Building something special

Frank Mauro tells WP how his entrepreneurial spirit and time-tested value approach have fuelled Wellington-Altus' rise to $10 billion in AUM

Building something special

Frank Mauro’s 36-year career in the financial industry is no accident – it’s something he planned from the start. “I did my degree in finance and did another in urban land economics,” he says. “I graduated in 1984, and straight out of university, I got into this industry.”

Today a senior financial advisor, director of Wellington Altus Holdings and EVP of Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, Mauro started his career at Prudential Bache Securities and later moved to Dean Witter, which was eventually sold to Midland Walwyn. “I first met [Wellington-Altus co-founder] Charlie Spiring at Midland Walwyn and, many years later, joined him as a partner at Wellington West in 2007,” Mauro says. Over the next four years, Spiring and Mauro doubled the size of the firm before selling Wellington West to National Bank in 2011.

Following the sale, Mauro and colleague Todd Degelman spent six years with the bank but eventually realized they weren’t cut out for that environment – their entrepreneurial spirit was still very much alive. Along with Spiring, “we decided to strike out one more time, with the aim of becoming the premier private wealth management firm in the country,” Mauro says. “In 2017, we started Wellington-Altus.”

The trio didn’t burn any bridges; Wellington-Altus still uses National Bank’s independent network as its back office and shares some of its research in a relationship that Mauro likens to being “first cousins rather than siblings.” But as an independent firm, Wellington-Altus is able to attract like-minded advisors and foster a culture of partnership. “We wanted to be able to not just run our client book, but also to build something very special,” Mauro says. “So far it’s been working; we’ve been attracting a lot of corner-office advisors whom we regard as the top in the industry.”

Wellington-Altus has managed to achieve a meteoric rise in assets under management, surpassing $10 billion in less than three years. “The next stop is $20 billion,” Mauro says. “We’ve built the firm’s infrastructure and put people in place to accommodate that. We’re always looking ahead as opposed to trying to play catch-up.”

Even with clear foresight, however, many events – most notably the current coronavirus outbreak – just can’t be predicted. But rather than focus on these “air pockets,” as Mauro calls them, Wellington-Altus stresses long-term wealth management and good-quality value investing.

“The unnerving part is the emotional side,” Mauro says. “Clients are human, and they’ll get antsy when markets do what they’re doing. The majority of the ones we work with have been with us for north of 25 years. The ones who have been through this before are a lot calmer than our newer relationships, which need a little bit more guidance.”

That guidance involves walking clients beyond investment products and into areas such as tax planning, insurance, risk management and the transition of wealth across generations. “It’s all mapped out in a time-tested financial model that we built ourselves, which is based on one I wrote back at the University of British Columbia business school,” Mauro says. “We give the clients a good look at where they are today, and then we determine where they want to go. After that, we work our way backwards to figure out what they have to do to hit their goals.”

Often, clients look for the best of both worlds – achieving high returns while staying very conservative. “As value managers, we rely on good companies with strong cash flows,” Mauro says. “Saying that, our volatility tends to be lower than the market’s, and our performance numbers tend to be higher over the long term. I think that comes from having great advice that helps clients understand the market, gauge their risk appetite and walk them away from wrong decisions. In times like these, sound advice is paramount.”