Hustle, passion, and a helping hand put one woman on the path to a successful independent practice
When asked what wisdom she could share with the younger generation of advisors, Alexandra Horwood didn’t hesitate.
“It can be very hard as a young person with limited experience to convince wealthy people, sometimes significantly older and more experienced than you, that you are worthy of their trust,” said the Director, Wealth Management at Alexandra Horwood and Partners and Richardson GMP Ltd. “That is one of the reasons why I believe it is best to start in the business within a good, hardworking advisor team in the early years. Not only will it give you a more stable income, but you have mentors to teach you the ins and outs of the business.”
Today, Horwood heads her own practice at Canada’s largest independent wealth management firm, Richardson GMP. She has a team of four partners which creates a daily dynamic of learning and mentoring. A lot of young advisors, particularly women, also come to her for advice on how to build their own businesses.
“I started from the bottom,” she said. “I would get coffees, use the fax machines and scanners, and learn as much as possible working for several knowledgeable and experienced investment advisors. I also went out networking evenings and on weekends, having as many coffees and meetings as I could to try to build my business. But it wasn’t working out; I realized that I didn’t have a strategy or crucially a niche.”
The turning point for Horwood came when she attended PDAC, the largest mining convention in the world that brings approximately 30,000 mining executives into Toronto every year. She spent her time meeting and gathering business cards from successful mining executives, all of whom she would invite for a complimentary tax and estate planning meeting with her expert. Around that time she also happened to have a mentor — Mike George, Director of the Tax & Estate Planning group at Richardson GMP — who would come into Toronto from Winnipeg once a month.
“I was fortunate that Mike opened up his schedule and would say ‘If you would like me to take meetings, let me know,’ and I would book as much time with him as I could,” she said. “It just so happened that most of these mining executives took me up on my offer and came in for a one-hour consultation and I was able to have Mike George there. Everyone who met with Mike and I ended up signing with me as clients, and that’s when I knew I had found a hugely successful niche of fun, exciting people that I truly enjoy working with.”
Her early focus on planning now seems prescient, as the rise of robo-advisors continues to erode the added value clients can receive from investment management. Because low-cost digital platforms and passive funds have fulfilled the needs of young and new investors, most of the entry-level advisors that focus heavily on that aspect of business are under threat. That means more opportunity to add value — and earn significant compensation — comes from tax and estate planning to high-net-worth clients like Horwood’s, which robos simply cannot provide.
“I spend equal amounts of time on the investment side and the planning side,” she said. “I surround myself with tax, estate, and insurance experts, all of whom provide important value to our clients at Richardson GMP. Having those specialists to rely on is crucial, especially for advisors just starting out. It is best to be honest with clients when you don’t have the answer, but that by consulting your experts, you will be able to find the right strategy and advice for them.”
Clients may ask about non-traditional investment opportunities, like cannabis or cryptocurrencies, which can offer stellar potential returns; in Horwood’s experience, those questions typically come when the market’s reached its peak. That’s why clients are encouraged to focus on conservative long-term growth rather than flavour-of-the-day investing. Those who feel strongly about investing in the trend, she says, may choose to do so on a self-directed basis.
“Our relationship with GMP Securities comes with a specialty in investment banking and research, which means we see deal flow for Blockchain and other bleeding-edge technology with long-term potential,” she clarified. “So for our clients looking for that kind of opportunity, that’s something that they may not be able to invest in anywhere else or on their own.”
As part of an independent firm entrusted with over $30 billion in assets under management, Horwood has the ability to explore a wider universe of investment options than most bank-run brokerages. She is proud of and totally committed to her business, and she is not tied to a menu of proprietary products. The result: the motivation and freedom to select only the very best.
That helped her become the top-ranking female advisor on Wealth Professional’s Top 50 list in 2017; in 2018, she was nominated for Investment Advisor of the Year and Women-Led Advisory Team of the Year at WP’s inaugural Women in Wealth Management event. While those are already impressive measures of success, Horwood is striving to reach an even higher bar.
“At this point I am looking for a fulfilling and balanced lifestyle — to not just be an advisor, but to also be a good wife, mother, friend, daughter, and sister,” she said. “Beyond that I would like to be managing a billion dollars in assets by the time I am 40 years old; long-term, I’d like to be the largest and most highly respected wealth manager in Canada. With hard work and my great team, I believe I can have it all.
“My husband recently pointed out that he may like to retire at 40 or 45, and I said that I have no interest in retirement at all! That being said I do see myself travelling more and working remotely closer to traditional retirement age. But unless something serious happens that prevents me from providing the very best for my clients, I could never see myself doing anything else.”