Family matters

David Barnsdale’s unique experience has made him a specialist in helping his clients build multi-generational family businesses

Family matters

After 32 years in the wealth management industry, David Barnsdale has amassed considerable experience in a variety of areas. Now, as vice-president, associate portfolio manager, wealth advisor and financial planner at Barnsdale & Hussain Wealth Management Group at RBC Dominion Securities, he’s using that expertise to zero in on incorporated professionals and family businesses.  

Ever since he was a child, Barnsdale has been fascinated with the stock market. “I can remember reading the stock pages when was a kid,” he says. “I told my dad, who worked for Magna, he should buy their stock. His comment was, ‘Stocks are for rich people and gamblers; people like us stick to GICs’ – so it’s kind of ironic that I got into the investment world.” 

Barnsdale started in the industry in 1987 after graduating from York University with a degree in economics. He earned his securities and insurance licence and began his first job with Tax Advantages, where he specialized in mutual funds and insurance.  

“The interviewer basically showed me a growth chart of the Templeton Fund,” he recalls. “My jaw dropped when I saw how much investors’ money had grown in the fund. They asked if I could recommend it to others, and I said, ‘Absolutely, if that’s how their money can grow!’”  

From there, Barnsdale made stops at Manulife, Midland Walwyn, Merrill Lynch and CIBC Wood Gundy before settling in at RBC Dominion Securities in 2008. Along the way, he earned his CFP, CIM and FCSI designations, along with hedge fund specialist, options and portfolio manager licences. But the certification Barnsdale is most proud of is the Family Enterprise Advisor [FEA] designation, something only a few dozen Canadian advisors have.  

Working with family businesses looking to maximize a sale or transition “is an area that needs special advice and understanding, the FEA certification has given me that,” Barnsdale says. “With a family business, you have three main factors to consider: running a successful business, ownership and family. These three circles can intersect and cause conflict. Advisors need to work as a team to bring the family together, ensure the success of the business and keep harmony.” 

Dealing with these conflicts is one of the major challenges Barnsdale faces. He notes that many times, business owners are focused on just running the business and neglect the planning required for a transition. That’s where Barnsdale’s expertise can help the owner maximize value and create a smooth transition.  

Barnsdale’s approach mirrors that of one of his idols – with one exception. “I have been a Warren Buffett fan forever,” he explains. “I have read his books, been to the shareholder meeting and met him. My approach is basically the same as his: buy great businesses at a reasonable price that have big barriers to entry and great management. The one significant difference is that Buffett doesn’t believe in dividends, and I am all about owning great businesses that pay dividends. Dividend growers have been one of the best asset classes, historically, and are more defensive in a down market.”  

During his decades in the industry, Barnsdale has seen a number of changes, but none greater than the recent fee compression and increased transparency. It’s change he wholeheartedly believes in; he transitioned to a fee-based practice 20 years ago. His belief in transparency came from another mentor, CFL great and former investment advisor Tony Gabriel, whom Barnsdale worked with at CIBC.  

“He basically said, ‘Run a clean book of business and you never have to worry,’” Barnsdale says. “One of my core philosophies is to never recommend anything to a client I wouldn’t recommend to my parents. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is this right for the client?’ If there is any hesitation, then you shouldn’t do it.” 

Barnsdale has some additional advice for new advisors looking for success in the industry. “The key for new advisors is team up with a seasoned advisor,” he says. “If not, you need a good mentor and truly need patience, perseverance and to be willing to take some risks.”