Tanya Surette


Occupation: Wealth advisor, Scotia Wealth Management

City: Calgary, Alta.

Age: 44

Assets under management: About $75 million. “I try to maintain a 200-household limit. It’s a tricky thing with assets under management; there’s a general push in the industry to grow at all costs. My goal is always to see how small I can stay.”

In the industry since: 1996. “I entered the financial industry as a personal banker. I joined ScotiaMcLeod in 2004 as a wealth advisor.”

A non-traditional background…

I have a degree in psychology, with a minor in religious studies. It’s not the most traditional background. I know a lot of advisors tend to come from commerce or economics. But in the end, I don’t think I could have chosen a better degree.

Money is not supposed to be emotional, but it’s incredibly emotional. And I think my background has really helped me develop these relationships, to help my clients manage their feelings about money. And it has allowed me to better understand them and provide solutions that help them achieve what they want to accomplish.

…for a non-traditional advisor

In the old days, a stockbroker created portfolios for people by choosing individual stocks—and that’s what I do. I’m generally holding between 25 and 40 stocks in my clients’ portfolios, and actively watching another 500.

It’s my passion. I love stock selection and being directly involved in the markets, and I believe it’s of the most benefit to my clients. But it’s harder. You have to be in the office a lot. You have to pay close attention to what’s going on, and be nimble, and that requires a lot of dedication.

Which is why, in part, the industry has moved away from it. So stock-picking is not a skill that very many people have or that gets passed down. From a growth and marketing perspective, that’s actually worked out really well for me: because not many people offer what I offer, the referrals and the people actively seeking me out have grown exponentially.

Because I trade stocks, I definitely have higher compliance criteria. I [keep my] clients’ KYC forms at my fingertips. Every trade and every conversation is documented—I take detailed notes on the recommendations, the reasoning behind them and the client’s risk profile. I disclose the trading costs, every time. I’ve always done that, so my practice hasn’t really changed in the face of new regulations around compliance.

My ideal clients

In Calgary, there are lots of high-net-worth people who have accumulated their wealth by virtue of working at the right company at the right time. Those aren’t my clients. The people I work with tend to have created their wealth; they have built something for themselves.

It’s very difficult across the firm, and the industry, to take on any clients who aren’t in the range of $250,000 to $500,000. Having said that, if I meet up with a 35-year-old entrepreneur who has lots of wonderful things going on, I’m still going to take them as a client. At this point in my career, I genuinely want to work with people I enjoy.

I’m very involved with my clients. In an average month, I touch [base] once or twice, [and more often] if I’m actively trading. Particularly when the markets are volatile, I’m on the phone all day. People need to be more involved. And if you don’t want to be, then I’m not the [advisor] for you. I’d rather have that honest conversation in the beginning than have it not work out down the road.

Up close and personal

This is an intensely personal business. It’s really important to me that my clients succeed. Working with somebody for 15 years and being instrumental in their ability to retire or to achieve their financial dreams—that’s amazing. That’s probably the best part of my job.

But it’s still a taxing job. The industry is still very, very light with women, and there are challenges that arise when you’re not represented well in your industry. I wouldn’t do anything else, but it’s not easy.