automate more of the processes, she’s hoping that eventually, consumers will be able to play with their data and projections themselves and really take planning into their own hands, with a little less involvement from a financial planner.

How financial planning will evolve in the future

So will robo-planners like Viviplan take over the market and replace human financial advisors once and for all?

Rona doubts it, and it’s certainly not her intent. In fact, Viviplan’s most popular plan includes a conversation with a financial planner ‒ she understands as well as anyone the value of a person who can connect the plan to the client’s context and help them understand how to implement it.

She likens financial planners to doctors: sure, we all have access to tons of medical information on the internet, but does that mean doctors are going out of business anytime soon?

Of course not!

Right now, a lot of planners’ work still revolves around working with data: gathering it, inputting it, manipulating it, and so on. That work will become pretty well automated with time, so planners’ roles will shift to connecting with, understanding, and educating their clients ‒ and this is something consumers are seeking out more and more!

Moving forward, planners’ work will be more centered on interpreting data, understanding how it relates to the client’s context, helping the client understand it, and providing ongoing motivation and support to implement the plan.

Way more fun than data entry, right?

Rona’s three tips for getting started with fee-based financial planning

If you’re just getting into the financial planning business, or maybe you want to move from traditional commission-based advising to fee-based planning, Rona has three key pieces of advice for you:

  1. Get your CFP designation: If you already have it, fantastic. Most consumers now expect financial service professionals to hold CFPs. Furthermore, as the industry becomes more regulated, a CFP will soon be the required designation if you want to call yourself a financial planner.

  3. Have realistic expectations: Incorporating financial planning is surprisingly time intensive, and once you start doing it for a client, you are responsible for updating that plan and helping them follow it… forever! That’s a long-term commitment, so be ready for the time and resources you’ll need to put toward this rewarding work.

Hint: You’ll also want to decide before you start whether you want to do the planning yourself or bring someone in to do it for you ‒ it might make sense to hire someone else to build the plans if you’d rather focus strictly on your relationship with clients.

3. Keep learning: Stay up to date on the latest in the industry, keep learning from experts, and be open-minded. Financial planning is full of exciting changes and challenges, so stay flexible and be ready to adapt as needed.

To make sure you keep your finger on the pulse of the industry, make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, and sign up below to get new episode notifications directly to your inbox. Also, don’t forget to listen to the full episode to catch all of Rona’s wisdom and advice!