Keep your finances to yourself, say some advisors

Advisors react to actions taken by a Vancouver advisor - who successfully sued CIBC for wrongful dismissal.

Keep your finances to yourself, say some advisors
In no circumstance whatsoever is it appropriate to mix your personal finances with your clients’ seems to be the consensus among advisors.

“My initial reaction is that a client’s money should never be mixed with your own personal affairs,” says Saskatchewan-based, fee-only advisor, Kathy Waite. “There is no way an advisor should be holding a client’s money. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Waite’s sentiment comes in reaction to a prominent Vancouver advisor who successfully sued her former employer, CIBC, for wrongful dismissal. According to a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling, CIBC staff were “cavalier, insensitive, and reckless” when firing Guiyun (Han) Ogden, who was once called an “exceptional advisor” and “annual achiever” by her general manager.

Ogden was fired in March 2011 after she made a decision the company claimed breached the Code of Conduct. The incident leading up to her dismissal involved two wire transfers initiated to find a way around Chinese regulation, which does not allow transfers of more than US$50,000 per annum to move out of the country from one account.

In September 2010, one of Ogden’s clients needed to transfer $500,000 into Canada from China to secure the purchase of a home, but could not do so unless she had 10 separate Chinese and Canadian accounts. Being short two accounts, Ogden agreed to use two of her own personal accounts to transfer the remaining money. The transfer had to happen immediately to avoid losing the real estate deal.

“From a real estate point of view, it would be nice to help (a client) out as much as you can, but the rule of thumb is you are never supposed to mix your personal finances with your client,” said Chad Price, an advisor with Vancouver-based, Odlum Brown Ltd. “If it went through my mind at all, I would immediately run it passed my compliance department. It’s a no brainer.” (continued.)

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A panel of managers from CIBC debated the incident for several months, determining that Ogden should be fired – not because she had found a work-around Chinese regulation, but because of involving herself in the transaction. She had also been issued two disciplinary warnings (in 2008 and 2010) prior to the incident, one of which came from “document deficiencies” and another for a pair of contraventions related to actions of other CIBC employees. The judge dismissed these accusations as unwarranted and lacking reasonable basis.

“The rule she is alleged to have breached was far from clear, was open to interpretation, and was sometimes confusing in its application. This was also a transaction in which there was no actual conflict of interest, but only a potential conflict of interest,” the judge wrote.

According to trial evidence, Ogden – who served wealthy clients in CIBC’s Imperial Service division with a book once worth $233 million – became unhappy working at the bank after receiving the two initial disciplinary warnings, she felt were unfair, after performing solidly with CIBC for almost seven years.

Ogden arrived in Canada from China, knowing little English, in 2000 and graduated from Royal Roads University with a business degree, according to court transcripts. She obtained a level two certified general accountant status and then a CFP. She began working at the CIBC branch a UBC in 2004 quickly working her way up to financial advisor status, while building up a large clientele of mainly high net worth Chinese immigrants.

In the ruling, the judge reprimanded CIBC for compromsing relevant documents and pointed out inconsistencies with witness stories told by a bank employee and manager. CIBC was found liable for breach of contract, firing without cause and was ordered to pay costs and damages – the amount to be determined at a later trial.

How do you feel about this advisor's actions? Was it a conflict of interest to use her personal accounts to transfer her client's money? Tell WP your thoughts in the comment box below.

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