As many financial advisors across Canada continue to work remotely, some are opting to do so indefinitely. They’re making the decision not to return to their offices or renew their leases, making way for entirely new working environments for themselves, their staff and their clients – even after the pandemic subsides.
“I’m not going back [to an office building],” says Shayne Stephens, president and family office director at Landmark Advantage Multi Family Wealth Office in Stouffville, Ont., who decided to discontinue leasing his Richmond Hill, Ont., office and is currently in the process of remodelling his home so that it’s suitable for receiving clients.
“The cost-benefit of creating a home office is that it’s giving me a 50 per cent return on the investment from the get-go,” he says. “All I’m doing is putting my next year’s [office] rent into my house, and now my office space is going to be an investment, not an expense. It’s a good plan.”
Mr. Stephens, who lives in a large, open-spaced, modified church, is adding new walls, a washroom, a separate entrance and workspace for his two part-time administrators. Each one of them will continue to work remotely half of the time and spend the other half at the new office greeting clients.
“I always felt more hurried and stressed in the office,” Mr. Stephens says. “I feel much more relaxed when speaking with clients from home. I feel like we’re visiting as much as having a meeting. I expect it’s going to be even better when I can start doing it here, in person.”
Jason Pereira, partner and senior financial consultant at Toronto-based Woodgate Financial Inc., a financial planning firm that’s part of IPC Securities Corp., says that working from a home office 100 per cent of the time is the way of the future. That’s because the pandemic has made people, young and old, more comfortable and willing to do business with advisors online through videoconferencing services like Zoom.
“We’re going to explore if we can get out of [our] lease, or sublet [our office],” he says. “The longer COVID-19 goes on, the more I have zero interest in reopening the office.”
Mr. Pereira says he plans to cut his rental overhead by at least half, eventually, keeping no private offices for people to work in. He and his team do plan to keep a reception area, a kitchen, and a boardroom and two meeting rooms for holding meetings with clients who want to return to face-to-face interaction after the pandemic ends.
“That may not be forever either,” he says. “The concept of being geographically close [to your advisor] is eventually going to die forever, but I don’t know that the average high-net-worth investor is ready to hand over their life savings to someone with no office, yet. And regulators have rules around having a physical location.”
David O’Leary, founder and principal at Kind Wealth in Toronto, has been working without an office since starting his fee-for-service financial planning firm in 2017, and says there are ways advisors can get around having a physical location to manage people’s wealth.
If you’re an independent financial planner and want to become an investment counsel portfolio manager (ICPM), you can team up with companies that already have regulatory requirements in place, such as the registration and carrier licences needed to build or manage client portfolios, Mr. O’Leary says.
“If you’re not big enough to obtain the ICPM registration, there are new platforms in Canada that will license you without having to work under their brand,” he says. “That way, they maintain the required physical office and you go about building your business.”
Shane Borthwick, founder and financial advisor at Impact Wealth in Saint John, N.B., is taking a hybrid approach. As his firm grows geographically and his staff continues to work remotely, he has decided not to lease any offices in the company’s new locations. Instead, he has purchased memberships for his advisors and administrators to access shared working hubs.
“We have memberships at Ustation [Developments Inc.] in Saint John and La Place in the Moncton area,” Mr. Borthwick says. “[Our advisors and staff members] can go online and book different kinds of space they need, when they need it to get out of the house or meet with clients.”
Both facilities provide professional office environments with different types of rooms and workspaces, as well as access to WiFi, printers and coffee services, among others.
“We’re debating about keeping our head office [for management] too, and until it’s time [to renew our lease], we’re taking a hybrid approach,” Mr. Borthwick says. “My home office looks out onto the ocean. What’s nicer than that?”