Born with cerebral palsy, Guillaume Parent recently founded Finandicap, a firm that offers financial services to disabled people, especially Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSP). Mr. Parent has had to overcome quite a number of obstacles in order to build a career in the financial services business. However, he is strongly motivated by the belief that his work serves a crucial need for his clients.
When Mr. Parent graduated from Laval University in Quebec with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance option, he knocked on several doors. In particular, he tried to find work with the government and the banks, but without success. There were numerous obstacles. “Some companies could not even come to greet me since their building was not accessible,” says Mr. Parent, who travels by wheelchair. “And then there’s the fact that people often have prejudices when dealing with a disabled person. It’s hard!”
After six to eight months of intensive research, he decided to go into business for himself. “I had small jobs in the first year. I was doing tax returns. Without that, I would have had to collect welfare,” he said in an interview with The Insurance and Investment Journal. This worked well for two years. “I really had confidence in myself during that time. I never doubted my abilities.”
Later, he joined the CSN Fondaction development fund, where he worked as an investment analyst for five years. “I learned a lot about entrepreneurs, because we met a lot of them,” he says. He then went in search of good idea to start off on his own account.
A real gift
It was after this professional experience that he discovered the Registered Disability Savings Plan. “I discovered it by accident while opening my own plan. The RDSP is a real gift from the government,” he says. From that point on, he had his vocation. Offering the RDSP and other financial products for people with disabilities is perfectly suited to Mr. Parent, since he can help them and their families.
He decided to found his own company specializing in the field, because he believes he has what it takes to succeed. He is ready to put in the effort required to serve this clientele and he also has empathy, which is essential. “A thorough study of the market and several discussions with traditional financial institutions also encouraged me to take up this challenge,” says Mr. Parent.
In March 2010, Mr. Parent launched Finandicap, and today he finds his role as a financial advisor particularly rewarding. “I work, for the most part, with a vulnerable segment of the population, those who need more protection, who will be dependent on their families and society for all their lives. These people’s parents and relatives live unique challenges and are often worried when they think about the future. They wonder, for example, ‘What will happen to my handicapped child, when I’m not there to look after him?’,” explains Mr. Parent. He says that when parents and relatives discover that Finandicap can answer this question, they feel reassured.
A point of honour
Mr. Parent makes client education a point of honour. This is important in a context where he says “the vast majority of families living with a disabled person have a poor understanding of their financial and legal rights and responsibilities.” He also considers his role to be similar to that of an orchestra conductor, bringing in different specialists to work on the same case. “It is not unusual to have to adapt financial plans in some special way.” In this kind of situation, he says a lawyer will be brought in to set up the guardianship and a testamentary trust, as well as an accountant to file for tax credits in the later years. Mr. Parent also works with partners such as the Peak Financial Group and Mackenzie Investments. “They are now my preferred supplier for RDSPs,” he notes.
While Finandicap now has more than 250 clients and works with clients in all regions of Quebec, it still comes up against some roadblocks. The first was without a doubt related to a general lack of knowledge about RDSPs.
“Since we started offering these kinds of tailor-made financial services, more often than not we have had to be the ones to build bridges, because the RDSP and everything that surrounds and completes it remains poorly understood by the public and even the industry in general,” comments Mr. Parent.
He says that “certain regulations in Quebec make it difficult to fully deploy a program that has the potential to significantly reduce poverty among disabled people.” To overcome these obstacles, Finandicap also offers training programs and referrals to stakeholders in the industry and in government. The company does not miss an opportunity to raise public awareness.
As for Mr. Parent, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to encourage people with disabilities who wish to follow the same path as he did. “You should never doubt your abilities! A disabled person should pay attention to his own fears, the ones that prevent him from taking the lead in situations where he could show himself to advantage.”