Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors: How Firms Big and Small Are Struggling to Recruit More Women | Job Binary


Debra Wooding, portfolio manager and investment advisor at CIBC Wood Gundy (Edmonton).Kelsey McMillan / The Globe and Mail

Debra Wooding experienced this in the late 1980s when she was working as a branch administrator at Midland Walwin Capital in Edmonton. Only one of the firm’s 50 or so wealth advisors was a woman, which was an exciting opportunity for Wooding. While the industry is about picking up shares and maximizing returns for clients, she found that women investors often have different priorities and represent an underserved market — something she could cater to if she were an advisor herself.

“For a lot of women, money can be emotional and associated with a sense of security and independence, I realized,” says Wooding, who was divorced at the time and the parent of two young children. “As a woman, I had a competitive advantage, and I still have it.”

“I would go home on Friday night and cry because I didn’t make any money that month. I had four small children, so I took out a large loan, and we lived on it.”

Susan O’Brien, left her job as a tax consultant in 1998 to become an investment consultant at a bank-owned brokerage in Calgary.

So she created a step-by-step plan for her career from branch manager to investment advisor, including night courses for her certifications and wealth seminars for women to attract clients. By 1993, she was a fully licensed investment advisor and successfully launched a $5 million business in her first year, focusing on client relations and becoming a trusted money manager for women. She did all this while maintaining a full-time position as a branch administrator (and later assistant and department manager) to earn a steady salary, not to mention support a family. “I knew I could do the job as well or better than any of the guys,” he says.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, and Wooding, 64, now leads a 10-person multidisciplinary team at CIBC Wood Gundy and has a $730 million book of business, placing him at No. 101 on this year’s list of Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors. 15 women in our 2022 rating. If that female contingent seems low, that’s because only 15% of wealth advisors in the country are women, a percentage that hasn’t changed in years despite the industry’s desire to attract more women.

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Indeed, Canadian firms are beginning to embrace what Wooding intuitively understood in the 1980s: female advisors provide a competitive advantage, especially in a market where women control $2.7 trillion in wealth, or about 50% of private equity assets. Canada by 2024. Although both male and female advisors can serve this growing demographic, some studies show that 70% of female clients prefer to work with a female advisor, and 80% of women switch financial advisors after the death of a spouse.

“When I think about the future of wealth management, we have to be diverse and reflect our client base,” says Natalie Bisset, head of corporate development at Richardson Wealth, which last December set a bold goal to increase the number of women. increase the number of consultants to 50% within five years. “Women have been proven to be excellent counselors. We are planning for the next decade and beyond.”

To be clear, there has never been a shortage of women in wealth management as a whole. But they are mostly in junior roles, supporting the team’s lead advisor as assistants or partners. (At Richardson, for example, 81% of assistants and 74% of partners are women.) People like Wooding who make the jump to full-fledged investment advisor with their own book of business are the exception, not the rule.

The reasons are various and systematic. First, senior advisors—often men—see the other men on the team as worthy successors and ultimately advise them to run their businesses. The economics of building a book of business from scratch, like Wooding, may not be very attractive to women who have already established themselves in the industry and have to give up their paychecks in hopes of keeping big clients. independent consultant prior to bankruptcy. “One candidate I spoke with told me that a recruiter at another firm offered to take out a second mortgage on her home to invest in her career,” says Biset. “It blew my mind that he would be talking about this to someone with 15 or 20 years of experience.”

To address these barriers, firms are implementing innovative solutions to help identify female talent and empower them to become wealth advisors with their teams. These include formal and informal mentoring, coaching workshops and “master classes,” community development and new consultant programs, and compensation structures that provide financial support for women as they transition from a salaried position to a variable income consultant. Richardson, for example, is in the early stages of launching a legacy program that will allocate $25 million to help current team members, including women, acquire a retired consultant’s book of business. Given that 53% of the firm’s licensed associate investment advisors and associate portfolio managers are women, a succession program can help build an internal network of female lead advisors.

As Susan O’Brien attests, such professional and financial support have been the missing ingredients in the industry’s efforts to include more women. In 1998, he decided to leave his career as a tax consultant to become an investment consultant, joining a new program at a bank-owned brokerage firm in Calgary. It was a sink or swim rig; Newcomers became effective independent advisors with little help or advice from wealth managers, responsible for onboarding clients while taking licensing courses. “I would go home on a Friday night and cry because I didn’t make any money that month,” says O’Brien. “I had four young children, so I took out a big loan, and we lived off that.”

He was patient, but not many newbies—the program had an 80% to 90% failure rate. It took him five years to learn that he could survive in business, but it was another five years before he became one of the firm’s leading consultants. Last year, he moved his four-person team (recently increased to five) and $275 million book of business to Richardson Wealth, which he says provides a more inclusive environment than the old-boy chain at the bank. O’Brien, 63, said: “My whole team is valued here, whereas at the bank I was the only one who was valued as a revenue generator. We are valued for the advice we provide to our clients.”

Andrea Linger, vice-president of practice management at Raymond James, who in 2014 set a goal to have 25% female advisors at the firm in Canada by 2025 — is taking a hard look at the difference between her firm’s old high-failure new programs. three-year Consultant Internship Program (AIP). “This is not a training program for newbies,” he says. “We engage new financial advisors with a minimum of three years of client experience, preferably at the associate advisor level, by providing intensive training and coaching to support their development.” So far, about a quarter of AIP participants have been women, and the program has a 65% success rate, which in part provides support for salaries and expenses while new consultants build their book of business.

That was a highlight for Brian Gardner, 33, who joined Raymond James in Vancouver as an associate consultant in 2017 and recently graduated from the program. “AIP gives you the skills to be successful and allows you to slowly waive your salary over three years,” he says. “It gives you a financial head start that you don’t see at other firms.” As a result, he now manages a $100 million book of business with partner John McLean (also an AIP graduate) and was named one of Canada’s top 15 advisors for new asset growth in 2021.

“When I think about the future of wealth management, we need to diversify and reflect our client base. Women have proven to be excellent counselors. We’re planning for the next decade and beyond.”

Richardson Wealth’s Natalie Bisset aims to have half of its advisers be women within five years.

Such initiatives are slowly moving the needle on the number of female consultants at firms that use them. In 2014, when Raymond James set a target of 25%, 14.8% of its Canadian advisors were women; today it is about 18%. Similarly, RBC Dominion Securities has increased the number of female investment advisors by 30% over the past five years, to a current total of 18%, thanks to an investment advisor sabbatical program established in 2018. The program provides opportunities for leading consultants. to give up their business — to take maternity, parental or sick leave — without fear of losing clients to another consultant. “A trained and fully credentialed individual from our head office will be transferred to lead the advisor team during the sabbatical,” says Jennifer Lemieux, director and senior investment advisor at RBC Dominion in Kingston. Ont. “When the vacation is over, that person will return to our headquarters.” By offering special support and financial compensation during sabbaticals, women at the firm see a future as senior consultants without sacrificing family life.

With 17% female councillors, Richardson is above the national average of 15%, but still has a long way to go to reach the 50% target. “It’s a five-year goal,” admits Biset. “We are early in this journey and there is no solution. We have to be innovative.” A big part of the firm’s plan is to hire teams that align with the values ​​of collaboration and sharing, where colleagues are not competitive and territorial, but excited when they land a big client.

Conlin Group, which moved from BMO Nesbitt Burns to Richardson in September 2021, is a great example. The team is led by Tim Conlin, 55 (ranked #144 on the Top Wealth Advisors list) and his partner Maria Miletic, 32. She will go on maternity leave with her first child in 2020. He is a 20% partner in the business, and their responsibilities are shared—he is the primary contact for longtime clients, and she focuses primarily on the next generation: the clients’ children and grandchildren.

It’s a model Richardson hopes to replicate; Miletic and Conlin were invited to present at a recent corporate conference on how other teams can explore the idea of ​​growing their business through partnerships. “It’s a profitable and scalable business, and we can work together to reach as many customers as possible and grow the pie,” says Miletic. Or, as he and Conlin told conference attendees, they responded wholeheartedly, “We’re going to grow this shit.”

Of course, not all of these strategies—from internships and partnerships to sabbaticals and culture shifts—are quick fixes. “We have to be real,” says Linger, who also leads the Canadian Women’s Advisor Network at Raymond James. “It takes a long time to develop these programs and ensure they are effective.” But with women’s next $2.7 trillion in investable assets up for grabs, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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