How wealth management expert carved out a new niche

With deep knowledge across full spectrum of the industry, John Cucchiella is in demand

How wealth management expert carved out a new niche

After 30 years in the wealth management business, John Cucchiella has found a niche market advising small and medium businesses, and law firms, about the wealth management business.

“It started about a year ago,” Cucchiella, now president and owner of SMEx Advisory, told Wealth Professional. He started receiving, through his connections, invitations to help businesses – first, legal firms needing expertise to understand wealth management issues, and then a business owner who needed help redesigning a financial model.

“The other thing that pushed me over the Rubicon was that I had two international consulting firms reach out to me because they had Toronto clients they were advising, and they needed a subject matter expert on wealth management for a specific issue. So, then, I said, ‘okay, let’s really start to focus on this’.”

Cucchiella can draw from the full range of experiences that he’s had in his 30 years in the wealth management business.

He started at Midland Walwyn as an advisor in 1993, then transitioned to TD, where he began as an advisor, becoming a branch manager in several locations in the Greater Toronto Area. He studied at Harvard and moved to Dundee, where he was a branch manager, and then head of retail. When it was sold to the Bank of Nova Scotia, the leaders decided to rebuild the firm, so he had to quickly grasp all the technology, operations, regulatory, and business development aspects.

“We had to rebuild an entire firm, so I was exposed to areas of a wealth management firm that, despite the fact that I’d been an advisor and branch manager, I wasn’t necessarily exposed to,” he said. “The business development and client journey I understood very well. But, it was all that other back-end stuff that I didn’t know. That’s why I say Dundee was my greatest intellectual capital because I was exposed to it all and had to build it all. I had two great mentors who guided and nurtured me through it all. I came out of it much better than when I went in. It was a great lift.”

Cucchiella left for National Bank before Dundee was sold to Echelon, making the jump to a $40 billion bank operation from a $6 million firm. He became the bank’s national manager for everything outside Quebec – central, western, and Atlantic Canada – and enjoyed learning there, too.

“I ended up back at a bank, and a very unique one, and I loved that role,” he said. “I learned a lot from the process as well. That lasted about two years, and then I wondered ‘What am I going to do next?’”

That’s when the invitations began to roll in to use his broad range of knowledge to aid others who need help in, or in understanding, the wealth management business. He soon discerned that he could provide subject matter expertise (SMEx) for wealth management firms, small and medium-sized business owners, and law professionals, and thus SMEx Advisory was born.

“I want to do this very uniquely. Having essentially held every position within wealth management, I understand the client journey, wealth management business, and operational side of the business,” said Cucchiella. “I want to help clients and provide that expertise, but I don’t just want to say, ‘here’s the soundbite that’s going to help, pay me,’ and then walk away. I want to provide that soundbite, but I also want to help them design the execution plan to ensure the success or longevity of that expertise or advice that I’m going to give them.

“That’s because of the way I’m conditioned – to build something, but also see it to its fullest capacity or function. So, I want to provide that to the marketplace because I’m all about the service. I want to provide exceptional service to these clients, and that’s really my differentiating factor: to provide the expertise and service and couple that with the partnership.”

While he’s still ramping it up – figuring that he can provide exceptional service to eight to ten projects at a time – Cucchiella is open to the possibilities of whom he can help.

“As much as even the large wealth management firms don’t like to admit they need help, as much as they have some expertise internally, they don’t have enough expertise. Every executive will admit they don’t have the bench strength, so I can give them that bench strength from an external position, and I don’t want anybody’s job,” he said.

“The small- and medium-sized wealth management firms don’t have the resources to do that, and they absolutely need the expertise, counsel, and advice. They can go to a larger consulting firm, who’ll do a great build for them. Or, they can come to somebody like myself, who has been in their position and built it and will bring those 30 years of intellectual capital to them at a fraction of the cost. That’s my wheelhouse.”