Helping ultra-high-net-worth Canadian families from Miami

Ontario native reflects on career at UBS and her desire to invest in next generation of women advisors

Helping ultra-high-net-worth Canadian families from Miami

While Brenda O’Connor Juanas may be based in the US these days, the Oakville, Ont. native considers herself Canadian at heart.

The UBS senior vice president has been based in the US for the past three and a half years after working at UBS Canada.

O’Connor Juanas works with ultra-high-net-worth American, Canadian and British families. Her role involves helping them with everything from estate planning to philanthropic giving, managing their portfolios and concentrated stock positions.

O’Connor Juanas says she knew very early on she wanted to work in wealth management. After graduating from the Ivey Business School at Western University, she “very quickly” trekked across the border to pursue her MBA at Cornell, and after graduating from Cornell, landed her first job in the wealth management space at Citi Private Bank in New York.

It wasn’t long before she moved back to Canada to work at Credit Suisse, where she stayed for a number of years and was instrumental in helping the firm build its onshore private banks. At that point, O’Connor Juanas notes, Credit Suisse had only an investment bank, an asset manager and a securities business. UBS acquired Credit Suisse last year.

“I was part of the team that built that up,” she says.

O’Connor Juanas assumed her role at UBS Canada, and in 2020, went back to the US, where she currently resides, working out of the Miami office.

“It was not a Covid move, although in hindsight, it looks like it,” she says. “But I essentially moved down to the US because it had a bigger, broader platform. And for me, delivering the best to a lot of my Canadian families was very important. The directive and goal is always to deliver both platforms into Canadian families.”

In addition to the service offerings, she also picks stocks and portfolios and looks at what's always current driving the economy and the markets.

“The other half of my job is working with families in an intimate and interpersonal way,” she admits. “Whether it's talking about succession to their children or causes they want to give to, and I find that there are very few kinds of subsets of finance, where you're really enabled to do both these things.”

O’Connor Juanas highlights the offerings RBC and BMO provides to Canadian families as “really great.” But because she’s not based in the UBS Canada office, she supplements what is being offered by the Canadian banks with what families can't necessarily get access to.

“For example, alternative products. We have a really robust platform [in the US], and Canadian resident clients may not always be able to get access to those types of investment ideas or opportunities.”

She added UBS’ offerings consist of several avenues, investment products and ways “to execute a certain investment view.”

“The ancillary services that we offer here for our clients on succession planning, philanthropic giving, establishing a family office, and all the education that we do to next generation, those things are quite unique to UBS, and maybe not necessarily what ultra-high-net-worth Canadian families would get access to domestically,” she said.”

Most of the Canadians that O’Connor Juanas work with are often looking for best practices from families that are a little further down the financial road than they are.

“In terms of delivering those best practices, that's something that I think also differentiate UBS quite well."

O’Connor Juanas spends a lot of her time educating and engaging with her 40 ultra-high-net worth families. Her clients are creators of wealth, founders, and entrepreneurs transitioning through the sale of a business or an IPO, who come to her by referral. 

Education and engagement with her clients are what she describes as her “big mantra.”

“Education creates engagement and engagement is what leads to long-term relationships with clients,” she says. “So you have to figure out how to deliver your messaging and how to deliver your knowledge in a way that makes sense for that client. There are some female clients that just absorb and need information in a different way.”

O’Connor Juanas adds that advisors have to understand what the drivers of a client’s wealth are, particularly when it comes to women, and that women should be treated and served in the same vein as men.

“Their sources of wealth are differentiated and that’s the thing that should be driving how we service them – whether they’re an entrepreneur, a founder, a divorcee, someone that’s inherited wealth, someone who’s an executive,” she says. “When I work with women, I don’t just look at them in terms of their gender. I look at them in terms of how they live day-to-day and what’s driving their wealth, and I think that firms need to continue to embody that approach because that’s the only way to success.”

While the industry heavily relies on performance and tends to focus on returns, O’Connor Juanas noted that returns and performance aren’t always the key drivers to success in long-term relationships with clients.

“It’s about the other drivers in terms of planning,” she says. “For example, ensuring your children are going to be able to go to university and that you’re set up strategically from a financial perspective to achieve that. It’s all the kind of software touch points that talk to what the goals of the client are versus just, I’m going to be able to deliver 20 percent net returns on your portfolio year after year.”

For the industry to invest in the next generation of female advisors, O’Connor Juanas says advisors and senior level executives should be committed to hiring more female advisors and continuing to improve accreditations. “They need to see there’s a well-trodden path of success ahead of them.”

She also sees mentorship playing an important role for women.

“I don’t think that this can happen through forced mentorship because if those relationships aren’t genuinely built, they’re not going to be durable over the long term. But finding champions within an organization is critical to anyone’s success,” O’Connor Juanas says. Even male counterparts.

“It’s certainly been an asset in terms of my career,” she notes. “You want someone in the room talking about you, advocating for you, and putting your name forward for any other opportunities when you’re not there.”