From farm life to financial planning

Early life on a farm and ranch planted the seeds for Kevin Haakensen’s success as an advisor

From farm life to financial planning
For Kevin Haakensen, a childhood spent on a grain farm and cattle ranch was an unlikely prelude to the world of financial markets. “Without knowing what economics was, I would sit and talk with my dad about grain prices fluctuating, different things like that,” he said. “I think that, combined with a sense of curiosity and passion for solving puzzles, led me to the industry.”

Primed with a keen sense of business, work ethic, and drive to figure things out, Haakensen was eventually able to attend university, earning a bachelor’s degree in commerce with great distinction in the process. After that, he spent the first 10 years of his career with what he described as one of the best starts he could have.

“I got hired after university at a firm where I stayed with a great mentor who was patient and taught me a lot about financial planning, estate planning, and investing money,” he said. “I also got to meet a lot of owners of extremely well-run and prosperous businesses. I wasn’t just in Saskatchewan — we did a lot of work in Toronto and Vancouver as well.”

Haakensen also gives credit to his partner Kevin Hegedus, a fellow honouree on Wealth Professional’s list of Top 50 Advisors and co-owner of Prairie Wealth Management. But while he’s had a lot of help along the way, he also said that being a consummate reader and goal-setter have helped him move forward.

He considers his fondness for puzzles and setting goals to be especially suited for financial planning. “Every client’s circumstance is a little bit different; every single family I get to sit with is a little bit of a different puzzle to solve,” he said. “And helping clients achieve goals was kind of second nature, a natural strength that actually drove me to the business and the financial services world.”

Many of the clients at Haakensen’s firm are pre-retirees who need help to successfully transition into their retirement years. “Seeing that smile on their face upon knowing they can actually take that leap to the next step in their life and retire is the most satisfying part of my job, which I get to see several times a year.”

He and his colleagues also help clients with many other goals, which could include saving up for a cottage or to fund their child’s education. They also address the unique issues facing a lot of farm owners, which include complications in equalizing the estate among multiple heirs, ensuring that any estate-tax liabilities would be taken care of to avoid liquidation, and so on. “A lot of times, the average farm today is a lot more sophisticated than 25 years ago and, on average, quite a bit larger, so you could be dealing with corporations, family trusts, holding companies — different things like that that have their own different circumstances and unique planning issues as well,” he said.

The decision to incorporate and layer other entities in such as holding companies and family trusts is another fork that his firm guides clients through. For a long time, it offered plenty of benefits from a tax-planning standpoint. But that could soon change with the proposed tax reforms recently announced by the federal government. “A lot of business owners treat investments in their holding companies as their retirement fund, akin to an RRSP or pension plan that maybe a T4 wage-earner would have,” Haakensen said. “You can only plan with the rules that you have in front of you, and when someone changes the rules in the fifth or sixth inning, and you’re trying to get to the end goal in the next five to ten years, it can affect people’s lives.”

On the bright side, Haakensen said his firm has been in a good position for other regulatory and market curve balls. A case in point is the fact that he and his partner became licensed discretionary portfolio managers in 2012, which makes operating in a fast-paced, transparency-oriented industry much easier.  It has also let them position many of their portfolios into different asset classes, which include more than $100 million dollars’ worth of structured notes at four different banks and some promising alternative assets in North America.

He anticipates that the robo movement won’t be as much of a threat as many advisors think, and could actually help many good advisors expand their practices. “I think they do play a part in the market for clients that are not seeking that top-notch planning, taxation, estate advice — those are things that our team brings to the table,” he said.

After twenty years of loving the business, Haakensen said he can see himself loving it for twenty more no matter what changes continue to be thrown at him. “Every day, I think you should have the enthusiasm to work with your clients, as if it were your first week in the business,” he said. “I know it can seem pretty daunting when constant regulatory changes seem to bog us down with paperwork and other issues, but I think if you plow through it, things will turn around and we’ll get past it all. And to be valuable to our clients, we always have to stay on top of industry trends like tax changes, surround ourselves with other fantastic people, and be open to the possibility that we can learn something new.”

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