'I want to make the world a better place and help everyone align their money and values'
Sonia LeRoy of Ottawa was delighted to receive The Sun life Global Investments Award for Advisor of the Year – Responsible Investments this year because it not only honours her passion, and journey that her stockbroker grandmother launched her on as a child, but given her a broader platform to convince more Canadians to try responsible investing.
“It means a lot to me because one of my objectives is to encourage the adoption of responsible investing, not just among my clients, and the people they refer to me, but among Canadian investors in general, and it gives me an opportunity to spread the word,” LeRoy, who is senior wealth advisor of LeRoy Wealth Management Group with IPC Securities Inc., told Wealth Professional.
“I have a real passion for what I do. It’s a way to change the world, make it a better place, and help everyone align their money with their values.”
LeRoy’s passion was lit by her own trailblazing grandmother, who was one of Canada’s first female stockbrokers. She used to give LeRoy, her siblings, and their cousins, shares as birthday gifts.
“She was smart. She gave me some Irwin Toy shares, so I’d be more likely to be engaged. But, she wanted us to know that we had to be responsible as owners, and we had to attend the annual general meetings and exercise our right to vote. That meant I had to learn a little bit about what I owned. So, the idea that money is power and with power comes responsibility was ingrained a very long time ago when I was probably in the single digit-age as a child,” said LeRoy. She still remembers her first Irwin annual meeting because there were product samples in the toy room. “I remember that more than anything else, but I do remember I had to vote.”
While her grandmother taught her that privilege and power come with responsibility, stewardship became increasingly important over the years. LeRoy’s family has also always been involved in community service and global and local social justice issues. She said she’s been interested in responsible investing for at least 20 of her 30 years as a financial advisor.
“The landscape has really shifted so enormously over that timeframe, particularly in recent years,” she said. “So, it’s been a journey in terms of how I introduced, thought of, and used responsible investing over the years. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m all in, as are my clients, but it didn’t start that way. It was gradual.”
She began, much as her grandmother did, by introducing responsible investing to her youngest clients, as well as parents or grandparents. They’d look at how responsibly invest registered education savings plans (RESPS) and introduce the conversations about money to their children. She starts with children of 10 to 12 – older than she was – when the message can be ingrained.
“Young people are more conscious of social justice and environmental issues,” she said, “and they ask the most interesting questions about money when given the opportunity.”
LeRoy found that parents then began to consider it for their accounts, especially since it fostered more conversation with their children.
“The more I integrated it into my practice, the more I appreciated the advantages for my clients,” she said. “One of the really amazing unintended benefits is that when people can really meaningfully relate to their investments, they’re less likely to react negatively when markets fall. It’s like they’ve got extra objectives over and above their financial personal objectives, so responsible investing can be a really strong support to investor commitments as they stick with their financial plans during rough times. When I figured that out, that’s when I started to try to introduce it to everybody.”
LeRoy talks to clients about what they want to achieve – protecting the environment, enhancing diversity, leveraging their money’s power to engage, doing ethical negative screening, or being better corporate citizens – though she notes that most are concerned about climate change and the environment, plus diversity, fairness, and social justice, and more people are interested in fair trade.
LeRoy then, through a process of elimination, offers them the best solution to fit their goals.
“The more informed my clients get, the more interesting questions they ask,” she said, “ and the more they want to leverage their money to make change. Sometimes, I feel like my clients are ahead of the investment providers, so I love having conversations with those heads to let them know what my clients are thinking and what we need. But, it’s getting easier all the time now that there’s more and more product available.”
She also uses social media to educate the growing number of clients who are attracted to her.
“It used to be a very select niche. But responsible investing has just blown wide open since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “I think it was an awareness problem because so few people knew it was possible to invest in a way to align your money with your values without giving up a significant rate of return or taking on risk. Now, I think there’s widespread understanding and acceptance that you don’t have to give up return or take on risk to do it.
“So, it’s not a question of me educating people about it so much anymore, People are coming in already knowing about it, and now the education is more around the details than the general awareness. It’s definitely not a niche anymore, which I’m very happy about.”