Kenneth Tsang, director, vice-president and investment advisor at RBC Dominion Securities in Toronto, has been advising the Chinese community for over three decades now.

During this period, he’s seen a change in the mindset and education level of new immigrants. Compared to immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s, he says, the newer generations are better informed and more accepting of Western practices – and this, he believes, has eased the demand for a niche market.

“As the world gets smaller, the need for a boutique or particular community will probably be less important than it was before,” says Tsang. “The world is so much [more] informed [now]. When we first started, there was hardly any information, so we were the centre to provide information.”

Today, more immigrants speak English. But you don’t need that to get information on the Internet, he adds. Tsang started in the business in 1979 with the firm Golding Rose & Turner. With the eighties’ boom of Chinese immigrants, he was assigned to open the first ethnic branch at the corner of Spadina and Dundas, once the belly of Toronto’s Chinatown.

“[We were] the first firm that had a branch catering to the Asian community,” says Tsang. He quickly built a Chinese clientele that today represents 60% to 70% of his business. Tsang admits his background and language skills did help him garner loyalty among his Chinese clientele, many of whom followed him to RBC when he moved.

As an insider, in a cultural context, he’s privy to some of the cultural biases of many of the older traditional Chinese immigrants. Generally, he says, they’re more superstitious.

For instance, certain words, like “death,” are believed to invite bad luck. But as an advisor, the topic must be discussed at some point. So you get around it by saying “when you leave” or “when you’re no longer here.” Because he was brought up in that culture, this is second nature. But Tsang suggests a Canadian broker who wants to do business with Chinese immigrants should think about how to phrase things. That said, “whether it’s important enough to stop business from going on, I’m not sure, because the newer generations are more accepting.”

At the end of the day, trust trumps insider understanding, says Tsang. This is particularly true in financial services; it’s one of few businesses today still tacitly respectful of a gentleman’s agreement. There aren’t many businesses out there anymore where you can transact on the good faith of both parties, he says. He takes pride in the fact that his team has client relationships built on trust. This allows them to function on the spoken word and rely less on paperwork or phone recordings.

“[It’s] still a time-honoured tradition in our industry. And honour is based on trust. Especially with what’s happened in the last two years with the financial crisis, I think trust is more important than anything else.” Still, some cultural influences have been passed on to the new generation. In general, Tsang explains, Chinese people are savers.

“Back in the day – and even now – we don’t talk about credit cards. My parents don’t use credit cards because that’s treated as non-saving. It’s the general mentality not to spend the money until you get the money. So the savings rate [among Chinese immigrants] versus the mainstream, I would say, is higher.” The Chinese mindset is also different when it comes to protecting their children from financial hardships. Tsang notes that Westerners tend to buy life insurance for this purpose. “I guess the Canadian way is that you protect your family by building up [with life insurance],” he says.

In contrast, Chinese parents safeguard their children by armouring them with a better education; they believe education is the best protection they can provide. So they’ll focus their energies at building savings for education before thinking of life insurance.

He refers to an article that suggested many Chinese people were not vulnerable to the financial crisis because they were better educated; during the economic downturn, the less educated are most vulnerable to financial hardship.

“The Chinese invest money while they’re alive to provide higher education,” he says.

During this period, he’s seen a change in the mindset and education level of new immigrants. Compared to immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s, he says, the newer generations are better informed and more accepting of Western practices – and this, he believes, has eased the demand for a niche market.

“As the world gets smaller, the need for a boutique or particular community will probably be less important than it was before,” says Tsang. “The world is so much [more] informed [now]. When we first started, there was hardly any information, so we were the centre to provide information.”

Today, more immigrants speak English. But you don’t need that to get information on the Internet, he adds. Tsang started in the business in 1979 with the firm Golding Rose & Turner. With the eighties’ boom of Chinese immigrants, he was assigned to open the first ethnic branch at the corner of Spadina and Dundas, once the belly of Toronto’s Chinatown.

“[We were] the first firm that had a branch catering to the Asian community,” says Tsang. He quickly built a Chinese clientele that today represents 60% to 70% of his business. Tsang admits his background and language skills did help him garner loyalty among his Chinese clientele, many of whom followed him to RBC when he moved.

As an insider, in a cultural context, he’s privy to some of the cultural biases of many of the older traditional Chinese immigrants. Generally, he says, they’re more superstitious.

For instance, certain words, like “death,” are believed to invite bad luck. But as an advisor, the topic must be discussed at some point. So you get around it by saying “when you leave” or “when you’re no longer here.” Because he was brought up in that culture, this is second nature. But Tsang suggests a Canadian broker who wants to do business with Chinese immigrants should think about how to phrase things. That said, “whether it’s important enough to stop business from going on, I’m not sure, because the newer generations are more accepting.”

At the end of the day, trust trumps insider understanding, says Tsang. This is particularly true in financial services; it’s one of few businesses today still tacitly respectful of a gentleman’s agreement. There aren’t many businesses out there anymore where you can transact on the good faith of both parties, he says. He takes pride in the fact that his team has client relationships built on trust. This allows them to function on the spoken word and rely less on paperwork or phone recordings.

“[It’s] still a time-honoured tradition in our industry. And honour is based on trust. Especially with what’s happened in the last two years with the financial crisis, I think trust is more important than anything else.” Still, some cultural influences have been passed on to the new generation. In general, Tsang explains, Chinese people are savers.

“Back in the day – and even now – we don’t talk about credit cards. My parents don’t use credit cards because that’s treated as non-saving. It’s the general mentality not to spend the money until you get the money. So the savings rate [among Chinese immigrants] versus the mainstream, I would say, is higher.” The Chinese mindset is also different when it comes to protecting their children from financial hardships. Tsang notes that Westerners tend to buy life insurance for this purpose. “I guess the Canadian way is that you protect your family by building up [with life insurance],” he says.

In contrast, Chinese parents safeguard their children by armouring them with a better education; they believe education is the best protection they can provide. So they’ll focus their energies at building savings for education before thinking of life insurance.

He refers to an article that suggested many Chinese people were not vulnerable to the financial crisis because they were better educated; during the economic downturn, the less educated are most vulnerable to financial hardship.

“The Chinese invest money while they’re alive to provide higher education,” he says.


  • Rayann Huang is a Toronto-based financial writer.


    Originally published in Advisor's Edge