Ryan Colwell joined the financial services industry out of necessity. His fiancée (now wife) was going back to school, and he needed a job to support the two of them – and, really, any job would do.
“I figured I’d pack boxes or drive a forklift; it was just a one-year thing,” Colwell says. “But an advisor at Financial Concept Group hired me as a marketing assistant – I didn’t know what an RRSP stood for at the time!”
Colwell was paid enough to support his small family, and he figured he could keep it up for just one year, even if that meant taking the Canadian Securities course at the behest of his boss.
“It was the hardest course I had ever taken – and I loved it,” Colwell says. “So I haven’t really left the industry.”
Despite graduating from the University of Toronto with an arts degree, Colwell was always good at math and saving money. “That was the kind of thing I was predisposed to, and the course was just formal training,” he says. “I had closed my mind to those things because I was focused on the arts.”
Now, as a certified financial planner, Colwell has stayed in the business because of his passion for the industry – but the lifestyle it affords him and his family certainly helps, too. Improving technology means Colwell can work from almost anywhere, giving him the flexibility to travel with his family. Two years ago, he took a two-month vacation across Canada with his wife and two sons, keeping his business thriving with a cell phone, a laptop and a portable printer.
“We worked along the way, whether we were in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta or in Glacier National Park in BC,” he says. “We were able to keep up with client requests and even have some client meetings along the way.”
Colwell also appreciates that the business gives him the freedom to work with one of the charities he supports – especially since that do-good lifestyle also complements his work. Colwell is a member of the Responsible Investment Association. The association is made up of fund managers, pension managers, endowment funds and financial advisors who have an interest in socially responsible investing.
“If you could buy fair-trade coffee for the same price as Nabob, why wouldn’t you?” he says. “I see socially responsible investing as a substitute to traditional mutual funds with similar performance, risk and fees, with the extra bonus of doing good for the world.”
Colwell says the financials are always paramount when choosing a fund, be it a socially responsible one or otherwise. But socially responsible funds differ in that they exclude certain industries, such as weapons, tobacco and uranium. Others won’t include porn, alcohol or oil companies.
These funds then choose the better of each category for the portfolio. For instance, he says some funds might invest in Suncor – a company that accepts climate change and is working toward reducing its carbon footprint – but might not invest in Exxon, which helped fund the campaign to debunk the science of climate change.
“The most exciting part is what many socially responsible funds do is, after they’ve built their portfolios – no weapons, no nukes, no smoking and often no oil – they will actively engage those companies whose shares they do own and try to push them toward being even more progressive in their sector,” Colwell says. “They can also file shareholder resolutions to force issues onto the agendas of annual general meetings – and all the while you’re profiting from the gains.”
The idea that a socially responsible investment can also be a profitable one is hard for some people to grasp, but Colwell often pulls out a quote about the importance of buying local, taking the bus and being a vegetarian. While most people guess the quote is from an environmental book, it’s actually from Financial Planning for Dummies.
“I actually bought this book the day I got hired – that’s not where my training ended; I have a CFP now,” he says. “But I kept the book for that page. I think it’s perfect … and it perfectly sums up what my practice is about – doing good and saving or making money at the same time.”