Robert Tetrault talks about diligence, transparency, and the joy of providing valuable and trustworthy advice
There are many paths to success in the financial services industry. Some take the straightforward approach, laying a solid foundation through formal education and acquiring designations over years, with the clear goal of entering the field. Robert Tetrault has always worked as a professional, but he started out in a different field: insurance litigation.
“I was a practicing and active lawyer at the largest law firm in Manitoba – Aikins McAulay & Thorvaldson – and I realized that I wanted to advise people in a slightly different manner,” said the head of the Tetrault Wealth Advisory Group at National Bank Financial.
The decision to change industries would be a quixotic move for most, as it would essentially put them back on square one. But Tetrault had some points in his favor. “I had a finance background. My mom was an accountant; my dad was an investment banker who had kind of done everything in his life, so I knew about the industry. So I thought, ‘I’m doing this.’”
His parents’ professional background provided Tetrault with some of the brass tacks of finance and wealth management, but his family tree bore other useful fruits. “My parents have had a very strong and positive influence on me,” he said. “And my grandparents were entrepreneurs as well. They always taught me that if you work hard, and you’re honest, and you’re transparent with people, the better people will prevail, and business will come.”
That spirit of diligence and openness has certainly paid off for Tetrault, who has won numerous professional accolades and has been tapped as an expert by media outlets focused on finance. The opportunity to pad his resume is certainly valuable, but those are just by-products to him. What he finds most fulfilling is the actual work, specifically the act of providing professional advice.
“I really, really enjoy talking to people and seeing the look on their face when they realize that the advice I’m giving them is going to help them save tax, or be more efficient in their estate, or reduce risk.”
His years as a lawyer may have habituated him into being an advisor, but that phase of his career left him with something far more valuable: an appreciation of the fiduciary duty. “I still feel quite passionate about protecting client’s interests,” he said. “It has to be our most important duty as an advisor in this industry. That’s what I take with me every day when I go to work.”
With this in mind, he has his eye on trends that might affect his clients. That includes regulatory developments such as the new reporting rules under CRM2. “The more information we can give to our clients, the better that is, so that’s a big push right now. The industry’s moving that way and I’m for that movement. It’s not perfect, but I’m for better transparency.”
Tetrault is also concerned about challenges to the fixed-income space, which stand to affect client portfolios. “Yields have come down dramatically and any individual who is used to getting 4% or 5% or 6% in a bond portfolio can no longer get that,” he said. “For anyone who is conservative and on a budget of fixed income, it can become difficult. So thinking outside the box is certainly important.”
The current bond market is certainly uncomfortable for fixed-income investors, to say the least. So given that, would it be so bad to talk to them about moving past their comfort zone – that is, investing in riskier assets for greater gains?
“That’s a very tough conversation to have because most people don’t really appreciate their own risk tolerance,” Tetrault said. “Risk tolerance is something you get a feel for over multiple discussions, quizzes, or whatever tools the advisor uses over time, and most people have a very bad idea of what their own risk tolerance is. I think the alternative is to seek fixed-income alternatives, which have low volatility that’ll protect the client in the eventual downturn, but will provide more yield than you’re getting in the fixed-income space.”
Tetrault obviously has a wealth of financial and professional advice for clients. But he also has some advice to share with others in the field.
“Don’t underestimate the impact that a mistake on your part or your team’s part will have,” he said. “Clients always tell me that they love dealing with us because they know that when we tell them something, it’s gold and you can take it to the bank. There won’t be a screw-up. A lot of times, clients leave an advisor because the advisor didn’t fulfill a simple task, or didn’t return a phone call, or didn’t follow through with a promise. Don’t underestimate that.”
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