Someone recently asked me how long I had been in the financial services business. As I thought about the answer to the question, I was shocked at how quickly the time has slipped by. I started as a mid-management trainee with a large international insurance company in April 1997, over 19 years ago, and this August I will celebrate my 15th year as being an independent advisor. I have frankly never looked back at that corporate life that I left behind, nor do I regret taking the leap of faith that I did all of those years ago.
Although I do refer to it as a leap of faith, at the time that the decision was made to make the move, I never considered failure an option. I did, however, underestimate the time and effort required both to maintain a client base, as well as grow one. I also over-estimated the support that I would get from the senior advisor whose practice I had joined. I had visions of me shadowing him on review meetings, learning how to prospect from him, and being handed a group of clients with which to work
Unfortunately, none of this manifested itself, so it was up to me to make things happen. I operated under the credo “Big or Small I will take them all”, and I did. I looked at all the traditional ways of prospecting for clients. From trying to create a referral network through centres of influence such as accountants and lawyers, to joining the Oakville Chamber of Commerce and cold calling its members. By implementing several prospecting tactics it was my intent to begin to establish a client base outside of what already existed within the practice itself. And it worked.
These, however, were not always what I would describe to be “the ideal” client profile. I would drive all over the Golden Horseshoe and beyond for the tiniest of a sale. A two hour drive to Port Hope at 8PM so I could provide a young couple a term insurance policy to a Saturday morning appointment in Hamilton to open an RESP that really paid nothing. I had no concept of the value of time vs. income, nor did I have anything to benchmark my activity level against. I assumed working 80 + hours a week was what was required to establish a client base, and in retrospect, I still believe that is what is required today for someone starting out. Some of most enduring relationships were forged from these early on sales.
Those days I found myself in all kinds of strange situations. I will never forget the meeting that I had with two dogs standing on the back of the couch where I was seated, one dog on either side of me, licking my ears the entire meeting. The owner was either oblivious or just simply proud of her two poodle blends. I actually was so grossed out by the end of that meeting that I went home and showered before my next meeting.
There was the time that I split my pants all the way up the back and had to enter and leave the client’s house backward, only to rush off to buy a new pair of pants before my next meeting.
I have spun out into a ditch on a country road in the middle of winter and was towed out by a farmer. I have had people stand me up, people put me down, and any other human characteristic of which you can think. I hesitantly say that I think that I have seen it all, (until tomorrow when undoubtedly I will see something new).
Through it all, however, there has been the underlying belief that I am helping people by providing a very important service. Be it organizing their spending habits, insuring against a premature death, preparing an estate to be as tax efficient as possible, or to open an education plan upon the birth of a child. All while establishing a relationship with an individual or family that in many cases, still exists 15 years later.
And with such long lasting relationships, it is impossible not to become attached to many of these clients. After all, I am dealing with one of the most intimate things that exists in a person’s life – their finances. I have been there for people’s most special moments - the birth of a baby, a major work promotion, a marriage, a business launch etc. I have also been there for some of their toughest moments – the loss of a loved one, the termination of a job, illnesses etc. And unfortunately, I have had too many clients pass away over the years. There are the late 90’s clients that pass, and albeit sad, you recognize that they have had a good long life. And, there are those that have passed prematurely which still resonate with me irrespective of the time that has passed. What this has done for me is provide me the ability to recognize that life is both fragile and short, and that living life is of at least equal importance as planning life.
It would be remiss of me to reflect on my tenure as a financial advisor without looking at the multiple crises that my clients and I have been through together. This started with Sept 11th, 2001, only one month into my career, and on the heels of the tech bubble bursting. There was the Chinese stock collapse in 2007 the financial crisis and global recession of 2008-2009, the European Sovereign Debt crisis in 2010, the US debt ceiling issue in 2011, the Chinese stock market crash in 2015, and most recently the Brexit in 2016. The only one of those that actually genuinely concerned me was the global financial crisis. I maintained a brave face in the process of trying to console my clients, but frankly I like everyone else, didn’t really know what the outcome of this was going to be nor where and when the bottom of the market was going to settle. To put things in perspective of how bad things were, I was getting commended for only losing a client’s portfolio, on average, 17%. I never thought I would see the day that a client was happy losing 17%!
Through all of these crises the one common denominator was that there are always a faction of clients that have a knee jerk reaction and wonder about selling out of their assets. I have to continue to remind them that we built a diversified portfolio for times exactly like these. By the time that we know to act on selling, the damage typically has happened. I have heard it said on more than one occasion that my job is to stop people from doing irrational, emotional, ill-advised or rash decisions rather than doing stupid things, and there is a lot of truth to that sentiment.
Today the advisory landscape has seen so much evolution relative to 15 years ago. Globalization is upon us, and has an impact on almost everything we do - investing included. The fact is we do care about how the economy is doing in places like Mexico, Portugal, Brazil etc. as it does have a direct impact on us. The compliance and regulatory environment has become tightened down, (almost to extremes), and the cost of operating in the financial services environment has become prohibitively expensive. There are rumours of more changes coming in the next few years that will have a direct impact on advisors and clients.
Change is perpetual, but that one thing that remains a constant is, that without a strong personal relationship with my clients, none of the above could have or would have been possible.
Thanks to everyone for a wonderful 15 years, I’ve learned and grown in so many ways and it’s been an amazing journey and will continue to be I’m sure!
Written by: Brad Amlin, CFP, Financial Advisor July 20, 2016
Note: The opinions expressed here are Brad Amlin’s. Cornwall Wealth Management Group/Manulife Securities Incorporated are not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied here.