An Interview with Gabrielle Clemens

Navigating against the backdrop of the pandemic

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As managing director at RBC Wealth Management, wealth advisor Gabrielle Clemens JD, LLM, CDFA®, AEP® has carved out a particular niche in working with divorced or divorcing individuals and couples. Tapping into her earlier professional background as an attorney with an emphasis on family law, Clemens routinely helps her clients navigate the minefield of financial challenges often associated with marital breakups. That background has also provided Clemens a unique lens with which to view and address her clients’ needs against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic – which she says has prompted many clients to reexamine their wealth plans.

A big part of what you do in your work is helping clients navigate financial challenges that are associated with significant life changes. When we think of the Covid-19 pandemic, that’s obviously created major disruptions for everyone. Can you tell me how your services at this point in time over the last year have evolved, and also the types of services that clients are requesting?:

The pandemic has certainly caused people to have a lot of insecurity around their finances. And, they’re thinking about whether or not they’re keeping their jobs and keeping their homes, and the forbearance of mortgage payments and rent payments. Or, maybe they didn’t have an income loss, but they had the threat of an income loss. And that fear caused a lot of people to think twice about their finances. Since they were home for many months and not really spending money elsewhere, they took the time to take stock of a lot of things – what their budget is, where they are spending their money, how much money they have coming in, and where is it going? In addition, the pandemic has also helped people prioritize what they need and what they don’t need. A lot of people have said, ‘Wow, my bank account is building and it’s getting so high, I’ve never had this much money in my checking account before because I’m not going out with friends after work, I’m not getting my nails done or my hair blown out, I’m not buying new clothing.’ The pandemic has really shifted the way that people use their money and how they approach money, and they see that they can save money. And they’ve learned how to prioritize their spending. So, I’ve taken the opportunity to revisit all of my clients’ wealth plans. We’ve recalculated their budgets. And we’ve gone back to modify their plans so that maybe they can retire sooner than they thought. Or invest in the market, instead of spending money on what we used to think were frivolous expenditures that maybe you don’t need.

One aspect of this massive social disruption we’ve seen caused by Covid is the impact on families. And I’d imagine there are some unique challenges for blended families trying to navigate the pandemic. What are some of the scenarios you’ve seen or are seeing as they relate to such families in this environment?:

Blended families are complicated. And they’re complicated financially, they’re complicated legally, and they’re complicated physically. Particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of issues around spending time with the kids after the kids have been exposed to the other family because all the kids tend to come into the house at the same time from the two different families. So, where has everybody been? Financially, the pandemic has caused an issue because if you’re paying child support, but you’re not getting to see the kids for three months because of the pandemic, it would cause the custodial parent to spend a lot more money because now they have the kids 24/7 – which they didn’t before. So, financially, that was one of the key issues around the pandemic. The other was college expenses. If a child is not going to college and yet you have to pay the college tuition bills because they’re enrolled, the parent who has the child full time is now paying for the food, the shelter, all the ancillary experiences that go along with the child being at home versus being away at school. It’s really around the logistics of having children and where they are and who’s paying for them, because visitation schedules were really sort of turned around because of people’s fear of exposing themselves or their children to the coronavirus.

Divorce – which is a big focus of your work – is a related family issue impacted by the coronavirus. What are you seeing on that front?:

For one thing, there were issues around stimulus payments – particularly for dependents: Who gets it? Should it be split? What should it be used for? Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, everyone was living at home and you’re with the kids 24/7. So, when you have maybe one spouse who travels a lot for work who is all of a sudden grounded and living at home with their spouse and the children (full time), it requires an adjustment. And in some situations, people have maybe not adjusted as well as they thought they would. As a result, divorce rates have been going up, and people having been calling me. It’s just a difficult time. People also feel like, ‘If I could get a virus and pass away tomorrow, I don’t want to live like this anymore.’ This pandemic has given people an opportunity to examine their own lives. And, financially, they’re not going anywhere if they don’t have a financial plan, a wealth plan in place that is going to act as a roadmap to get them there.

The pandemic has also made a lot of us think about how devastating a long-term care life event can be to our finances. And, studies have stated that Americans are living longer so the risk of cognitive decline has increased. When it comes to an illness such as dementia, what are some of the financial risk factors and how are you counseling clients in that regard?:

The biggest risk factor is financial mismanagement. The person who is slowly experiencing cognitive decline, their behavior changes, they become a little erratic, they become aggressive, they become less risk-averse. Their spending habits become uncharacteristic for them. There is an expense associated with cognitive decline, to the extent that it has progressed to now you need to have somebody in the house watching this person and making sure that if something happens they’re there to assist – and you have to pay that person. So, that’s the first expense – home health care. And then, of course, if they eventually need to go into a facility to help them, that’s an enormous expense. So, a lot of my clients, having seen this firsthand, are buying long-term care insurance for themselves and trying to hedge their expenses with some kind of insurance policy that will help them out if they do need some sort of home health care or they need to go into a facility. The expense of possible cognitive decline is a critical issue right now that people really need to plan for, because people are living longer.

Now that we’ve got a new administration in the White House with President Joe Biden, how is that affecting how your clients are thinking these days about socially responsible investing, particularly when we think of topics like health and the environment and social justice that have typically been big agenda items for the Democratic party?:

My clients are very interested in socially responsible investing and environment social governance. And it goes beyond just windfarms and clean water, which are critical and important. Socially responsible investing also means gender equivalent pay, diversity and inclusion, as well as the products that stores and retail outlets are putting on the shelves that might be environmentally very dangerous. So, everyone now is very interested in how to participate and have exposure in their portfolios to SRI/ETF (exchange-traded fund) opportunities, whether they’re neutral funds, ETFs or individual stocks. And it’s a very exciting sector in the market. And, I think with the support of the new administration, these companies have an opportunity to really grow and make a critical impact on our lifestyles and our planet.

Gabrielle Clemens, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA*), JD, LLM, Accredited Estate Planner (AEP*), is a Financial Advisor at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. and Managing Director at Clemens Private Wealth Management Group and Seaport Boston Private Wealth Management.  She has been named to Forbes’ 2021 “Top Women Wealth Advisors” List and Working Mother Magazine and SHOOK Research’s 2020 “Top Wealth Advisor Moms” List. More info about Gabrielle can be found at: https://us.rbcwealthmanagement.com/clemenswmg/about-our-team.

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