Some top advisors explain how they earned the business of Canada’s richest clients and more importantly, kept their business.
NANCY HOI BERTRAND
- DESIGNATIONS: LL.B, CFA
- TITLE: DIRECTOR, CITI PRIVATE BANK
- CITY: TORONTO
- YEARS IN BUSINESS: 4
- ASSET MINIMUM: $25 MILLION
I actually had no dreams of becoming a private banker—in fact, I didn’t even know what a private banker was until [global headhunting firm] Egon Zehnder called me. I practised U.S. corporate securities law for eight years and wanted something more client-focused. I was spending 80% of my time on my own, drafting documents.
The natural path for a securities lawyer is to become an investment banker. Egon Zehnder told me private banking is investment banking for individuals. That really hooked me.
Many of my clients have more money than some endowments and pension plans. I do everything from investments to financing to other types of ancillary advisory, like trusts. We have a group that does art advisory. Your limit is really up to your creativity in terms of how you probe the clients’ needs, and how you match that up with the available resources.
I’m the one-stop shop for my client, because at this level, they want to call just one person, so it’s my responsibility to deliver the firm’s capabilities and expertise to clients. For example, one of our value propositions is access to alternative managers. We have groups in New York, Hong Kong and London that search for the best hedge, private equity and real estate funds.
Most of our clients are running businesses that have a global footprint. We can open up bank accounts around the world so they can operate more efficiently. The role is quite different than just picking stocks or doing portfolio construction.
I’ll never have more than 50 clients in my book, which means I know my clients well: I’ve met their kids; I know who their parents are. I speak with a lot of clients on a daily basis.
In our space, the sales process is anywhere between 18 and 24 months. I have people I’ve been working with for a number of years who aren’t clients yet, but I treat them like clients. I give them advice, we share ideas, and they may execute with somebody else. I’m OK with that. But if they value the advice I give them, they will hopefully become clients. It’s difficult to get somebody who has a hundred million dollars, who’s already entrenched with service providers, to move money to you if they don’t know who you are.
A trend most advisors are missing is a more holistic view. We take into account a client’s business, real estate, art collection, yacht collection, and airplane collection. We model that against certain parameters, and we’re able to let clients know what the volatility of their portfolios would look like, how much cash will come out of them after tax, and whether their portfolios will be able to beat inflation.
The way of the stockbroker is gone. We’re moving toward an institutional way of thinking. We don’t look at just our clients’ financial assets; we look at their lives. I actually sit on an advisory board for one of my clients’ businesses.
The best way to offer value is really knowing your client. That’s the kind of relationship we have with our top clients.
- DESIGNATIONS: FCSI, CFA
- TITLE: DIRECTOR, PORTFOLIO MANAGER, MAWER INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT
- CITY: CALGARY
- YEARS IN BUSINESS: 20+
- ASSET MINIMUM: $2 MILLION
I started on the lending side of banking, [where] I was taught you couldn’t just say no and decline a request to borrow—you had to provide alternatives. It’s that consultative aspect that I was trained in [and that we use today at Mawer].
We work with high-net-worth individuals and families and many not-for-profit institutional clients. We do investment management and investment policy work, which require a high degree of customization. We’re generally one of a team of advisors. That’s our strength—we’re not trying to do everything.
Part of our practice is portfolio management. We take a long-term, holistic view of the portfolio and the investment-policy design. That view carries right through to the selection of stocks: there is low turnover in the portfolio.
Many of our families have dealt with us for generations: Our retention rate is 99%. We have a team approach to managing wealth, so our clients know more than just one portfolio manager. We do a lot of work on succession planning with the families we manage, and within our organization.
Our business isn’t just about investment management; we also optimize the portfolio. For example, we use family trusts, corporate accounts, holdcos, asset allocation, and registered and non-registered accounts to maximize the tax and asset efficiency within an overreaching investment policy customized to each family’s situation. We create a strategy for future giving to family foundations and other charitable bequests well in advance of the actual gifting.
[Since] there’s an increased focus on corporate governance [among investors], you’ll see governance principles emerging in family management. For example, a family fire-drill exercise, which takes the family through “what happens if/when” scenarios, is just as important if you’ve got $2 million in assets as [with] $100 million.
My advice for other advisors? Learn in diverse ways. I’ve maintained a parallel career in board work. You accumulate experience you don’t get out of textbooks and day-to-day client or portfolio work. For those starting out, smaller organizations and boards welcome your investment expertise.
- DESIGNATIONS: CFA
- TITLE: EXEC. DIRECTOR;REGIONAL HEAD, ONT. UBS BANK (CANADA)
- CITY: TORONTO
- YEARS IN BUSINESS: 14
- ASSET MINIMUM: $2 MILLION
I started as a relationship manager for institutional clients with Citigroup in Jakarta, Indonesia. When I moved to Canada, I rejoined Citigroup in Toronto in its Private Banking area.
As someone new to Canada, I had to go where the opportunity was. So I began my career here in a compliance role. When management saw my relationship-building ability, I moved into a relationship management capacity.
I was at Citi for about 10 years when I decided to take a break from the industry. I then went to work for an international humanitarian organization, World Vision, for about a year and a half to apply my corporate knowledge to help a non-profit organization with corporate fundraising and major donor development.
Armed with a fresh outlook, I rejoined the industry and now work with a 10-person high-net-worth team for UBS in Toronto.
We’re all salary-based employees at UBS. This is particularly important for our HNW clients, who want to make sure they’re getting objective advice. There’s been an increasing regulatory movement toward a non-conflicting [advice] model and an increasing fiduciary requirement that’s going to be more onerous down the road for commission-based [advisors].
My advice for other advisors? Let clients’ interests drive your actions. Don’t take your relationship with clients for granted; consider it a privilege. Having that time away is helpful to recharge and get a more well-rounded perspective. Clients appreciate that, and it will come through in your discussions with them. It shows you’re not one-dimensional. [My philanthropic knowledge] has enhanced some client relationships because we can discuss things that are dear to their hearts.
Often, working with the wealthy is not all about making more money. It’s about the legacy they want to leave behind. That’s often a more powerful and emotional discussion for clients.
- DESIGNATIONS: CFA, CMT
- TITLE: VP AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, BMO HARRIS PRIVATE BANKING
- CITY: VANCOUVER
- YEARS IN BUSINESS: 21
- ASSET MINIMUM: $500,000
When I was five, there was a stock market segment on Sesame Street. I told my Dad, “That’s for me.” After graduation, I started as a commercial lender and then found out about the CFA. It provided me with the
background to get into the equity markets. From there I worked as an analyst, and then as a portfolio manager.
There’s more to this business than just being an equity analyst. I never realized that until a company I was working with got bought, and my job moved to another city.
[At the same time,] my husband, an architect, had an opportunity to work on the Vancouver Olympics. I couldn’t let him not do it, so I had to figure out what I could do in Vancouver.
I thought I had the world by the tail as an analyst. So when things changed, it was discouraging. But there are options when you have a CFA and now I’m a manager of managers for BMO Harris Private Banking for British Columbia. We have 130 people in five offices.
As an institutional equity analyst, I rarely had opportunities to meet with the end-user client. As an advisor in the private wealth business, though, I’m often in situations where I can provide analysis and advice for clients. It’s fulfilling to provide people with peace of mind, especially in times of transition.
You need to be a good listener, and have constructive and flexible solutions for clients at every stage of their lives. Listening also helps me see where people’s interests lie and where we need to do more work.
Most advisors don’t pay enough credence to what to do when [clients face] a significant life event. There are still too many couples that leave financial decisions to one person. And when an event happens like divorce or death, the advisor and the person who’s left behind haven’t spent enough time together.
We need to do a better job of being transparent and asking clients the right questions—and encourage them to ask the right questions, too. I always tell clients, “Because we’re a fee-only business, you should be asking us a question every day.”