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Marleena Markham of BIM Group at CIBC Wood Gundy in Vancouver.Alison Boulier/The Globe and Mail

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Portfolio managers in the inaugural Canada’s Top Women Wealth Advisors ranking have several key traits in common. But it’s their disciplined and holistic philosophy for investing that has guided them over the years to make sound decisions for clients.

Many also got their start in other businesses before becoming advisors, which helped form the foundation for their practices.

Marleena Markham, portfolio manager and senior wealth advisor with BIM Group at CIBC Wood Gundy in Vancouver, started working in the grain industry, in which she learned about accounting and U.S. dollar hedging strategies before becoming an advisor.

She describes herself as an “active listener” who aims to understand what her clients – many of whom have been with her for more than 20 years – are looking to achieve with their investments. Her focus is on a “very successful” model portfolio of about 20 to 25 buy-and-hold North American equities, which are diversified across industries and geographies, as well as select fixed-income investments. Each client holds a varying percentage of the model portfolio’s investments depending on their risk tolerance and goals.

“We aim to buy … businesses at a discounted price that we own and monitor for the long term,” she explains. “We’re looking for businesses that we want to own for a minimum of five years.”

After experiencing the fallout of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, Ms. Markham has been buying stocks through the recent volatility but has “an ongoing due diligence process … just to make sure that we trust the quality of the businesses in our model portfolio and that they have the durability to carry us through the long term.”

Ms. Markham communicates often with clients and stresses her long-term approach. When the pandemic hit and markets tanked initially, she had one often-anxious client she called first. After years of being told volatility can benefit their portfolio as stocks are at a discount, the client’s first question was “So, what are we buying?” instead of panic, Ms. Markham recalls.

She’s been “nibbling” at stocks on her buy list as she raised cash during the hot runup in equities last year when she took some profits off the table.

“We’re disciplined about the entry points that we have,” she adds.

‘Diversify away risk’

Originally from Panama, Cielo Carin, portfolio manager, wealth advisor and investment advisor with Cielo Carin Wealth Management Team at Richardson Wealth Ltd. in Montreal, started out as a lender to small and medium-sized businesses. She says the analytical and relationship-building skills she learned in that role benefited her as an advisor. Many of her successful commercial clients found they had accumulated personal wealth to manage and turned to Ms. Carin for help.

“Trust really is the cornerstone of what I do, what I’ve always done,” she explains.

The first component of trust is “having your clients and their family’s best interests at heart, first and foremost,” and the second component is a commitment to learning so you have “the competencies that are required to make educated decisions.”

Once she’s helped a client figure out their financial goals, taken stock of the investments they already have, Ms. Carin sorts out what should be in their short, medium, and long-term investing “buckets.”

Ms. Carin likes to get compensated while waiting patiently for stock prices to rise, and to diversify away risk.

“My overarching investment strategy is to construct portfolios that can withstand the vagaries of market movements,” she says. “They storm all the time.”

In addition to blue-chip fixed income and equities, Ms. Carin takes a “disciplined” look at international stocks, and alternative assets like real estate, private equity, and options strategies.

Right now, she’s focused on investments that are a hedge against inflation, which she believes will remain elevated. Those investments include dividend-paying companies in sectors such as financial services, insurance, telecommunications, and pipelines. Real estate can also hedge against inflation, particularly rental properties. On the fixed-income side, guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) are an option as are short-term bonds.

Playing the ‘long-winded bond market’

Lianne Di Rocco, senior wealth advisor and portfolio manager with The Di Rocco Keenan Wealth Advisory Group at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., got her start in the 1990s at a rookie investment advisor program in Toronto.

She had a small business in Belleville, Ont. and the program meant she had to move to the big city. She recalls how one male advisor said, “Why would you want to go to a city where you would be a small fish in a big pond?” Instead, she thought, “Why can’t I be a big fish in a big pond?” So, that’s exactly what she did.

After she completed the program, Ms. Di Rocco had to find her own clients. Other advisors were talking about equities, so she dove into learning about the bond market and held seminars about investing in the bond market versus GICs.

“That is how I built my business,” she says. “To this day, the bond market is very near and dear to my heart, and it tells us so much information about what’s going on in the economy.”

Ms. Di Rocco adds she “believes in the importance of a wealth plan that’s created with intention and purpose,” whether that’s retiring early, starting a family foundation, or leaving a legacy of generational wealth.

“When you understand the ‘why,’ it can be very powerful and motivating,” she says.

When she starts working with clients, she gathers information to help create their wealth plan and considers, “What’s the least amount of risk we need to take to achieve their goals?” Her investment strategy is “not simple but simplistic.”

“It’s the preservation of capital as clients work really hard to build this wealth, whether it’s from a business, real estate [or] an inheritance,” she says. “The money we’re managing is money that cannot be replaced.”

The key aims are to preserve capital, grow the asset and provide cash flow that keeps pace with inflation, she explains.

As part of her planning, diversification is key by sector and geography, as well as asset allocation.

“We’re never going to have everything in equities,” she says. “We do carry cash to take advantage of opportunities as we’ve seen over the past six months.”

With equities, she chooses stocks with solid balance sheets that pay dividends and are secure and rising. She feels Canadian banks are attractive right now as those stocks have been hit by the trouble with U.S. regional banks.

“The top five Canadian banks pay a very good dividend, and more importantly, they have the ability to increase the dividend,” she says, adding that increasing cash flow when inflation is high helps to keep up with the cost of living.

She also focuses on top-quality bonds and alters her asset allocation depending on economic factors. Right now, with the potential for an economic slowdown and interest rates falling, the bond market could see an uptick, she explains.

“I play a long-winded bond market. I do think there’s some value there,” she says.

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