Inside Nicola’s push for $3 billion AUM in Toronto

Wealth manager is making a huge push in Toronto, expanding its space and hiring new advisors

Inside Nicola’s push for $3 billion AUM in Toronto

Ron Haik has a BHAG: a big hairy audacious goal. The senior advisor and Ontario regional manager for Nicola Wealth wants to grow the Vancouver-centred firm’s Toronto operation to $3 billion in AUM within five years. Nicola, which currently manages about $7 billion, wants to get up to $15 billion in the same time. Toronto is key to its strategy.

Haik and Nicola are stepping up their ground game. The firm is moving its Toronto office, from a boutique space at Yonge and Bloor, to a 5,600 sq ft base on Church. Haik and his team are connecting with the community, spending time and money on philanthropic efforts and outreach. They’re hiring, too, with plans to bring on an advisory team of 25. It’s a big push, one that comes with a little bit of fear. To Haik, fear is a sign that they’re on the right track.

“If your goals don't scare you a little bit, then you're probably not dreaming big enough,” Haik told WP. “We want people who are looking to dream big.”

Haik says that Nicola wants collaborative advisors. The firm’s philosophy is “grow the pie”, so understanding a team dynamic and a wider shared goal is crucial for any aspiring Nicola advisor. Of course, planning and EQ skills are mandatory, but Haik wants a team of good people with an entrepreneurial eye. He wants other dreamers, too, advisors who want to get better, manage more assets with more complexity, and see teamwork as a way to achieve that goal.

“The two types of advisors we're looking at would be individuals who may have established business already and a book of business but maybe they don't have a real estate solution, maybe don't they don't have a philanthropic solution to offer their clients or the other alternative asset classes,” Haik explained.

“The other advisors we’re looking for are individuals who are looking to be collaborative, team up and say, I can support another advisor in terms of their growth, I will be able to come in and be able to deliver a strong technical planning in support of the growth of the client.”

Collaboration is one of Nicola’s key differentiators. Every client is paired with two advisors from their diverse team, with different experiences and outlooks who can speak to a range of different goals and life experiences. Currently, Ontario-based clients would be set up with one of their small Toronto team, and connected via Skype with an advisor in Vancouver. They’re expanding in Toronto, so Nicola’s Ontario clients get the same level face-to-face service that they provide in BC.

The service offering at Nicola is thought through in every detail. They offer the holistic planning approach that almost every observer notes is the future for human advice. Onboarding involves multiple meetings, each one with short, succinct bullet points outlining what needs to be discussed. Digestibility for the client is key, a physician or a dentist shouldn’t be handed a 90-page financial plan they’ll likely never read, let alone understand. Transparency, too, is Nicola’s watchword. Their fee schedule and investment models are all published online.

“I think in today's age, [clients’] first point of contact is going to be the internet. They're going to Google you up and they're going to know what you're about,” Haik said “The more information we can put up front for them to go through and see the better opportunity we have to meet their needs [the better], because they now have a frame of reference of what we do and how we do it.”

The other side of Nicola’s new Toronto push is finding wider connection with the community. Public outreach wasn’t the main priority of the first phase of their Toronto expansion, but now Haik wants to make Nicola as recognizable in Ontario as it is in BC.

“We want advisors to say ‘yeah, I’ve heard of you,” Haik said, “we’ll promote what we do for the community and for our clients on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and other media.”

Philanthropy is key to their outreach strategy, too. Nicola prides itself on corporate citizenship, offering clients more options to leave assets to charities. The firm gives, as well, and advisors are encouraged to give time as well as money.

“Sometimes it’s very easy to write a check,” said Haik, who’s sacrificed his upper lip for Movember, “it’s important that we stand behind that.”

He wants Nicola to be seen as a citizen of Toronto, connected to a wider community. In his eyes that has a dual benefit: one, it’s just a good thing to do, two: it connects you to a range of potential clients, especially those who might not have high net worth now, but for whom the future looks bright.

Haik says that rather than looking exclusively for the highest net worth clients, they seek out “complexity”. For example, he recently signed on a couple in their early 30s with only a little more than $100,000 in assets, but one’s a physician and the other’s an oral surgeon. A lifelong relationship with those clients is priceless.

In the last year, Nicola added about a billion dollars to their book. That’s the springboard, in Haik’s eyes, for their new push in Toronto.     

“We want [Toronto] to be at the level of client experience that we have in Vancouver,” Haik said. “To do that, Vancouver's resources will come to bear here in Toronto … there's a demand for our services and we think that we have a differentiator.”