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High Net Worth

The million-dollar club Add to ...

The building off a busy Toronto street is beautiful but imposing, its grand stone columns framing a formal black front door.

Those curious enough to try to enter the Georgian gem, owned by Morgan Meighen & Associates, will first have to ring a doorbell and answer to a voice from within.

Even if they gained access to its soft yellow interior, most Canadians wouldn't have the deep pockets required to proceed further.

Here is where some of the country's half a million high-net-worth households - those with more than $1-million in assets to invest - seek advice on how to manage their fortunes. What they receive is discretion and attention: no one-size-fits-all investment strategy and hurried cubbyhole visits with a busy financial adviser like the hoi polloi.

Although still a niche segment in terms of total households - less than 5 per cent - these are the people who control the country's wealth. No surprise then that everyone from boutique firms such as Morgan Meighen to Canada's banking giants seek to woo these clients.

Despite the recent market meltdown, many players are expanding in this arena by hiring staff and revamping their wealth management businesses. The affairs of the rich are often complicated, and they will keep turning to trusted advisers for assistance, experts say. As well, the number of wealthy Canadians is expected to keep climbing.

"It hasn't escaped anyone's notice that this is an interesting area of business," says Clive Robinson, the head of Morgan Meighen's private wealth-management business. He sat in a private meeting room for clients decorated with mementoes from the firm's storied past, which reaches back to former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen. (The building used to belong to Canadian tycoon Conrad Black until he ran into his legal woes in the United States.)

More Canadians are joining the ranks of the rich. In 2003, just 358,000 households met the $1-million mark for investable assets, excluding their main residence, according to Investor Economics, a Canadian firm that provides research and consulting services to the financial-services industry. By 2018, it expects there will be about 900,000.

Even more enticing is the size of their fortunes. This group controls some 60.6 per cent of the country's total household wealth, or $1.42-trillion. By 2018, that should increase to 66 per cent, or $2.83-trillion, according to Investor Economics.

Most of these people have a fortune of between $1-million to $5-million, the firm says. Some 27,000, however, belong to the super-exclusive club of the ultra-wealthy: those with more than $10-million to invest. "The opportunities are significant for sure," says Dave Kelly, vice-president at TD Waterhouse's private investment counsel.

Some of this wealth is simply passed on from generation to generation. Other people become rich through their jobs as lawyers or executives, or by starting their own businesses.

Future growth will be fuelled by the baby-boomer generation as they receive retirement packages, sell their businesses and downsize to smaller homes. Further down the line the eventual "succession waterfall," as Mr. Robinson calls it, will see the boomers pass on and leave their wealth to their children, whom the firms hope to keep as clients.

As a result, experts say the needs of these clients are changing. They are becoming more conservative as preservation of capital steals the spotlight away from aggressive growth.

"It's less about creating incremental wealth," Mr. Kelly explains over the phone. "It's much more about 'how do I ensure I have the income I would like for as long as I would like it.' It's a lot more dialogue about bequests."

Wealth managers approach the industry in two ways. The bigger banks, such as TD and National, offer their rich customers a broad range of services. One is portfolio management, of course, but they also offer private banking, trust creation, sale of stocks and bonds, estate planning and the management or sale of a business.

National Bank even offers a private concierge service that clients have used to track down a purse in Spain or find a snow blower after a storm.

When clients come calling "they feel they are high-net-worth," says Eric Bujold, senior vice-president of wealth management for National Bank.

The smaller firms such as Morgan Meighen, in contrast, focus on wealth management. The clients, according to Mr. Robinson, don't miss the perks like the concierge. "We concentrate on making our clients money, that's what we're dedicated to doing," Mr. Robinson says pointedly.

What these firms do have in common is a vision of greater growth. Morgan Meighen, TD and National Bank all say they boosted staffing as they attracted new high-net-worth clients even during the financial crisis.

In fact, last September National Bank launched Private Wealth 1859, a business that Mr. Bujold heads. It brings all parts of the bank's wealth-management arm into a single group that can better determine clients' needs. TD has a similar strategy with its private client centres that it introduced back in 2005.

"I think we have a good future," predicts Mr. Bujold, sitting in the National Bank's Toronto home high up in one of King Street's towers. "We decided to invest before the crisis, we continued to invest during the crisis, and we'll continue to do it after."

While this business brings in a lot of money - standard industry fees are around 1 per cent of a client's assets - margins tend to be tight as all these services add up, says Keith Sjögren, director of research and advisory services at Investor Economics.

These clients want to speak with everyone involved in managing their wealth, and often are so busy that the team must come to their home or office.

The $1-million guideline for the high-net-worth club lets the financial industry attract enough clients to cover the costs and make a profit while ensuring enough diversification in their customer's portfolio, the firms say.

"These are people who take up a lot of time," Mr. Sjögren explains. "They want to protect their wealth and take steps to do that."

***

Who they are

2%

Portion of Canadian households with $1-million or more to invest.

48%

Share of millionaires who are retired

27%

Portion who owned a businesses

57

Average age of a Canadian millionaire

Source: Ipsos Reid "The Affluent Canadians Report 2009"

 

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