Experts tackle the future of financial management

BIV Business Excellence Series event highlights debate over how best to serve clients, and the role of ‘robo-advisers’
Left to right, Benjamin West, vice-president and regional manager, B.C. region, National Bank Financial; Fred Snyder, senior vice-president and investment adviser, Mackie Research Capital Corp.; Sue Belisle, president and publisher, Business in Vancouver; Ron Batty, partner, private enterprise services, MNP; and Kirk LaPointe, editor-in-chief, Business in Vancouver, and vice-president, Glacier Media | Dominic Schaefer

There were regular disagreements about the banking industry, arguments on various monetary topics and tough questions from the audience about all things investing.

Not what one might expect from a panel discussion about financial planning; however, Business in Vancouver’s latest Business Excellence Series event delivered an impassioned few hours for attendees.

Titled Brokers vs. Bankers, and held at the Vancity Theatre on October 26, the discussion dived deep into the ethical side of investing, and what the financial industry should – and shouldn’t – be doing for its clients. Panellist Fred Snyder, a senior vice-president and investment adviser for Mackie Research Capital Corp. and a radio host for CKNW’s It’s Your Money, wasted no time in taking a shot at Canada’s Big Five banks.

“The banks right now are pushing their own products,” Snyder said. Hesaid banks are pushing brokers to worry more about the corporate bottom line than their clients’ interests. However, panellist Benjamin West, vice-president and regional manager for National Bank Financial in B.C., “totally” disagreed with that assessment.

“The first is the idea that the banks or anyone is pushing investment advisers to buy individual securities and individual stocks and manage portfolios that way,” he said. “The way that we’re structured at National is that the investment adviser does his thing and there’s a compliance officer who oversees what they do, and if stuff goes sideways, I’m personally liable – Ben West. I’ve got two kids, two infant kids, so if something goes awry, they can go after my home and my kids’ small education fund. I don’t want that. So the last thing I want my guys to be doing is to be maverick or to select securities on their own.”

Snyder said the average person is woefully undereducated when it comes to finances, investments and wealth management. A recent study by MNP sheds light on the extent of the problem, finding that about 52% of Canadians are as little as $200 away from insolvency, and 31% are frequently unable to pay all their bills on time. 

The panellists also broached the subject of the new kid on the block: Wealthsimple, a Toronto-based online investment management service that uses “robo-advisers” guided by artificial intelligence to handle people’s investments. The company is geared towards millennials and seeks to automate what can be a confusing and frustrating process for people new to investing. Ron Batty, a partner at MNP private enterprise services, said Wealthsimple doesn’t offer the human element that comes with personalized investment advice.

“It’s not just about the investments,” he said. “The advisers, they bring a lot more to the table than they did a few years ago. And you need to have them looking at insurance, disability, helping with your life decisions – and that can’t be done by pointing and clicking.”

West said companies like Wealthsimple can be seen as either a “threat” or a potential “augmentation” to a live investment adviser, who can help manage clients’ everyday finances and long-term goals, such as education savings for their children. 

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