When John Rathwell tells people he leads a family office that helps families, it’s no empty platitude.
The experienced advisor employs son Jonathan and daughter Brianna at his Rathwell Financial, Holliswealth, practice in Red Deer, Alberta, while other son Jordan is busy furthering his financial education with an eye on eventually returning to the business.
The continuity this provides to clients is a big selling point, he said, emphasising that all his kids believe in the company’s ethos of helping people with a genuinely personalised, holistic service.
It’s an approach that means no sales targets or webpage, for example, preferring to focus on client information evenings, individual needs and the quality referrals successful implementation of this model brings. It’s a method that has reaped rewards, with the practice growing to about 400 clients and $175 million AUM.
“I didn’t force either of the kids to come in here,” Rathwell told WP. “They understand and see the job. We are in the business of helping people and the more people we help, the better we do. Once people understand that, and once Jonathan and Brianna understood that, it changes the focus.
“We just hired another member of staff from a bank and she asked, ‘what are your sales targets?’ We have none. If we don’t sell one investment today, I don’t care.
“We are here to help [clients] move forward; we care about them that way. It’s a fundamental shift in that the industry is going one way measuring sales. We don’t but at the same time our business grows between $10 million and $20 million a year.”
Rathwell joked that for his kids all roads lead to the business and there is no escaping his web. In reality, Jonathan and Brianna made the decision to join their father at their own speed. For Jonathan, who described his dad as the best mentor and asset he could ask for, there was never a doubt.
He said: “Basically, from high school, I knew I wanted this in life. It’s kind of a joke between my dad and I that I wrote my last exam in the morning, went for lunch with my grad class and by 1pm was working with him. And he’s had me for nine years since!”
By Brianna’s own admission, she took a longer route before joining the family operation, having started out as a psychology major before a heart-to-heart with her dad saw her change direction.
She said: “I went home one day and told him, ‘I’m not sure it’s for me’. I think I was too soft-hearted as I wanted to work in family psych. He responded with, well, do I have a job for you?
“Basically, I [still] have my psych side; I like the client-facing side, sitting down with people and listening. That’s where my heart is, with the relationships you build.
“But I get to have the numbers there too and that was always my strong suit in high school. It was a match made in heaven for me – it just took me a little longer [than Jonathan].”
While the family connection provides a consistent, reassuring presence to clients and prospects, Rathwell said it’s not the only differentiator. He believes the office’s model and vision is unique and that it offers a holistic service that many others preach but fail to deliver.
Aside from brokering mutual funds and offering top-drawer financial planning, he said the mentality to help clients, first and foremost, is critical.
“The big difference is we work with clients to get them results, whereas most times if you are dealing with a bank, they try to sell you a product. We don’t do that; all we do is help our clients.
“Once people understand we are acting in their best interest and we are not sitting across the desk but next to them, all of a sudden if they deal with three or four financial institutions, [they realise] it’s not a big deal to move money from TD and RBC because they can get everything from us. We monitor it and also take an active view with regards to what’s best for them.
“When you walk into a bank, you are a square peg in a round hole and a number. When people come in here, we personalise all the financial plans we do to the individuals. The personalised, holistic financial planning … I just find that most places talk about it but very few places do it.”
Beyond the investment process and the estate and retirement planning, a big piece of what Rathwell Financial offers is around tax planning. At this time of year, the office invites all clients to have their returns reviewed in order to implement a more personalised strategy going forward.
Rathwell said: “We’ll sit down and say, ‘if you keep doing the things you are doing now, you are going to get the same results and taxes are going up. So let’s change your tax return today, so we are in control of it, take the interest off and replace it with capital gains, do more RRSPs, make sure your TFSAs are maxed out and ensure you are closer to your goals.
“Accountants do tax returns, they don’t do tax planning. That’s a real-life example. The banks don’t do it, the financial institutions and the brokers don’t do it, accountants don’t do it, but we do.”
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