When you talk about success in the financial industry, you usually measure it in terms of assets under administration. But for Charlie Spiring, that’s just the start.
“I do watch the firm and myself against industry metrics for things like average turn,” said the founder and chairman of Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, who has also been lauded among Wealth Professional’s Top 50 Advisors for 2018.
“I don’t want myself and my other advisors having above-average turn because we want to offer an incredible service at fair value or even better. It’s what you might consider the Winnipeg way; when you can demonstrate great value, you get great retention, which is key to this business.”
For Spiring, one major component to value comes from being innovative. He got an early lesson on that more than three decades ago, when he was involved in one of the earliest teams to ever do a credit default swap.
“I flew over to London and met with the CEO of Lloyd’s of London, where we had them guarantee to Canadian corporate debt, and that gave us a massive marketing advantage,” he recalled. “We were also one of the first in Canada to adopt the ‘core and explore’ business plan.
“Up to now, when our clients get wind of a new investment trend, we would want to point them to the best person in the world to play in the area,” he added. “Some time ago, we met a money manager named Cathy Wood of ARK Financial in New York; she specializes in all these disruptive themes like artificial intelligence, technology, cryptos, and healthcare, among other things. She was frustrated that her ideas weren’t getting to Canada. Now we have solutions in Canada that would not have come to Canada if I had not reached out to her. In 2017, she made 80% returns for our clients.”
Still, Spiring knows that advisors should not be round-the-clock enablers of client decisions. Rather, they should provide counsel on what is possible. While his practice has a reputation as an innovative firm, they also ensure their clients are educated and properly guided.
Striking the balance between being flexible and protecting investors from themselves is not easy — and at an industry level, he believes the regulatory pendulum has swung too far in one direction.
“I think we’ve built in too many redundancies as an industry,” he said. “Too many advisors end up spending too much time doing things that do not necessarily make the client happier, create a better service, or result in a better price. Ideally, we would have the same regulations for almost everybody; whether you are on the MFDA, IIROC, or whatever platform. We need more consistency.
“The same goes for our government’s securities regulation; we have 10 provinces and three territories, all in different jurisdictions that are just a little bit different. I believe at one point, Bosnia and Canada were the only industrialized countries that did not have a single, national-level regulator. Now Bosnia has one! Canada used to be known as one of the world’s greatest countries for raising capital, and now I’m concerned that we are slipping.”
At an individual level, he recognizes that individual stock selections are becoming less and less significant. After a 38-year career that included experience as a stock picker, he has realized that it is now possible to hire cost-effective managers who can perform those functions way better, for a much cheaper rate. And for smaller accounts, robo-platforms, including bank-owned ones, are often a better option.
But when it comes to full-blown financial planning, the human-based practice has much more to offer. Spiring heads an eight-person team of financial professionals, each with their own designations and specialties; he recently upgraded his own toolkit by completing the international director’s course. The firm also has a standing recommendation to do at least one face-to-face meeting with each client per year, though video conferencing and phone conversations allow for even more frequent contact.
All of those add up to one fundamental goal: to earn clients’ trust, which is crucial in times of difficulty.
“Giving clients advice, holding their hand in turbulent times, and creating a plan that they can be confident enough to stick to is a big part of it,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges with investors comes when a shiny new object or eye-watering-but-unsustainable returns takes them off their financial plan. Show them they are well taken care of; that they can avoid unnecessary risks and sleepless nights. If anyone has to grow grey hair, it should be me!”
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