Taking a two-pronged approach to the advisory business

Advisor Laura Thompson tells WP about leaving a big bank to join the family firm

Taking a two-pronged approach to the advisory business
In 1985, Laura Thompson’s father bought a financial planning franchise. As the sole provider to a wife and two daughters, he invested a lot of time and effort in growing the business. And as he did so, he caused her to become interested in the field.

“When I was a young girl, he’d use a financial calculator to show me the magic of compound interest as we sat around the kitchen table, telling me how much I would have if I saved a certain amount of my allowance,” Thompson said.

Because of that early interest, Thompson decided that she would take over the family business. “I wanted him to feel confident that he could step away and take some time to enjoy the fruits of his labour with my mom,” she said.

She spent some years working at a big bank, which she left in 2000 to join the family firm. Today, she is a CFP at Investia Winnipeg, a branch that she and her husband Christophe Rodrigue own.

“He used to work at Chrysler Canada, but he got offered a voluntary white-collar package just before they declared bankruptcy,” she said. “He had already taken some financial courses at the time. This was in 2008, which was the worst timing from his perspective, but the best timing for us in terms of helping each other out with clients.”

As a tandem, they are able to serve clients well. Thompson said her husband’s storytelling abilities and analytical brain makes him a good fit for investment planning, while she focuses on the financial planning side. Their relationship also comes in handy during boardroom meetings with clients, where they often discuss the dynamics between husbands and wives as well as families; the duo have three children as well.

For Thompson, discussions with clients are immensely fulfilling; they show the many nuances that factor into people’s financial lives. “I don’t see people reach their goals on a daily basis, but I do get to help them daily, making small changes here and there,” she said. “We look at tax-saving opportunities, or cash flow, or debt, or what savings or insurance they need.

“And we look at how clients can organize their financial lives so that they meet their financial goals,” she said. “Seeing their child go to college, retiring debt-free, or maybe helping charities or family members. One of our clients actually sailed around the world, which is something we’d been working on for years. It’s just cool to see those sorts of things and how all those little tweaks can make such a difference. ”

Of course, coming up with those tweaks and plans is rarely straightforward. A new client could come in with specific concern like how to invest some money, but in the course of their discussions they’d find other unique situations to look into — a disabled daughter, a blended-family situation, and so on. “There’s so many different what-if scenarios and everybody has such unique circumstances that we’re constantly finding different ways to organize their finances and make sure they’re also protecting themselves.”

While Thompson believes that digital platforms like robo-advisors put investors at risk of getting cookie-cutter advice, she acknowledged that making part of the know-your-client process electronic can be useful. At her firm, they’re establishing an onboarding process where new clients would input a lot of information, saving time that could be used for more in-depth discussion later on.

Thompson is also concerned about potential costs from added regulation. “A lot of advisors out there have always been open and honest about their costs and the value they offer, but then other advisors have not,” she said. “There’ll be a need for more documentation, and there’ll be more costs that would flow down to the clients. You have to wonder, how much more honest can you make advisors by adding more regulation?”

She also believes that the best-interest standard could be problematic, especially since it likely won’t account for changing markets and investor preferences. “It’s probably going to result in a lot of litigation if we go through a year like 2003 or 2008,” she said. “A client could have been high-risk in 2000 or 2007 since they’d have felt comfortable with it, but then gotten hit by the 2003 tech-stock bubble or the 2008 recession. You then have the potential for clients questioning why they were in tech stocks or US bank stocks not remembering it was their idea. Then they’d sue the advisor for not working in their best interests.”

But that’s all in the future, and still up in the air. For now, there are still many people forging a career in financial services, and Thompson has some advice for them.

“If you’re brand-new to the business, I suggest you start with a large bank or a huge company. You get thrown in front of a lot of different clients, which gives you some great experience, and they pay for your training. But once you’re there, you can lose your independence; if you really want to build your practice and reap the fruits of your labour, whether good or bad, then move on to the independent side.

“I’d also tell someone who’s in this business part-time or isn’t constantly learning to improve themselves that they should find something else,” she said. “There are a lot of advisors who aren’t educating themselves and are just doing this part-time, and I feel it just brings down the professionalism of our industry. Our roles should come from the planning side and not just from the investment side, because that’s where you really learn about your clients and their family dynamics.”

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