For Evelyn, the road to financial empowerment has been a bit of a bumpy ride, especially as she is acutely aware that her confidence level when dealing with finances was quite low when she started on this journey. “On a scale of one to ten,” says Evelyn, “I was maybe a three.” Standing proudly beside her shiny red Honda Forza scooter waiting to have her photo taken, Evelyn is not sure what to do with her hands and wonders if she should keep her sunglasses on or off. As she fidgets, she decides to wear the glasses while holding her helmet. This seems to ground her.
“Being empowered is about having the actual tools, knowledge and resources needed to step forward.” [Tracy Theemes]
Despite feeling nervous about being interviewed, Evelyn is proud that her hard work has paid off as she can confidently say that she now recognizes what it means to feel financially empowered. “It is not as scary anymore because I understand the basics and have a foundation.” Evelyn hopes her story will encourage others to take that first step and join her on the road to financial empowerment.
But what does that mean exactly? According to Tracy Theemes from Sophia Financial Group, “Being empowered is about having the actual tools, knowledge and resources needed to step forward. It is an additional layer of ability WITH confidence.”
Evelyn is the first to admit that when she began her journey, she lacked the confidence to know what questions to ask, let alone who to ask. As a result, she was stuck in an old pattern of not making any kind of decision even if it meant losing money. Feeling financially empowered was not even on her radar. At least not until her father passed away unexpectedly.
“My dad,” says Evelyn, “who was a labourer all his life, was skilled with money. He had been investing my money until he died. He was very good with what he did and when he died, I simply left my money where it was and just kept adding to it.” This seemed to work until it came time to complete the annual risk assessment with her financial advisor. “I dreaded it, and had serious anxiety and occasional tears when he called,” recalls Evelyn.
“I didn’t understand his questions or how much money I was comfortable losing.”
“I didn’t understand his questions or how much money I was comfortable losing,” Evelyn says with a shrug. “I was like, none! I wanted to at least leave with what I had put in! I didn’t understand anything.” As a result, she kept everything as it was. Although the advisor was patient with her, he never took the time to explain things in a way that she could understand. With no decisions made, Evelyn stayed on that path until several years later when she received a very impersonal letter stating that her advisor had left and she would now be working with someone else.
“I was pretty insulted,” says Evelyn, “that I wasn’t even worth a phone call, because he had looked after me for years. And, it took a fair bit of training on my part to teach him how to speak to me. I told him that I didn’t understand his terms and not to use jargon. It was awful. I hated it.”
“The lack of confidence some women feel arises from trying to navigate a financial world that is not focussed on their needs.” [Kamal Basra]
Receiving that letter was a turning point for Evelyn. A few years later, when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Evelyn needed to step in to deal with her finances, a friend recommended that she speak to Kamal Basra at Sophia Financial Group. She wasn’t able to reach out to Kamal right away as her mom’s health declined rapidly and she passed away sooner than expected. In dealing with the estate and her inheritance, Evelyn realized that she needed to reach out. “As we were sorting things out I thought I should go and talk to them about myself now.”
Evelyn’s experience does not surprise Kamal. “The lack of confidence some women feel arises from trying to navigate a financial world that is not focussed on their needs. The problem is with the industry, not the women.” According to Kamal, “Women don’t need to be told what to do, they need to be heard, respected and provided with clear financial choices and their impact. It’s not about being sold a product; it’s about finding someone who is willing to be on the financial journey with you.”
After making a call to Kamal, Evelyn was referred to Tracy Theemes who typically does the initial intake with new clients. Upon setting up a time to meet, Evelyn asked Tracy if she needed to prepare anything, almost dreading the response. “Tracy told me to bring anything that has a dollar sign on it that I wanted to talk about. Now that, I understood!” Evelyn, who is a medical researcher at UBC, appreciated Tracy’s clear instructions and did not mind having a bit of homework.
“It is not as scary anymore because I understand the basics and have a foundation.”
“For our first meeting I brought pay stubs, pension docs, bank account and investment statements, etc.,” says Evelyn. Tracy’s response was that “this is not bad, but we can do better.” Tracy sent Evelyn away to do some more homework. By that point, Evelyn could already feel a shift in her confidence around dealing with her finances. “She spoke about money in a way that I had never heard anyone talk before and it started to make sense,” says Evelyn with a smile. “I became hungry for more information, as it didn’t make me cry.”
“With increased knowledge, women make better decisions,” says Tracy. “That is where the confidence and knowledge meet. It allows a person to move through inexperience, to move through fear, and to move through conditioning so that their brain is open and creative and well-fueled with the data it needs to make a great decision.”
As a researcher, Evelyn is keenly aware of the power of good data. “For me information has always been security.” Like when she bought her first motorcycle, “I did my homework very carefully and took the BC Safety Council Training Course.” Similarly, as her confidence in managing her money grew, so did her desire to learn more about the process. She was glad to have found great teachers in Kamal and Tracy. “I went to as many of the evening classes held at Sophia Financial Group that I could, and some of them more than once because I would always get another little nugget of information that was helpful,” says Evelyn. Eventually this led to her signing up to participate as part of the focus group to complete the Financial Empowerment Foundations (FEF) eCourse through Sophia Wealth Academy (which is under the umbrella of Sophia Financial Group).
“The timing was perfect when the opportunity to participate in the course came along,” asserts Evelyn. “They recommend that you have something you want to problem-solve. And, I really like how during the course they encourage you to consult with your team.” By this point, Tracy had referred Evelyn to Lori Norman from Steadyhand to manage her actual investments as Sophia Financial focuses on higher value portfolios, but continued to meet with Evelyn to offer guidance on a pro bono basis. “I met with Lori in person, and she was lovely,” says Evelyn. “Connection is important. It is not just about asking questions and documenting things.”
With her team by her side, and with her confidence well in place, Evelyn was ready to dive in to the FEF online course. By this point, with the inheritance from her mother’s modest estate, Evelyn had bought herself a new car and put money aside for a cash reserve (a new concept Tracy had explained to her). The rest went to her mortgage. “After that happened, I had an oh-shit moment,” exclaims Evelyn.
“There was a little bit left to deal with the estate and then I was able to put another chunk on my mortgage. I suddenly realized I could pay this off before I turn 70! Which is how old I expected to be when I paid it off when I first bought my condo. And, I am not 70!” This then became the problem that Evelyn wanted to solve while taking the FEF eCourse. Could she use her cash reserve to pay off her mortgage and would she incur any penalty fees?
“While taking the Financial Empowerment Foundations eCourse, I felt confident enough to start asking the right questions which made me feel financially empowered to make important decisions around my mortgage.”
“While taking the Financial Empowerment Foundations eCourse, I felt confident enough to start asking the right questions which made me feel financially empowered to make important decisions around my mortgage. The other thing in the course was that they said the one thing that doesn’t belong in financial decisions is emotion. So I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making an emotional decision to the point of where it was silly.” Evelyn then proudly says, “Within 14 months I will be able to pay off my mortgage. Which is kind of cool as it will be my 10th anniversary here.”
Evelyn, who does not like asking stupid questions, believes that she may have never asked the question had she not taken the FEF eCourse. In her words, “By talking to Tracy, Kamal, and Lori, I started to feel more confident, and the course helped me to feel empowered to make the decision to pay off my mortgage.”
Evelyn’s road to financial empowerment has led her to a place where she no longer hates the process. In fact, she laughs as she says, “The best part is that people now come to me with their financial questions.” When asked how confident she feels now, she replies, “I would say that I am up to maybe a six and a half or even a seven. And that it doesn’t make me feel sick anymore!”