Penny Walker

Photo taken on location: Turner Valley, AB

Whenever there’s a conference on oil and gas in Canada, you’re likely to see Penny Walker. Most recently, she took in the inaugural Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) conference in Vancouver, a day-long event that took place last September.

“I choose which conferences I go to based on what I need to learn about the companies that are presenting,” says Walker, a director of wealth management and investment advisor at Richardson GMP in Calgary.

She looks for sessions featuring companies that haven’t yet caught on with investors.

At LNG, she discovered three firms, including Enterprise Group and Entrec, that fit the bill. The firms had made conference presentations, and her post-conference research showed they’d be viable investments, so she’s added them to her clients’ portfolios.

Read: Learn from your own referrals

She also got a client as a result of her attendance. But, Walker says, that’s a bonus because her primary goal is gaining industry knowledge.

In fact, the client from the LNG conference chose her because she wasn’t trying to sell. They met in a session where a CEO was presenting about his resources company. As she was taking notes on her iPad, she mumbled to herself that the CEO was being extremely promotional.

An attendee nearby noticed and, at the end of the session, asked what she thought. She gave him an honest, but diplomatic, account of the CEO’s track record. “I’m not afraid to give my opinion. I’m licensed to give it, but I’m not as blunt as I would be with a client,” Walker says of encounters like these. She doesn’t want to alienate companies or prospects in her niche.

Later that afternoon, the attendee called and confessed to owning stock in the CEO’s company. He asked Walker if he should sell. She told him to stay the course: in her experience with similar companies, the stock would rise. On her advice, he held, and the stock’s value has increased 39% since the conference.

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The man opened an account with her the next week, thanking her for giving him advice without asking for his business.

So far, his account with her is more than $100,000 but, in total, her new client has more than $10 million in investable assets.

Make the most of your time

The LNG conference was organized by one of Walker’s clients, Keith Schaefer, editor and publisher of Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin.

She attended the conference last fall as Schaefer’s guest, but paid for her flight and hotel. It was worth it, she says, because of the insights gained. One highlight was a session in which two experts faced off about whether investors in natural gas projects will prefer large wells or niche operations.

At any conference, she favours panels that include company leaders talking about their firms over those with other brokers talking about investment prospects. “I’ve grown up in the investment business and I’ve heard enough people’s strategies,” she says.

Read: How to differentiate yourself

She’s constantly looking for information that will help her clients’ portfolios (see “Client challenges,” below).

Client challenges

The biggest obstacle Walker’s clients face is lack of diversification.

When the industry has a rough year, clients may lose their jobs, see their home prices tumble as colleagues move in search of other employment, or watch their resource-heavy portfolios drop. Employees with company pensions, RRSP matching plans or stock options are further tied to the fates of their businesses.

Still, her clients know their sector and prefer to invest in it. So instead of warning them off, she helps minimize risk. If they’re long on several energy stocks, she’ll purchase them a resources hedge fund that counterbalances their stakes in resource companies.

And she keeps their portfolios balanced by selling when an energy stock has gone up and re-investing in other avenues, like REITs.

“Every aspect of our lives in Calgary is in some way, shape or form associated with energy.”

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