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A New Business Model for a New Day

As the co-owner of an Advisory practice that covers five different specialities, Benjamin Lewandowski of Aligned Capital Partners, talks about his unique business structure, the efficiencies created – and how it’s carved a path for continuous growth in the post-COVID era.

October 2021

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Benjamin Lewandowski

CIM®, QAFP®, Managing Partner, Qopia Financial and Portfolio Manager at Aligned Capital Partners

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Full-service – all the time

My business partner Arif Kanji and I evolved from two different areas of the industry. As a portfolio manager, I come from the IIROC world of investments and financial planning, while he was a licensed insurance Advisor. We met at a Sun Life conference in 2016, and after a short while referring business to each other, we quickly realized we needed to join forces, and thus started KL Advisory Group in early 2017. Our idea was to create a full-service firm where clients could address all their needs within one location – teaming up with a general insurance franchise and a mortgage broker to complete the offering.

We have recently rebranded to Qopia Financial, derived from Cornucopia, which signifies plenty, abundance, and nourishment. The five letters in Qopia are attributed to our five different offerings within the branch: financial services, residential and commercial lending, general insurance, law, and accounting. Our mission is to work together and help clients collectively in the purest sense. We don’t receive any compensation by sending business to one another.

What we’ve seen – particularly during COVID-19 where time is a precious commodity – is that our business model thrives because people don’t want to be sitting down with five professionals at five different locations. It’s about efficiencies. Clients are able to come in and out of one meeting and everything they need is accomplished. We free up their time which they are appreciative of. As one of the fastest growing firms at Aligned Capital Partners, our assets under management have expanded 10-fold from 2016.

Clients are able to come in and out of one meeting, and everything is accomplished. We free up their days, and they so appreciate that.

A team of specialists from the get-go

Our collaborative model appeals to clients as young as 20 to as old as 94 years of age. Where our niche really lies is within the business owner segment because we can relate to them. We’re not only Advisors and Financial Planners, we own three corporations and employ multiple staff – with our own overhead costs. We truly understand what it’s been like for a business owner during the pandemic, and the struggles we’ve had to endure. As Advisors, we also don’t pretend to be the best at everything. That’s why we have specialized professionals in every field under one umbrella – from chartered financial analysts to estate and life insurance experts, so clients can easily access all the tools in our toolbox.

This is evident at our initial client meeting where we have each specialist in one room. And because we know their history and background before they walk in the door (using our pre-appointment checklist) we can provide instant value. For example, if we know a business owner has an operating company as well as a holding company, we take it upon ourselves to bring in our lawyer and accountant right away. We recently had a client who inherited $4 million from the sale of a large property and her biggest concern was how she would pass on her assets to her daughter. From the very beginning, we had our lawyer and accountant illustrate how the inheritance could be distributed, discussing a family trust and how it would integrate into her financial plan and spending habits.

The team collectively addressed her needs and was able to really delve into the weeds (including providing lending options for a new home purchase), building the foundation for a long-term relationship. Upon leaving the meeting, she felt confident we were the right firm for her, comparing her experience to another where everything couldn’t get done as efficiently. In fact, part of our service offering includes personal taxes, so our accountant was able to sit down with her and start her filing, while our lawyer initiated her will – all at the first meeting.

Even at the first meeting, we have all the specialists that clients need in the room, because we know their history and background before they walk in the door.

Being there through thick and thin

This level of confidence is what we aim to achieve with all our clients, and I definitely think this has come across clearly since March 2020. While there was times of anxiety and uncertainty during the early days of the pandemic, we made sure we were open at 7am every day, making changes within portfolios and calling clients to keep them in the know. We were there for them – just like before – and had our home offices set up within a few days. Online video platforms like Zoom really opened up the world to a more efficient way of completing tasks, and we’ve progressed as a society where we will use these tools when required going forward. Throughout COVID-19, when permitted, we were open for business to clients who wanted to meet in person and could do so at any time.

Our primary goal is to make things seamless for our clients, which is why we’re currently transitioning to a fully discretionary platform. While I head the investment team at the office, we have a committee of Advisors that meet on a quarterly basis. Our CFA gives us a breakdown of any changes in the portfolio including anything we need to be aware of in terms of market headwinds. As a committee, we make these important decisions together, informed by diverse perspectives, comprehensive evaluation, and analysis. And because markets move so fast nowadays, we’re able to act quickly and be nimble on behalf of our clients. Meanwhile, Arif, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) is focused on estate planning and corporate insurance strategies, alongside three other certified financial planners within our team.

Clients also like the fact that both Arif and myself, the two owners of the practice, are in our 30s. The bulk of our client base is in retirement, or approaching it, and they appreciate the fact that we’re going to be able to guide them through this important phase of their life. We’ll also be there for their children and grandchildren. This is a differentiator in the industry since the average age of an Advisor is currently mid-50s. As a result, much of our business during COVID-19 came from the next generation of our existing clients. Our practice also follows a unique family model, in which all the savings we provide for the parents are passed on to the children (in terms of fees).

Our practice also follows a unique family model, in which all the savings we provide for the parents are passed on to the children (in terms of fees).

Ensuring consistent growth

As we move forward, we will continue to ensure our product offering cannot be mimicked by a Robo-Advisor, or even a typical investment firm, because we believe our full-service practice is a huge value-add for our clients. Having created this boutique model, we’re currently in the midst of attracting other Advisors who can seamlessly tap into our business infrastructure – expanding their reach across multiple provinces. Our aim is to double our AUM in three years by growing the team and through existing client referrals – as well as an ongoing pipeline of prospects through our general insurance arm.

What advice can I give to other business owners? Stick to what you’re good at. The biggest challenge I see is that everybody wants to be good at everything, and that’s a disservice both to the client, and to you as the Advisor. Find your competitive advantage – whether that’s focusing on a niche you love, like sports professionals for example, or sourcing clients at your local golf course. Importantly, partner up, because you’ll be able to achieve your goals much faster. It’s not about what you each achieve day-to-day, and who is bringing in what revenue, but rather focus on the collective good. A supportive, strong team will always get you further than you could yourself.

A supportive, strong team will always get you further than you could yourself.

For more ideas to enhance your practice, or build a resilient portfolio, contact your BMO Global Asset Management Regional Sales Representative.

Aligned Capital Partners Inc. Disclosures:

The information contained herein is specifically for ON, QC, NS, NB, MB, BC, SK, AB and NL residents only and does not constitute an offer to sell or solicit sales in any other Canadian or foreign jurisdictions. Aligned Capital Partners Inc. is a member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) as well as a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).

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Commissions, trailing commissions (if applicable), management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the ETF facts, fund facts or prospectus of the relevant mutual fund before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.

For a summary of the risks of an investment in the BMO Mutual Funds, please see the specific risks set out in the prospectus. ETF Series of the BMO Mutual Funds trade like stocks, fluctuate in market value and may trade at a discount to their net asset value, which may increase the risk of loss. Distributions are not guaranteed and are subject to change and/or elimination.

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