When it comes to starting a business and making it success, Chris Poole learned early what it takes to turn a profit. He was still a high school student when he launched YardWorks 4 Life, an enterprise he would run for 12 years before eventually selling up. Today he uses his entrepreneurial spirit to lead his own advisory team, CWP Financial Services, which is part of the Sun Life Financial
Business owners now constitute a large part of his client base, but his background means he can really relate to them.
“I was basically helping people to create a blueprint for a project and then execute on the job,” he says. “I like dealing with people, managing relationships and servicing the expectations of the people around me. I also liked the financial side of running a budget on a job and creating a project.”
Eventually, the skills he acquired running his own business led him to Sun Life, and while landscaping isn’t the same as building a financial plan, the transition wasn’t as difficult as you might expect.
“When I found myself thinking about the financial services industry, I realized it wasn’t that different, says Poole. “We create blueprints called financial plans, but instead of designing some custom landscaping, we design people’s retirement path or business succession plan.”
Now five years down the line from breaking into the advisory space, Poole and his team continue to expand their reach. Clients’ expectations are high, but in his opinion, there is one factor that separates CWP from many of its competitors.
“The most important thing in our business is client communication – we are in the loop with clients’ needs regularly,” he says. “Only when underlying circumstances change dramatically do they need a dramatic change in their investments. Otherwise, it a series of tweaks along the way and making sure we have constant feedback.”
At the present juncture, those advisor-client conversations will have tax as a dominant topic. The noises emanating from Ottawa don’t overly concern Poole, however. Whatever Bill Morneau and the government decide for the next budget, it will be the role of the financial planner to prepare clients for whatever policy comes along.
“The ability to manage any tax changes that are forthcoming is more easily done when there is an active relationship with a good advisor,” he says. “We are very proud of the fact that we maintain good relationships with our clients, because when things like this happen, it’s already part of the regular conversation.”
In building his advisory business, Poole identified three factors he would prioritize for clients – access, guidance and precision. A good financial planner will usually have many strings to their bow, but when you are dealing with a person’s finances, specialists will be required from time to time.
“Whether it is business succession planning through estate freezes, buy-sell agreements, shareholder agreements with clients, an acquisition of one company by another – we are able to have these conversations, but we aren’t lawyers or accountants, so we are providing access to highly capable and experienced lawyers and accountants with the particular expertise that is required,” says Poole.
The normal day-to-day of being a financial planner is where the guidance part of CWP’s advice triumvirate comes into play. Investment strategy is tailored to the specific client, with market conditions secondary to the circumstances of that particular client.
“In terms of guidance, we act as a financial Sherpa, walking people through strategies because we have been there before and seen what it looks like at other companies,” he says. “Sometimes it’s important to weather the storm and maybe turn down risk. Then in other cases it will be important to forge ahead and take advantage of the opportunities that come.”
Finally, precision comes from providing access and guidance, but doing so in a manner that compliance requirements are met and the advisor completes their fiduciary responsibility at all times. When Poole joined Sun Life in 2012, Canada was still emerging from the depths of the great recession. Heading into 2018, things are looking much more positive, both in the markets and the wider economy.
“It’s important to know where there are trends and where there are fads,” he says. “The conversation really isn’t that different this year compared to five years ago. We lean on certain investment products or tools to get the results clients’ need, but today, as always, they drive the conversation because they are the ones who we are working to support.”
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