MARICEL RAMOS, CPA, CGA, CFP
Building a business, planning a future and protecting professional foundations during life’s big changes are three goals Maricel Ramos helps clients achieve. The Financial Consultant with Investors Group is realistic about money and excited about how it can be used to achieve real dreams. Those dreams, Maricel believes, can be achieved even where income is irregular and the demands on an entrepreneur’s business might seem impossible to predict.
My Business Magazine interviewed Maricel Ramos to find out more about what a Financial Consultant with Investors Group does and how she might help you.
My Business Magazine (MBM): There are so many professional terms used in the finance industry these days. What exactly is a Financial Consultant?
Maricel Ramos: In my case, it means I have a broad range of certifications and qualifications. I am a Certified Financial Planner professional, which means that I hold the CFP designation and can offer advice on all aspects of managing finances and planning. I am also a financial advisor, which is a broad, encompassing term. I help people and incorporated individuals plan through all the major financial aspects of life – large purchases, education saving, taxes, retirement, estate and trust planning. As a financial advisor, I can create fully- tailored, financial plans for individuals. Broadly speaking? I give people advice with a focus on tax efficient investment strategies.
MBM: You were also previously an accountant. What is your educational background and work experience? How did you go from financial reporting and taxation to consulting with people about investments?
Maricel Ramos: I was introduced to the Financial Planning profession when I was 19. My family’s Investment Advisor at the time took me under her wing one summer. I was interested in the financial system and its intricacies. I thought to myself, “They don’t teach this sort of stuff in school”.
I obtained my insurance and investment license that summer and got my feet wet in the business. The reality was, it was a hard business. I experienced age discrimination as prospective clients didn’t take me seriously due to my young age. Given the limited life experience I had at the time, few people were interested in taking financial advice from somebody who was so young.
MBM: How did you get past that set back and go on to thrive in your career?
Maricel Ramos: I continued with my other interest, Accounting. I value my training as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and Certified General Accountant (CGA) very much. My corporate life allowed me to gain experience from tax filing, accounting, financial analyst, corporate finance and project management.
MBM: How did you come to join forces with the Investors Group?
Maricel Ramos: I was in a senior role as an Accountant when Investors Group’s Toronto downtown office approached me. It came at a time when I was doing a lot of soul-searching.
While I have always been an entrepreneur in one way or another, the decision to join with Investors Group wasn’t hard. The opportunity to help others in the process is what interested me. I’m comfortable in my skin here and enjoy meeting new people. As an advisor with Investors Group, there is more to it than product comparisons. My approach to investment planning is very similar to my approach when working for a private company - strategic in nature. My technical skills come into play when drafting a plan but my real talent is explaining, in very simple terms, how everything ties together. I find satisfaction in seeing the ease in people’s faces when they realize they have my direction and their goals are not too far off.
MBM: A lot of our readers have dealt with student loans and credit card debt. After living through that, they just want nice things and an easy life for a bit, then as we get older and more mature, we develop very different attitudes about money, but still might spend too easily. In your experience, what breaks people out of bad financial habits and gets them on a better path?
Maricel Ramos: All it takes is a willingness to change. Sometimes a significant life event, such as a divorce, death, a new baby, becomes a catalyst for change. When people become clear on what they want to achieve in life, I find that better habits can be formed. My job is to help you clarify your intentions and goals so I can prepare the roadmap to how you can get there. When I tell a client that this is what you need to do, to help you get to where you want to go, then it is up to them to commit to the game plan.
MBM: Does that plan usually mean finding a better job and making more money even if you’re doing something you love?
Maricel Ramos: The amount of money you make does not necessarily mean you would have a higher net worth than someone making less. It is the decisions you make in your day-to-day life that create a ripple effect on your financial picture in the years to come. Having someone show you where you would be if you kept on the same path, and where you could be if you allowed me to coach you, often becomes the eye opener. There’s no need to wait for a major life event to start making improvements. Many times, the end numbers speak for themselves.
MBM: Everyone needs money, everyone likes money, but we hate to talk about it and –for many people – just thinking about it is stressful! How do you ease potential customers into the topic?
Maricel Ramos: In my introductory meeting, my goal is to learn about the person in front of me. There’s a reason why they agreed to a meeting, but there are always varying degrees of readiness for the level of coaching I offer. I ask people to be honest about what they’re trying to achieve and what their concerns really are. One prospect, jokingly described his feeling as “dropping his kimono.”
I agree that the process is very much like taking an x-ray so the doctor can diagnose you. My conversations are an exchange of vulnerabilities as we take turns sharing our life stories. It is like a dance, both sides determining whether we can take the next steps and work together.
MBM: When financial advisors talk about setting financial goals, it all seems so big and impossible. For self-employed people, for example. Incomes are very irregular with feast or famine being the norm. Are financial advisors familiar with the kinds of challenges the self-employed face?
Maricel Ramos: As a business owner myself, I understand the need to prepare for cash burns that carry from one month to the next. The key is to build reserves and prepare for setbacks that may threaten to derail your hard work.
The clients I work with consist of business owners, lawyers and doctors, sole proprietors and incorporated professionals. Some have more variable income than others, but there are many strategies available that can help free up cash flow and even protect cash flow.
MBM: A lot of entrepreneurs feel that they are putting everything they have into building their businesses to the point there is nothing left for them. How can a financial advisor help?
Effective budgeting is needed in every stage of the business, whether at the start up, cash cow or windup stage. The level of planning and the strategies available differs depending on where you are in the business. I don’t propose cookie cutter solutions because the solutions are unique to individual goals, and depend on their stage in life, whether they are in the accumulation years or approaching retirement.
MBM: What about cash flow?
Maricel Ramos: If cash flow is an issue, we can help identify opportunities to free it up. For example, when taking out money from the business to fund lifestyle needs, I help identify tax efficient withdrawal strategies. Less money paid in taxes translates into more money for you. Another example is identifying planning opportunities as it relates to your mortgage. Most people focus on getting the cheapest rate upon their renewal and don’t know how to use their equity as a reserve to expand your business or fund your retirement. Interest costs may be converted to tax deductible investment expense opportunities in these cases and may be worth exploring.
MBM: When should people look into working with you as a Financial Consultant? Can young people put it off until they are ready to buy a house or get married or retire?
Maricel Ramos: Financial planning is not only for future planning. You know, time catches up with all of us very quickly. What you do today, and the next day, and the day after that, forms habits. Whether those habits are good or bad, it’s up to you. Having a short-term view of finances, whether it’s monthly or yearly, in aggregate forms a long-term plan for yourself. A lawyer once said to a client after a second review of his divorce settlement: “Everyone is entitled to make bad deals”.
Without planning in general, you don’t have the foresight of what can go wrong in the short term or long term. I see this often especially with high energy professionals, in the prime of their working life, feeling quite invincible. In these cases, I put on my Risk Management hat, where I share stories that no one is immune to personal disasters such as illness and death. Planning for the worst-case scenario today can help safeguard the foundation you are currently working hard towards.
MBM: What’s the most important thing someone should consider before coming in to meet with you?
Maricel Ramos: What do you want to achieve? When preparing documented financial plans, the approach is always to identify what we are trying to achieve for you! We need to articulate the goals and then we can track progress towards them. Just as you are tracking towards your budget in the business, monitoring actual results allows you to self-correct if things go awry. Our goal as financial planners is not only to encourage you to build cash reserves, but to help identify opportunities in the financial system that can make money work harder for you and put risk management measures in place to protect the plan we have laid out.
MBM: What was the first lesson you learned about money management and who taught it to you? Has that lesson proven itself to be correct or is it a sign of how most people misunderstand money?
Maricel Ramos: I’m going to share a personal example of when I learned how money can be used as a means to gain control. I was in university when I witnessed a friend of mine get married early to an established gentleman. After the honeymoon phase, she told me that they had arguments related to money. The main issue was that he did not want her to work so hard to establish a career herself because he looked after the financial affairs. I thought to myself, “even though he meant well, she is losing her identity and motivation to build something herself".
This was an interesting dynamic to me, watching the power struggle. What I’ve found when listening to couples, and divorcees, is the powerful influence money plays in the success of the relationship. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic but I’m learning more and more that practicality pays off. From my discussions with divorced clients and in speaking with estate lawyers, I believe everyone should plan for the unexpected. Everyone should learn to be self-sufficient, just in case the fairy tale isn’t forever.
MBM: What is the first lesson about money you will teach your own daughter?
Maricel Ramos: The luxury of being self-employed is that I can bring my two year old daughter to work sometimes. I’m privileged to be able to share time with her this way. I was surprised one morning, when we passed the security guard as we were heading to the elevators. She said to him, “Going to work to make money to buy milk.”
I was surprised with her knowledge about the role money plays. I would like to build on this. What I want to show her, through my actions, as I juggle playtime and career is this: Money can buy a lot of things except love, time and peace of mind.
Money is merely the means to an end. Set your life intentions clear and focus on building yourself and experiences. Measure your life not by money but in your personal growth. Money then becomes a byproduct of that growth. I know that it seems like a lot for a two-year-old but I think the message will become clearer over time.
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
This is a general source of information only. It is not intended to provide personalized tax, legal or investment advice, and is not intended as a solicitation to purchase securities. Maricel Ramos is solely responsible for its content. For more information on this topic or any other financial matter, please contact an Investors Group Consultant. Insurance products and services distributed through I.G. Insurance Services Inc. Insurance license sponsored by The Great-West Life Assurance Company
145 King Street West, Suite 2800
Toronto, ON M5H 1J8
CPA, CGA CFP
Investors Group Financial Services Inc