By Sarah Kelsey
What do you do when you realize the person managing your company’s finances has been lying to you? Worse yet, what do you do when that person is your spouse and they’ve also been unfaithful?
That’s what happened to Dana, VP of business development at a tech company, on Easter weekend four years ago. Overnight, she became the person responsible for cleaning up a very sticky financial situation — her husband hadn’t filed her business’ taxes for several years, and she owed upwards of six figures to Revenue Canada. She also became the sole provider for two kids.
“It was a long weekend, so I gave myself a few days and allowed myself to cry and drink wine, then I realized I had to get going,” Dana says. “For the first month, I focused on getting my affairs in order: new wills, insurance beneficiaries, etc. Then, I moved to the finances. I met with my accountant and he referred me to John.”
Dana connected with John Sacke, an Investment Advisor and Portfolio Manager with BMO. His focus is on helping women step into their own as money managers.
“Dana had a lot of concerns with respect to paying her bills and keeping current with her finances. She was living with a lot of uncertainty as a result,” John says. “I have numerous clients going through marital discord. The notion of taking baby steps is very important. I told her to expect emotional turbulence.”
Dana says she and John worked together to figure out a step-by-step plan for her to not only repay the debts she inherited as a result of her marital situation, but also how to ensure she and her kids were taken care of long-term.
“The way he went about asking me what I wanted to achieve short- and long-term was never patronizing. He helped me build a new strategy for a way forward based on my goals.”
Today, through the analysis and the work they did as a team, Dana is months away from paying everything she owes in taxes and has been able to provide for both of her kids, helping her daughter achieve her dream of becoming a skateboarder with Team Canada and assisting her son in a big move to New Brunswick with his girlfriend for new jobs. She now has a holistic tax strategy that’s setting her and her family up for success.
“The way he went about asking me what I wanted to achieve short- and long-term was never patronizing,” she says. “He helped me build a new strategy for a way forward based on my goals.”
Naturally, that doesn’t mean the process was always easy.
Dana admits to being frustrated over putting too much trust in her ex-husband and for how long it took to reset her finances; John says he had to gently remind her to trust the BMO process — things take time, but they work out.
“First, I always suggest we do a financial plan, which is a core part of my services. Without cost or obligation, it sets out the vulnerabilities in one’s financial tapestry,” says John of the steps he uses when dealing with these kinds of situations and new clients. “Second, I’m a big believer in consolidation, meaning the less accounts one has, the better one can plan a strategy.” Lastly, he counsels clients to take a holistic look at their finances and to think about what that means long-term.
Dana now says she wouldn’t have been able to survive the past few years if she hadn’t been open to accepting help and finding some space to re-evaluate her life.
“Nobody anticipates that this will happen. Taking steps doesn’t make you disloyal — it makes you smart.”
“I don’t think anyone gets married thinking they’ll get divorced. You have a vision and goals and you picture yourselves in rocking chairs on the porch. When that’s taken out from under you, you need to take time to think about what you want,” she says. “When things exploded, I remember sitting there wondering what I wanted. I was so caught up in bills and working and I didn’t take enough time to take a breath and say, ‘this is your new reality. What do you want to do, where do you want to live, work, and do with your personal time?’”
To help, she began journaling, keeping a good journal for her wins and triumphs and a bad one that she now describes as an “outpouring of feelings and raging on paper.” “Both journals allowed me to get things out of my head and helped me remember and celebrate the wins,” Dana says.
Dana says her biggest learning and piece of advice is to get on top of your finances early, regardless of your marital situation.
“You should know what you need to do in any situation. If you get an inheritance from your parents, keep it in your name because then it doesn’t become co-mingled with your partner’s finances,” she says. “Literacy and knowing your rights in comparison to your obligations is key.”
She adds: “Nobody anticipates that this will happen. Taking steps doesn’t make you disloyal — it makes you smart. I wish I had taken a better beat and understood things from the outset. But hindsight is what it is. I’m so lucky I am where I am now. I’ve moved on and am looking forward to what’s next.”