While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly transformed certain aspects of client service, Certified Financial Planner Timea Sarkozi says one aspect of her practice remains exactly the same. “I just like people, and that hasn’t changed in 30 years,” she says. “I’m still curious, I still want to learn more, and I really love coming up with solutions for people.”
Serving a mix of young intergenerational clients, along with professionals in their 40s and 50s, and retirees, Timea continued to hold in-person meetings with clients during the pandemic. “I did a lot of backyard visits, which was great. It’s not that it wasn’t stressful, but because of my connection with them, we made the best of a very unfortunate situation,” she says.
Thanks to those interpersonal connections, Timea was able to provide a deeper level of service for many clients struggling with a range of concerns beyond their portfolios – from health issues and legacy planning to stepping in to help protect the wealth of some elderly clients.
Timea says she learned that one of her clients, who was in a nursing home, was being taken advantage of by her granddaughter, who was allegedly using her credit cards for shopping sprees totaling thousands each month. Thankfully, Timea had a strong relationship with the client’s son, who felt comfortable bringing the matter to her attention.
As Timea notes, it was certainly a delicate situation. Although she knew that her elderly client wanted to be there financially for her granddaughter, Timea also understood that changes needed to be made. After numerous visits to the nursing home, prior to the pandemic, Timea was able to help establish a monthly spending limit for the granddaughter, one which all family members felt comfortable with.
Timea says that being able to forge deeper bonds with her clients provides insight into a range of life situations – which aren’t always pleasant to talk about but are nonetheless necessary – like end-of-life planning.
Consequently, Timea’s held numerous seminars for clients on having a really good Power of Attorney for Personal Care, an extremely important document that often gets overlooked. Understanding clients’ wishes was especially critical for one of Timea’s clients, who’d undergone aggressive cancer treatment, after also losing a spouse to cancer. “I always encourage my clients to have a family discussion and to involve people,” she says, “because it makes life easier for everybody during a stressful time.”
While financial planning remains the foundation of her practice, Timea’s special rapport with clients means she can offer candid insights – especially to younger clients. One of her biggest concerns is the skyrocketing cost of housing and the length that some young clients are willing to go to obtain a mortgage. She says it’s important to step in and sometimes caution clients about jumping into an extremely pricey housing market. “Are you sure you want to be here in your 20s, tied down to a mortgage?” she often asks clients, adding, “If you have any plans to travel or to enjoy married life, you may not be able to do those things because you are going to be house rich and cash poor.”
When asked about her ability to forge stronger bonds with her clients, Timea acknowledges that a certain level of openness is required with clients. “I just ask a lot of questions, and my clients know a lot about me, too. There’s a little give and take. They know about my kids, they know about my dog, and how much I really value my assistant, Shari. I don’t know if I’ve been fortunate because that’s been my outlook all my career or if it’s something I acquired. I guess I don’t pretend to be something I’m not.”