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Success that Doesn’t Stop. Pandemic or Not.

Seasoned Investment Advisor Les Wares shares a never-stop-growing approach to business that continued to thrive in 2020, attracting referrals despite the obvious challenges.

February 2021

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Les Wares

CFP, FCSI, FMA, RRC, BA (Hons) Economics, CIM, Investment Advisor, Portfolio Manager, CIBC Wood Gundy

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Seasoned Investment Advisor Les Wares shares a never-stop-growing approach to business that continued to thrive in 2020, attracting referrals despite the obvious challenges.

Ever the Advisor

Even back in university I had friends approach me for advice; most often about money and finance. I realized early on that wealth management would be in demand – in good times and in bad. It’s what propelled a career helping people buy into select investment solutions that work for them.

Three decades later, the formula that always delivers is to approach money management with my planning cap on. It’s a departure from the norm of building portfolios based on demographics – growth-focused for the young, income for the old, and so on. Instead, when I speak to clients, I want to know 3 key things: Where are you now? Where do you want to go? And what do we need to put in place to get you there?

As simple as it may seem, it’s a way of doing business that many in the industry fail to adopt. With a planning mindset, I’ve found it easier to put clients first. In fact, over the years, I’ve turned them away from more costly, ineffective solutions that they may have been shown elsewhere. That has come full circle, engendering trust, and creating a stream of referrals that continue to enhance my practice. Case in point: during a recent conversation with a prospective client, I was quick to point out that a product they were sold by another firm with deferred sales charges was prohibitively expensive and not in their best interest, and showed them a more effective way to purchase investments.

With a planning mindset, I’ve found it easier to put clients first.

Combined with planning, the second most important aspect of my practice is that the Wares Advisory Group uses a discretionary model, which in today’s circumstances, has proven to be a more urgent need for Advisors than ever before.

Pandemic spotlight on credentials

In March 2020, when COVID-19 shockwaves hit equity markets, it was necessary to take quick and deliberate action. Fortunately, having the discretionary portfolio management license meant we did not have to seek approval prior to every trade. As needed, we powered ahead with strategic transactions across the book, and once the markets settled, we reached out individually to explain why the changes were made.

Fast forward to the present; we’re also able to show clients how we’ve proactively positioned their portfolios for 2021, as the industry continues to face the pressures of volatility. In essence, going through the pandemic, and having personally experienced previous market shocks such as the Nortel tech wreck and the Great Financial Crisis, all point to the benefits of a discretionary approach.

Fortunately, having the discretionary portfolio management license meant we did not have to seek approval for every trade.

During the past year, another differentiator for my practice has been insurance licensing. The global health crisis prompted a flurry of client reactions that were centred on portfolio protection and estate planning; people wanted to understand the extent of their wealth and how to pass it on to loved ones. The ability to incorporate enhanced insurance strategies into the conversation allows us to address key concerns. For example, where advantageous, I introduce the concept of segregated (seg) funds to ensure a seamless probate process.

Building a seg fund advantage

Working with clients to build and preserve wealth, the third pillar of our approach is effectively transitioning their legacy. For the 70+ segment of my book in particular, seg funds can serve as a simple solution to pass on wealth from one generation to the next, and help achieve estate goals.

At the start of any relationship, I check if the client has life insurance, Wills and Powers of Attorney in place. Based on their individual situation, I then discuss and assess the opportunities available with seg funds, such as the quick distribution of assets to named beneficiaries, bypassing a long and expensive probate process, and multiple settlement options.

As appropriate, I then incorporate a small sleeve of seg funds into the portfolio, allowing the client to have this tool in place in case of unforeseen and potentially compromising circumstances. In addition to the estate planning benefits, seg funds mitigate downside risk by providing a hard floor on investment returns, regardless of market conditions. Given my discretionary model, I can expand the allocation as necessary to deliver the best value to the client – without having to hunt down signatures in the current work-from-home environment.

For the 70+ segment of my book in particular, seg funds can serve as a simple solution to pass on wealth from one generation to the next, and help achieve estate goals.

Adapting to change

The shift to a virtual practice and prospecting has not been easy. Even so, I welcomed five clients through the pandemic, without physically meeting them. What’s more, from a financial standpoint, 2020 was the best year we’ve ever had, which goes to show that building trust and pursuing referrals can pay off even under the most challenging circumstances.

For existing clients, we’ve instituted various touchpoints, including a regular “pandemic series” call that provides an opportunity for some to learn from portfolio managers and experts more about investment in areas such as infrastructure and real estate, and for others to go a little deeper into the nuances of concepts like currency overlays or an absolute return strategy. Keeping clients informed and educated was, and continues to be, integral to retaining their business.

As a team, and through our partners, we’re able to deliver on advanced financial planning strategies. We utilize specialists such as Wealth Strategists, our Trust Division, and our Estate Planning Team who help our focus on more complex tax and enhanced estate planning cases or cross-border needs. These experts, combined with my own expertise, help build on a holistic wealth accumulation, retirement, and estate preservation strategy. In the coming months we plan to expand with new talent, further enhancing competencies to underpin the digital future our industry.

At the end of the day, we’re not a fit for those who merely want a transactional “order taker”; our focus is on long-term investors for whom we can leverage a planning-first approach to create a personalized wealth management strategy.

Les Wares on BMO Global Asset Management

BMO Guaranteed Investment Funds (GIFs) are an important tool for us when it comes to estate planning, especially with their broad suite of ETFs that are more cost-effective. We like to integrate some of Larry Berman’s BMO Tactical ETF Portfolios, which offer a smoother ride with lower volatility, giving clients much-needed peace of mind.

In terms of service, we look for responsiveness in a wholesaling team, and value access to under-the-hood fund information. BMO GAM delivers on these needs, and they were one of the first to offer support and participate in our “pandemic call series”, showing their commitment when it mattered the most.

For more ideas to enhance your practice, or learn more about seg funds, contact your BMO Global Asset Management Regional Sales Representative.

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