Freedom 55 Financial

Helping Canadians achieve their goals

For more than 140 years, Canadians have trusted the financial management experts at London Life Insurance Company to help them achieve their savings and investment goals. The company was established in 1874 – just seven years after Confederation – when five businessmen from London, Ontario, secured a provincial operating charter.  That makes London Life one of Canada’s longest-standing enterprises.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Mike Cunneen, Senior Vice-President, Freedom 55 Financial/Wealth & Estate Planning Group. Cunneen’s division is London Life’s financial security planning organization – Freedom 55 Financial – which consists of more than 3,500 exclusive financial security advisors and 400 management team members located across Canada. It also includes Wealth & Estate Planning Group, consisting of roughly 350 elite advisors who focus on meeting the more complex needs of families and businesses in the high-net-worth and affluent markets.

Early on, London Life focused most of its attention on the very wealthy. But that soon changed. “Up until 1884 London Life had been designing policies for the upper class, then they created the first policy for the average person,” Cunneen says. “After that, insurance was no longer just sold to an elite group of people. It became part of the financial fabric of families and communities across the country.”

Fast-forward more than a century and we find London Life continuing its role as a market trend-setter. Freedom 55™, first introduced in the 1980s, has become an iconic brand within financial services and is well known to consumers. Since being launched, the brand developed to one deeply rooted in optimism and honesty, making the evolution from Freedom 55 to Freedom 55 Financial in 2000 a logical next step. Early retirement was never a specific goal of the brand, but early retirement was generally associated with “freedom.”

“Today, retirement is just one of many life goals advisors help Canadians build a plan for,” Cunneen says. “What’s important is how Canadians define freedom. It can be grand, like early retirement or personal philanthropy, or as small as not having to worry about what to choose from the menu at your favorite restaurant. All goals are important and we’re there to help Canadians achieve financial success in whatever way they define it.”

Helping people reach their financial goals is a team of financial security advisors. “Freedom 55 Financial is an exclusive distribution channel, and by that I mean its network of financial security advisors and investment representatives are aligned with our organization and sell London Life’s exclusive insurance and investment products,” Cunneen says. “Our advisors also have access to other suppliers’ products available through inter-corporate relationships. As well, through our mutual fund dealer, Quadrus Investment Services Ltd., investment representatives have access to thousands of mutual funds, including those within our exclusive Quadrus Group of Funds family.”

Freedom 55 Financial advisors are located in 29 financial centres at 54 different locations across Canada, or in their own offices in their local communities. As well, many are self-branded and operate their own business models.

Offering a broad range of products and services

In serving more than two million Canadians, Freedom 55 Financial offers unparalleled services to businesses and individuals alike. Its overall financial strength and stability in the financial services industry, today bolstered by its association with Great-West Life and fellow subsidiary Canada Life, has been a true benchmark of success.

“Our advisors offer a wide range of products, including life, disability and critical illness insurance, wealth management products, such as segregated funds, mutual funds and annuities,” Cunneen notes. “The real strength of our organization is not just in the products we create, but also in the training and support we provide our financial security advisors.

“We support them through coaching and sales training, and with product support such as tax and estate planning expertise, with a strong focus on their success in the different markets they work in,” Cunneen explains.

Canadians benefit from working with an advisor

“Our financial security advisors build long-term relationships with their clients, working with them through their personal, family or business life cycle,” says Cunneen. “Following a planning process allows clients to better envision how they want to live their future, along with their current situation and shorter term goals.

“A financial plan is about you, your family, or your business and the future you want to create,” Cunneen adds. The earlier you start a structured financial plan the better off you will be, but everyone, regardless of age or stage in life, will benefit from the planning process.”

A common misconception among too many Canadians is that they know best what to do with their money. More times than not, that simply is not the case. Today, consumers have access to a lot of financial information, especially through reading material found on the Internet. That doesn’t necessarily mean they understand.

“We believe the most effective way for consumers to make wise decisions is for them to understand their options and obtain advice to achieve their goals,” he says.

“Research has shown us that consumers who use an advisor have created about one-third more retirement income than those who’ve made decisions without such advice. We give advisors the technology and the tools that enable people to build a tailored plan.”

Cunneen says advisors recognize that every client, whether a large business or an individual, has unique needs and expectations. So they must all be treated as unique. A key ingredient to any successful relationship always begins with effective communication.

“An advisor takes the time to not only understand what their current financial obligations are but what their future needs are, so the advisor needs to be highly skilled at explaining the choices clients have,” Cunneen says.

The cost of living longer

One of the biggest concerns of Canadians is whether or not they will have enough money saved once they reach their retirement age. Canadians are living longer than ever before and not everyone has access to traditional sources of retirement income, such as a workplace pension plan.

“The average Canadian, when they turn 55, is going to live another 25 to 30 years,” Cunneen says. “It’s one of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and good healthcare but it also puts a lot more onus on the importance of retirement planning.”

According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, about six in 10 Canadians are putting money away for retirement – but most do not believe they have saved enough to maintain their current lifestyle into their golden years. Those aged 55 to 64 are most likely to say they have not saved enough. Additionally, women and those with lower levels of household income are also less likely to save enough for retirement.

In the next three years it’s estimated that another 5.7 million Canadians will retire. In addition, many Canadians are concerned about their financial security at retirement and want to make sure it will last their whole life, so receiving professional advice is absolutely essential to maximize the benefits that are available. “Our advisors can help clients make those decisions to ensure their money lasts their entire life,” Cunneen says.

There is no doubt individuals are doing their own financial planning, whereas in years gone by there was a much heavier reliance on governments or employers to do it for them.

“Certainly research has told us Canadians are confused and anxious when it comes to their financial future,” Cunneen says. “Only 11 per cent of pre-retirees within one to four years of retirement have a formal written plan for managing their retirement finances. When you talk about the younger demographic, the 25-to-40-year-old person, who’s typically trying to start a family, buy a home and save for retirement, it’s really about motivating that generation to do more early on.”

Attracting and retaining the very best financial advisors and helping them maintain a career through London Life’s Freedom 55 Financial division are issues Cunneen and his staff are constantly thinking about. He believes the company is well organized and prepared in that regard.

“A huge advantage for us is our exclusive distribution advisor force,” he notes. “What makes us unique is having 3,500 advisors in communities across Canada, representing not only our brand but the products we offer and the advice we give to clients. Very few other insurers are doing that today in terms of bringing new advisors into the financial security business.”

Building stronger communities

Freedom 55 Financial prides itself on having its staff work towards the betterment of their own communities. While Freedom 55 Financial has offices in 54 communities, its presence goes further through advisors who have their own brands and operations. It is evident that giving back is a very important part of the company’s culture.

“London Life sponsors a wide range of things, whether it’s arts, culture, community development, education, health wellness or social services and it’s really driven by both our employees and our advisors in the field,” Cunneen says. “They give their time and expertise to such things as the United Way, charity events and golf tournaments.

Organizationally, we’re involved in Hockey Helps the Homeless, which includes eight or nine tournaments across Canada. The reality is there are more than 235,000 Canadians who are homeless. On any given night there could be 35,000 people without shelter. We have been supporting Hockey Helps the Homeless since 2005.

“From a sponsorship perspective we are involved with PGA TOUR Canada,” he continues. “They have events throughout the country over the course of the summer, which comes together with their Tour Championship presented by Freedom 55 Financial.”

The future

Each year Freedom 55 Financial hires about 600 new advisors to ensure its team continues to fully represent Canadians across all age groups and other demographics from coast to coast.  Cunneen says that a substantial amount of time is spent on the recruitment and selection process. When seeking candidates to join the team, Cunneen says London Life looks at such things as education, work experience, personality, continuity, networking capabilities and whether candidates have had any exposure to financial products. It’s about building the foundation of a long-term relationship with the people who are hired and so a great deal of time is invested in training and development.

“Succession planning is critical to our organization,” Cunneen emphasizes. “We believe our success 10, 15 or 20 years from now will come from the continuity of those client relationships from the people we’re hiring today.”

Looking to the future, the plan is to continue building upon a solid reputation established over the past 140-plus years.

“We want to continue to grow our field force,” Cunneen says. “Today, we have 3,500 advisors and we’ll continue to recruit and select quality people for two reasons: one, because that is the group of advisors who will give quality advice to our clients; and secondly, there is an opportunity to provide succession planning to our existing group of advisors. We serve about two million Canadians but there are many others who are still not receiving professional advice to protect their businesses, families and retirement.”

Whether it’s advice on business needs, insurance, mortgages, investments, group benefits or retirement savings, overwhelming evidence shows that professional guidance plays an integral role in attaining those financial goals and aspirations. It’s an opportunity to help people and that really is the fundamental role at the very core of it all for Cunneen and the Freedom 55 Financial team.

“The message I want to get across is that advice matters and it plays a huge role in helping Canadians establish protection for their future and reach their dreams,” Cunneen says.  “We’re very proud of the work our advisors do and we’re eager to get that message out to as many people as possible.”