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Advisors vs. Addiction

Ohio is leading the way in attempting to properly arm advisors for a fight that’s already underway, whether they realize it or not.

For years, advisor Cheryl Canzanella didn’t know how to talk with co-workers at Mass Mutual and industry peers about a disease that was quietly ravaging her family’s finances— her husband’s battle with addiction.

“I was in denial that it was happening for a long time, and when I did admit it to myself, I didn’t want anyone to know,” Canzanella told “So why in the world would you tell your financial advisor?”

It took her husband’s death from an accidental overdose in 2017 to compel Canzanella, who has been in the industry for 24 years, to action. She embarked on a series of speaking engagements to raise awareness within the financial services industry about the perils of addiction—for both advisors and their clients.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio Securities Commissioner Andrea Seidt happened upon one such presentation and connected with Canzanella about helping develop a program for Ohio advisors to spot signs of addiction in clients or their families—and, perhaps more importantly, learn how to speak about it.

Cheryl Canzanella

Cheryl Canzanella

Canzanella helped develop the training modules that are a part of Ohio’s “Recovery Within Reach” initiative, which Seidt and Gov. Mike DeWine announced in Aug. 2022. In addition to the modules (which advisors can take for CFP credit), the program includes public service announcements on television, radio and digital platforms directing advisors towards a website with relevant information, including maps to find nearby (and affordable) treatment options.

In-person half-day trainings also were held in Columbus and Cincinnati this fall, with one more scheduled for Cleveland on Nov. 10. In all, 103 financial professionals attended (or are registered to attend the Cleveland event). The program doesn’t plan on hosting major live events in 2024, but is looking to attend industry conferences and have representatives speak at firm-led events in the coming year.

Approximately 51,383 users have visited the Recovery Within Reach website as of the end of October, with approximately 12,100 visits to the landing page for the online training course and 192 having signed up for the training.

The initiative is sorely needed in a state that’s been walloped by the disease for more than a decade. According to Seidt, one in 13 Ohioans live with addiction, and 4,900 Ohioans died last year by unintentional overdose. As of 2021, Ohio also had the country’s fourth-highest overdose rate. Nationwide, 106,699 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2021, a 14% increase from 2020, with opioids involved in 75.4% of all deaths, according to the Centers of Disease Control.

Research from Ohio's Securities Division indicates financial advisors are struggling to recognize the impact addiction is having on clients. Despite one in 13 Ohioans living with addiction, a 2022 survey indicated only 1% of advisors surveyed thought they had clients impacted by substance use disorder within the previous year.

While three out of four respondents to the survey said they’d be “interested” in information on how clients can find and pay for treatment, a Sept. 2023 survey found that just over four in ten advisors don’t believe clients (or their finances) were impacted by addiction at some point in their lives.

“There’s a lot of advisors in the dark,” Seidt said. “They don’t see how their clients are impacted.”

Canzanella stressed the need for such training, as it can be hard even for vigilant advisors to connect the dots between a client’s financial decisions and addiction’s impact.

Sometimes, the signs that something is wrong are non-descript items like skyrocketing costs of Doordash and Uber Eats (when addiction sufferers and their families may not have the time or energy to cook). An unusual spike in healthcare costs is another potential indicator.

For example, at one point, Canzanella’s husband took Suboxone, a prescription medication to treat opioid dependency, she said. But the medication’s high cost meant that if he ran out of what was prescribed, he might have to buy it on the street at an exorbitant price, leaving Canzanella and her husband taking out money every day to pay for the medicine.

It underscored how quickly addiction can wreck a family’s finances, and how important it was for advisors to have all the information when delivering advice, according to Canzanella.

Advisors can employ a variety of tactics to help clients feel more comfortable about broaching the subject, including small steps like including materials in their lobby and waiting rooms indicating to customers that it is a topic of conversation you are willing to advise them on, according to Seidt, who said Ohio would share takeaways from its first year of “Recovery Within Reach” at the end of 2023 with other states in order to help them craft their own similar initiatives.

“It’s a matter of time until they will face this issue,” she said. “When that day comes, these resources will be available to them.”

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