What is a Financial Plan? And Are You Sure You Have One?

Financial planning is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your family’s long-term  success. And while many people say they have a plan, only a few do.

According to this J.D Power study, 40% of respondents say they receive comprehensive financial  planning advice.

Turns out, only 7% of them actually do.

The difference is obvious – most Canadians don’t know what a real financial plan is, what it covers, or  what the process is.

Let’s fix that. 

Financial planning is a lot like the medical diagnostic process.

It starts with assessing your history and current condition, and then identifying an ideal future state. It  proceeds to the analysis and development of a treatment plan. Then, your doctor communicates the  results.

The treatment plan includes recommendations, prescriptions, follow-ups, and referrals to other  specialists. It’s integrated, individualized, and collaborative. And as new information becomes available,  it requires updating.

The foundations of financial planning are the same.

Why do I Need a Financial Plan?

According to FP Canada:

  • 38% of women and 31% of men have health issues from financial stress.
  • 51% say they lose sleep because of it.
  • 82% say they have financial regrets.

Those are scary numbers.

The survey also shows that Canadians who work with a professional financial planner were:

  • Far less likely to say money was their top concern than those who don’t work with a financial  planner (23% vs. 39%).
  • Less likely to have faced health issues due to financial stress than those who don’t work with a  financial planner (20% vs. 31%).
  • Much more confident in their financial future than those who didn’t have a financial planner.

Having a financial plan improves your economic outcomes – and your health.

So, what exactly is a financial plan? What topics does it cover, and how do you get one?

What is a Financial Plan?

FP Canada defines a financial plan as:

A written report that addresses an individual’s personal goals, needs, and priorities. It considers  relevant financial planning areas and the interrelationships among them…each section of the financial plan covers the individual’s current financial situation, the analysis performed to  identify issues and opportunities, and the evaluation of relevant financial strategies and  recommendations to help meet the individual’s personal goals, needs, and priorities…a plan  provides a list of action steps, including what needs to be done, by whom and when. 

They further distinguish between a financial plan and financial planning:

…it is an ongoing process involving regular monitoring of a client’s progress toward meeting  their personal goals, needs, and priorities, and re-evaluating financial strategies in place and  recommended revisions, where necessary. 

This is an important distinction. It is the difference between the product – the financial plan – and the  process – financial planning.

A financial plan is a snapshot in time and contains many forward-looking assumptions. Many of these  are external – interest rates, inflation rates, portfolio returns, health concerns, etc. You should review  and update your plan frequently to account for unforeseen changes.

When I present a financial plan to a client, I often say that the only thing I can guarantee about the  projections is that they are inaccurate and that we will need to adjust along the way.

Think of it as taking a paper map on a road trip in the age of GPS. The map is outdated, so you may  encounter roadblocks, rickety roads, detours, or even a change in your desired destination. Plans get  derailed, and you need to course-correct.

Any time there are significant changes in your life – marriage, divorce, a promotion at work, job loss,  business changes, or the birth of a child – update your plan.

What’s In a Financial Plan?

No two plans are alike. That’s because everyone has different needs, and there’s no standard for a  financial plan.

Great financial plans have a few things in common, though. They define, develop, and review your goals,  and design strategies to make them a reality. A plan is only as good as its implementation, but a good  financial advisor will ensure you understand and agree to the recommendations and help you put them  in place.

It should also cover at least six core financial planning topics:

  1. Financial Management

Your current and future financial position. A look at your assets, liabilities, income, and expenses.

Recommendations here will discuss savings levels, debt management, and ownership structure of  assets.

  1. Insurance and Risk Management

Strategies to manage your exposure to unexpected financial loss due to death, health issues, property  damage, business, and other risks.

Commonly, recommendations will include insurance – life, disability, critical illness, business, property,  etc.

  1. Investment Planning

Aligning your portfolio with your purpose. How to best manage your investment assets based on your  experience, attitudes, objectives, constraints, time horizon, risk tolerance and need for income.

Recommendations include asset allocation, diversification, tax location, investment style, fees,  performance, and more.

  1. Retirement Planning

Traditionally, your financial well-being after employment has ended. These days though, retirement is  quickly being replaced with financial independence, the day work becomes optional. It’s a comparison of  your desired lifestyle in retirement with your current trajectory.

This includes a review of income needs, sources, and tax outcomes, and should include stress testing of  various scenarios.

Recommendations focus on addressing shortfalls and reviewing pension options, drawdown strategies,  tax reduction approaches, and options for guaranteed income.

  1. Tax Planning

This will include your current and future tax obligations and strategies to minimize them. Tax planning is  a critical financial planning area since most financial decisions will have tax implications.

Recommendations on how to deduct, diminish, divide, and defer taxes.

  1. Estate planning and Legal Aspects

What happens to your money when you die? Your plan should include a review of your legal situation as  well. This may relate to spousal and child support, family law concerns, or shareholder, partner, and trust agreements.

Recommendations will centre on updating wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare documents and considering ownership structures of assets and probate planning.

Your plan may discuss other topics like education funding for children, charitable giving, small business  considerations, and more.

What is the Process for Creating a Financial Plan?

If you’re creating a plan with a financial planner, it must follow these steps one way or another. These  aren’t always separate meetings, but you can’t have a plan without engaging in each part of the process:

  1. Engagement

This first meeting sets the tone, and covers expectations of the process and the relationship. It covers  your needs and the advisor’s philosophy, skills, experience, education, fees, and client service model. By  the end of this meeting, you should know if they are a good fit and whether their service is what you  need.

Of course, if you’re doing a plan on your own, you’ll skip this step.

  1. Discovery

The heart of the process is a comprehensive overview of your situation. At this point, your advisor will  ask about your goals and objectives, constraints, family situation, and financial circumstances. They will  ask for supporting documents like tax returns, copies of insurance policies, estate planning documents  and more.

This is the most important step if you’re doing this on your own. Getting organized is one of the most  valuable outcomes of planning.

Once your advisor has collected all the relevant information, they can move on to the next phase – analysis.

  1. Analysis

The analysis phase involves assimilating and organizing all the information from the discovery meeting.  Your advisor will create financial projections, usually using financial planning software. They may contact  you to clarify and expand on any data collected during the discovery process. At this stage, your advisor  will begin to identify, evaluate, and test potential financial planning strategies.

  1. Recommendations

Once the analysis is complete, your advisor can formulate specific recommendations and action steps to  improve your financial situation and move you closer to your goals. Here you should align with your  advisor on which recommendations you intend to implement, which require revision, and which, if any,  you don’t want to pursue.

  1. Implementation

This is where I often see plans fail. A plan is not worth much if the recommendations are not completed.  It is the implementation that moves you closer to achieving your goals.

  1. Monitor, Review, and Adjust

You should review your plan with your advisor at set intervals – often semi-annually or annually. This  way, you ensure you have implemented the recommendations and have made them aware of any  changes that may impact your plan. You should reach out between scheduled meetings if there is an  unexpected change in your life, like job loss or inheritance.

Likewise, your advisor should update your plan if there have been relevant external changes.

Not every plan will follow this exact process, and not every plan needs to be this comprehensive. At the  very least, you should know if your advisor plans to cover all these topics over time.

In some cases, it may be more efficient to focus on the most important topics to you right now and leave  the other issues for later. Those topics need to be discussed and reviewed eventually, as they integrate  with the rest of your financial life.

Your advisor may not be responsible for creating the entire plan. Often, advisors will work in teams or  have in-house experts specializing in one or more core planning topics. They should also work closely  with your other professional advisors, like your accountant or your lawyer. This reduces the chance of  getting conflicting advice from different members of your advisory team.

If you’ve never seen or experienced a real financial plan, you may not realize that you don’t have one.  An investment proposal is not a financial plan. Neither is a presentation on how your portfolio has fared.

If your plan hasn’t followed the planning process or doesn’t cover the core planning topics, then you  may not have a plan at all. An incomplete plan raises the possibility that some of the recommendations  may be detrimental to you in the context of the other planning topics.

Since financial advisor job titles are not uniformly regulated in Canada, there may often be a disparity in  the quality of planning between firms and between advisors within a firm. Whether their title is Investment Advisor or Senior Financial Planner, this doesn’t tell you what you can expect from them nor  does it speak to their specific proficiencies or competencies. If possible, ask to see a sample financial  plan that they can share with you – this will help set expectations right out of the gate for both you and  the advisor.

If you are meeting a new advisor or working with one already, ensure you understand the level of  planning and service they provide in exchange for your fees.

And if you’re not getting financial planning as part of that service – what are you paying for?

If you found this helpful, please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.

If you’d like some support to discuss making a financial plan, use our contact form to send us an email. We’ll get back to you soon to set up a meeting with one of our advisors.

The information contained herein has been provided for information purposes only. The information has been drawn from  sources believed to be reliable. Graphs, charts and other numbers are used for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect  future values or future performance of any investment. The information does not provide financial, legal, tax or investment  advice. Particular investment, tax, or trading strategies should be evaluated relative to each individual’s objectives and risk  tolerance. This does not constitute a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell securities of any kind. Market conditions

may change which may impact the information contained in this document. Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. (WAPW) does  not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained herein, nor does WAPW assume any liability for any  loss that may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions. Before acting on any of the above,  please contact your financial advisor.

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The opinions contained herein are the opinions of the author and readers should not assume they reflect the opinions or recommendations of Wellington-Altus Private Wealth. Assumptions, opinions and information constitute the author’s judgement as of the date this material and subject to change without notice. We do not warrant the completeness or accuracy of this material, and it should not be relied upon as such. Before acting on any recommendation, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. Graphs and charts are used for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect future values or future performance of any investment. The information does not provide financial, legal, tax or investment advice. Particular investment, tax, or trading strategies should be evaluated relative to each individual’s objectives and risk tolerance. All third party products and services referred to or advertised in this presentation are sold by the company or organization named. While these products or services may serve as valuable aids to the independent investor, WAPW does not specifically endorse any of these products or services. The third party products and services referred to, or advertised in this presentation, are available as a convenience to its customers only, and WAPW is not liable for any claims, losses or damages however arising out of any purchase or use of third party products or services. All insurance products and services are offered by life licensed advisors of Wellington-Altus. Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Holly Hetherington


BCom, CFP®, CIM® | Associate

With over 18 years’ experience in the industry, Holly holds the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM®), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®, and Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist (CFDS) designations.
Holly has lived in Squamish for 23 years and loves all the Sea to Sky has to offer. She is an outdoor enthusiast and enjoys skiing, biking, and time on the water with her husband, daughter, son and two stepsons.

Holly believes in giving back to the community and recently completed a rewarding four-year term as the Treasurer of the Sea to Sky Hospice Society.

Professionally, Holly has held roles as Financial Advisor, Investment Advisor and has overseen the growth and success of financial teams in various management positions. Holly enjoys providing tailored and personal financial advice to individuals and families, while encouraging multi-generational financial planning. Throughout the planning process she will address short-term and immediate cash flow needs, review tax savings strategies and will focus on investment and estate planning strategies that look further into the future.

Holly looks forward to continuing to work as a trusted advisor in the Sea to Sky Corridor.

Amy Sweeney



Amy was born and raised in Squamish, is David’s oldest daughter and now the newest member of the Sweeney Bride team. Many may recognize her as she has worked periodically for the team for over 20 years. For the past five years, she has gained administrative experience and more running her own business as a Kinesiologist after completing a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in 2016. Now, Amy is officially ready to join the finance industry. Currently residing in North Vancouver, Amy spends all her “free” time raising Dave’s two wonderful grandchildren.
Liam Hill



Originally from Sydney, Australia, Liam moved to the Sea to Sky region in 2013, leaving the beaches behind to embrace the mountains. He hasn’t looked back since and enjoys exploring the wilderness by both land and sea.

Liam’s unique strength lies in his capacity to adapt and fine-tune strategies to match the ever-changing financial world. He’s a passionate advocate for adaptability and flexibility, believing these traits are crucial for securing financial well-being.

Liam holds the Canadian Securities Course qualification and is currently pursuing the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) designation.

He shares his industry knowledge and business skills to empower individuals, families, and businesses on their path to financial success.

Liam is committed to educating our clients about the financial services industry and helping them make the most of available resources to achieve prosperity.


Administrative Assistant

Sharon worked for Sweeney Bride from 2014 to 2016 and recently rejoined the team as an Administrative Assistant in 2021. She has years of administrative experience in a variety of industries including working in legal and accounting firms. She enjoys being detailed, organized and efficient. When not hard at work, she enjoys exploring the great outdoors with her dogs, playing co-operative strategy board games and relaxing while sipping a nice Craft beer.

Carrie Freitag


Administrative Assistant

Carrie is the newest member of our team and is our Administrative Assistant. She has previous industry and administrative experience and her fascination with the finance industry is rapidly growing. Carrie moved to BC in 1994 from Ontario and never looked back. While not working she loves hanging out with her two kids, awesome cat Leo, and enjoys a competitive game of 21, and her gardens.

Katie Norton



Katie is a Business Administration graduate who joined the Sweeney Bride team in 2016. She takes care of on-boarding as well as managing account administration for our existing clients. She works hard to ensure the clients feel supported throughout the on-boarding process and is always available to answer questions.

A BC resident since 1997, Katie and her husband moved to Squamish to raise their two girls. They enjoy all of the outdoor activities and natural beauty that Squamish has to offer.

Hannah McVean


CFP®, CIM® | Investment Advisor

Hannah is a financial planner and investment advisor with Sweeney Bride Strategic Wealth Advisory.

Hannah’s personable approach to client meetings unmasks financial goals and anxieties clients didn’t know they had or felt.  Her specialty is then taking the stress out of complicated financial planning issues. She has an infectious passion for personal finance (even about insurance, believe it or not!) and providing solutions that leave clients feeling more at peace about their finances.

Hannah holds the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® designation and has been working with Sweeney Bride since 2017.

When not at the office, you can mostly find her outside – mountain biking, white water kayaking or skiing. When resting, she will be at home engrossed in a great sci-fi or fantasy novel (or, from time to time, re-playing the Elder Scrolls video games).

Liz Woodsworth


Office Manager

Liz joined the Sweeney Bride team in 2015 as office manager. She is the gatekeeper in the office and is the face that greets you as you come through the door. If she can’t help you, she will ensure you speak with someone who can. Liz is a long-time Squamish local; when not in the office she spends her days soaking up all that this town has to offer while chasing her two active boys. Liz brings her valuable organizational skills and enthusiastic attitude to the team.

Janet Bride


CFP®, CIM® | Senior Wealth Advisor

Janet Bride is a Senior Wealth Advisor at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth and co-founder of the Sweeney Bride Strategic Wealth Advisory team.

With over 15 years’ experience in the Industry Janet holds the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM®), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®, and Elder Planning Counselor (EPC) designations and is also Insurance licensed.

Janet grew up in Ontario and moved out to beautiful British Columbia in 1995 with her husband, Paul, who is an adventure travel photographer. Her passion is to travel the world. Always interested in exploring different cultures and landscapes, she is grateful to have traveled to over 50 countries across 6 continents. She also enjoys continuous learning, spontaneous adventures with family and friends, and an active lifestyle in the Sea to Sky. Janet is proud to be a Big Brothers Big Sisters Alumni member since 2004.

She is highly motivated by helping people reach their financial dreams by creating comprehensive financial plans for individuals & families. While using a holistic approach to wealth management, she specializes in tax strategies and her goal is to encourage savings and help build our client’s wealth for a healthy and prosperous future.



CFP®, CIM® | Senior Wealth Advisor

Dave Sweeney is a Senior Wealth Advisor at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth and co-founder of the Sweeney Bride Strategic Wealth Advisory team.

With over 31 years’ experience in the Industry Dave holds the Chartered Investment Manager (CIM®), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®, and Elder Planning Counselor (EPC) designations and is also Insurance licensed.

Dave has lived in Squamish for most of his life. Married to his wife Donna, since 1987, they proudly have 3 lovely daughters, Amy, Danielle and Jamie. With his time in Squamish, it has allowed him an opportunity to become involved in many valuable groups.

Dave is a retired Captain of Squamish Fire Rescue after 35 years of service. Another passion was sports and he has been a coach for Squamish Youth Soccer Association where he dedicated 10 years to coaching girls Rep teams. Additionally, he is a former member and Treasurer of the Sea to Sky Community Services Board. Dave is a frequent contributor to Mountain FM’s Mountain Monitor, providing general advice and financial commentary.

Dave continues his volunteer work as Treasurer for both the Squamish Hospital Foundation and the Squamish Downtown Business Improvement Association. He is also a sitting Board member of the Squamish Community Foundation.

Professionally, Dave started his Financial Planning practice in 1994. After living through both his parents’ demise and witnessing what a lack of understanding they had, he realized what sound planning techniques could do to ensure that an untimely death did not destroy one’s lifetime work. For over 20 years, he has made it his passion to assist others in not facing the same plight.