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Getting involved in the financial services industry at a young age means you can get years of experience behind you and rise to the top of your game before the age of 40.
That’s the reality for several advisors in The Globe and Mail and SHOOK Research’s second annual Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors rankings. But they say it takes hard work, dedication and the ability to know when and where to ask for help.
Adam Watson, wealth advisor and portfolio manager with the JMRD Watson Wealth Management Team at National Bank Financial Wealth Management in Chatham Ont., went into the family advisory business – both his parents are advisors – in his early 20s right after graduating from university.
“And I do mean right after,” laughs Mr. Watson, now 37 years old. “I think I graduated on a Thursday and started as an advisor on Monday. I just jumped in with both feet.”
Mr. Watson says he saw how wealth management could help his neighbours and local business owners reach their financial goals, and he wanted to get in on the action.
“I knew from a young age I liked this business and I liked accounting as well,” he explains. “I’m from a small town, so I got to see how the wealth management profession helped in my community and how connected my family was to the town.”
For Mr. Watson, it’s about surrounding himself with smart people who can challenge and enlighten him; and since joining the family business all those years ago, it has grown into a four-office operation with 20 team members across the province.
But his age does still raise a few eyebrows as there are those who still believe experience only comes with age. That has been a challenge Mr. Watson has worked to overcome.
“I joke that when I go to conferences that I’ve probably been at National Bank [Financial Wealth Management] longer than most, even though I’m still one of the youngest advisor in the room,” he says.
“There are challenges with clients and with advisors and you prove yourself every day. I’m lacking the grey hair that lots of people want to see, but that’s where having 15, 16 years of experience helps.”
Learning from the best
For Cameron McLean, wealth advisor at McLean Harland Wealth Management with BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. in Vancouver, mentorship played a big role in helping him reach his professional goals from a young age.
“I’m extremely fortunate in that I came into the business as part of a team with a senior investment advisor,” Mr. McLean, who’s 38 years old, recalls.
“Learning from somebody under their wing rather than trying to go at this business on your own has been helpful in developing my knowledge and expertise.”
His mentor transferred his knowledge onto him, and Mr. McLean was able to get 30-plus years of knowledge in a shorter period of time, he says.
Although he also says younger advisors could face some challenges in being valued by colleagues and clients alike, Mr. McLean didn’t have that experience because “there seemed to be so many people around me that wanted to participate in my success.”
Because of this fortunate introduction to the business, he says he wants to give back to others entering the field with two pieces of advice. The first is to be patient.
“Focus on learning but recognize that success will come not from doing one big thing right, but rather by doing the little things right day in and day out consistently,” he says.
The second piece of advice is to approach clients and their circumstances with a degree of empathy.
“Consider what it is that they’re looking for,” says Mr. McLean. “What is it that you can do to help make them be successful in the things they want to accomplish? Empathy is so important for our business.”
Doing it all from ‘the beginning’
Knowing the business from the ground up has given Alexandra Horwood, investment advisor and portfolio manager with Alexandra Horwood & Partners at Richardson Wealth Ltd. in Toronto, a unique perspective and allowed her the empathy to know just how long it takes to complete several tasks, from client paperwork to setting up meetings. She says it helps with how she interacts with her colleagues and clients.
“There’s no room for ego in this business,” she says. “It’s important to have realistic expectations of your team and I know what it takes to get the job done.”
After she graduated from the University of Waterloo, Ms. Horwood, 35, went to work for Richardson Wealth as an assistant and has spent more than 13 years working her way up and learning the ins and outs of financial management along the way.
“I was a human sponge, and it was a great opportunity. I looked at it as a great opportunity,” she says.
“In the beginning, I did it all from Starbucks runs to using a fax machine, and spent years gathering experience and information and learning everything I could about this business along the way. I’m still learning every day.”
While Ms. Horwood admits that her gender and age were a challenge in her younger years, now she sees them as a “huge advantage.”
“Most clients and investors don’t want to have an advisor who is the same age as them or would be retiring at the same time as them,” she says.
“They are looking to engage younger advisors who have 20 or 30 years ahead of them in their career and work with them into retirement.”
Right now, she has the energy, expertise and longevity to grow her career, she adds.
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