Is it worthwhile to network with competitors?

By Jessica Bruno | November 6, 2015 | Last updated on November 6, 2015
3 min read

Reaching out to the competition has advantages, such as gaining a different perspective and practice management tips. But how do you network without giving too much away?

Angus Watt Angus Watt, CLU, DFOL Managing partner, Angus Watt Advisory Group, National Bank Financial Edmonton, Alta Years in business: 38

I have a friend in the business I’ve known for 30 years.

We talk about salaries and industry issues, but we won’t talk about clients. One day you might be playing golf and a competitor ends up in your foursome. [You’ll] both be searching for information, so give away what you think you can with no harm done, and try to collect information. For example, [they might] ask, “What’s happening in the economy?” or “Is there anybody new in your shop?” And I would say, “We had a record month,” or “We had a slow quarter.”

With people in my own organization, I wouldn’t have a problem discussing anything, and any one of us would answer a question frankly. [If you’re] someone who has been in the business for a year or two, talk to some of the senior advisors in your office and take them out to lunch. Get them to mentor you.

Brian Himmelman Brian Himmelman, B.Comm, CFP President, Himmelman and Associates Halifax, N.S. Years in business: 20

When I started in the business, Jim Hutchinson, now an independent advisor, was my manager. He’s now a competitor and friend. We meet every three months for coffee, and gain different things from each other. Since he’s on his own right now, [the meeting helps] keep him connected with the industry. Meanwhile, he brings me back to the basics. Because he’s from a different generation, he does things differently. I can get caught up in trying to envision where things are going to be five or 10 years down the road [and] he reminds me there are simple habits and routines for success that you have to do daily. He’ll ask me, “How many client appointments did you have this week?” And I might say, “Well, two,” because I’ve been caught up in these other things. But that’s the business we’re in—seeing people. There’s no threat to each other. I’ve also asked Jim to mentor some of my junior associates. He does it because he loves helping people.

If someone came to me, I’d give that person time, particularly if he’s a high-level producer and I’m curious about how he does things. I’d be equally as flattered to share what I do with other people. In Halifax, there’s enough business for everybody, so I don’t mind sharing. But if I were working with a niche market that couldn’t hold more than one advisor, I wouldn’t give that idea to a competitor. Instead, I’d tell them how to get into a niche: they could start off with lunch-and-learns or treat prospects to a dinner seminar.

Susan Creasy Susan Creasy, CLU Owner, Susan Creasy Financial Inc. Kingston, Ont. Years in business: 35

There are a number of senior advisors I’ve phoned over the years and asked to lunch. We’ve chatted about our business, how many staff we have and what they do. We all know each other because a number of us started in life underwriters’ training courses years ago together.

I also have a women’s study group made up of about seven advisors from across Ontario. We get together twice a year and learn from each other. We talk about how the practice works, succession and the family business, or our thoughts on a new product. No one is from the same city, so we’re open, honest and frank because we’re not competing. If I have a client who is moving and wants an advisor in Toronto, I’m willing to send the whole file to a member of my study group, because I know the client will be well taken care of.

In Kingston, most advisors know each other. If I phoned and said, “Let’s have lunch. I’m looking for some advice on GMWBs, or segregated funds,” it’s not threatening. In fact, I have mutual clients with some advisors. I might say to them, “Our mutual client wants to do this. What do you think?”

Jessica Bruno