We give advisors freedom, says Wealthsimple's Courville

Industry veteran explains his new role and why platform can empower money managers

We give advisors freedom, says Wealthsimple's Courville

As Jean-Francois Courville moves past the fresh-faced millennials manning the Wealthsimple front desk, it’s hard not to feel a sense of gravitas. Here, after all, is a grown-up of the industry.

Armed with 29 years of investment experience, “J-F” traded the banking behemoth of RBC, where he was chief operating officer for its wealth management business, for a relative upstart, albeit one that in only four years has grown to manage more than $2 billion for about 80,000 clients.

Courville is a few months into his role as CEO of the digital platform’s Wealthsimple for Advisors division, which was launched in 2016 and serves more than 300 advisors.

And while the firm’s marketing reputation is of targeting digitally native, young professionals – the average client on the direct platform is about 33 years old – Courville’s mission is clear: to drive and expand its relationship between advisors and dealers.

Attracted to the culture co-founders Michael Katchen and Brett Huneycutt had created, he also thought the move represented his best chance to be at the forefront of an industry revolution.

He said: “I love the speed and pace with which things happen here. For the past three or four years, I’ve been talking a lot more vocally about this dramatic change that’s going to happen in the industry. I really believe we’re going to see more change in the next five to 10 years than anyone has seen in their financial careers.

“The possibility of making really cool innovation and empowerment of investors happen, at the Canadian level to start with and more broadly with a platform that’s going to move fast, I think that happens here.”

Courville believes that technology has ensured a faster operational throughput – Wealthsimple’s onboarding process, for example, gets you invested overnight – and allows smaller enterprises the chance to scale on a level previously reserved for companies with tens of millions of dollars to throw around.

Transparency, cost pressures and better informed investors add to what he believes is a perfect storm. But what can a traditional advisor gain from teaming up with Wealthsimple?

Courville said its live, on-the-spot compliance allows advisors to spend more time with clients, adding not just value but the “sheer freedom” to do that.

He said: “In the current environment, administration is hard; the 30 pages of signatures, the running around for approvals etc. It’s cumbersome and it takes away from your day. We change that because everything is happening electronically so there is a trail of everything.

“That simplifies the advisor’s life and allows them to spend time with clients and build relationships, growing their business and also speaking to their clients at the right time.”

This is crucial, he adds, in the event of a downturn where the ability to communicate personally or mass communicate in a tailored way to segments of a client base will become increasingly important.

Clearly tired of the familiar “can-a-robo-deal-with-a-crash” probing, Courville gets more animated when emphasizing the fact his platform is not aiming to steal clients from advisors but rather empower them to serve their base better. Wealthsimple for Advisor, he stresses, is not a home for those obsessed with stock picking.

He said: “It’s about getting it right at the asset-allocation level and designing portfolios that don’t have a multitude of complex choices but rather a simply clean asset allocation that matches the individual goals of the investors.

“It’s about empowering advisors to spend less time on the minutiae of implementing investments and take something that’s already constructed, that offers them enough flexibility to fulfil the needs of their clients but where they are not spending all their time on stock picking because that’s not where they are differentiating anymore.

“There are enough extraordinary investment professionals in the industry so bringing that [aspect] down to the advisor, who needs to spend more time on the client and planning side, is not a good use of their time.”

Another potential lure for advisors, added Courville, is the chance to regain trust with clients via the platform’s transparency. Being able to tell investors where each dollar goes is vital and he said the advisor’s dashboard provides an instructive daily overview of where your clients and your practice stands.

He said: “[We thought] let’s create tools to allow the advisor to say, here is what I do for you and here is the value that you get and here is what I charge for that – make it super obvious for investors. It goes back to recreating that confidence between the client and the advisor.”


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