After starting his own firm and then merging it with Nicola Wealth, David Sung is helping to fuel Nicola’s growth across the country
By Darren Matte
David Sung entered the financial industry on the insurance side after witnessing the success his mother had in the field. While that gave him a healthy foundation, Sung hasn’t stopped there. After 26 years in the industry, he has run his own firm, merged it with Nicola Wealth and, as the current president of the firm, is helping lead its ambitious expansion across the country.
After graduating from the University of British Columbia, Sung got his start at an insurance company and earned his CFP designation. He left insurance to partner with another advisor and focus on financial planning. “During that time, I met with John Nicola to discuss working together,” Sung recalls, “but the timing wasn’t right.”
By 2000, Sung had launched his own firm, Waterstreet Wealth Management. “At the same time, my father, a CPA, had entered the business and, after a year, was ready to leave his business partner, so I invited him to join me as I built the new business,” Sung says. “By late 2003, my business had grown significantly, and John Nicola and I entered discussions about merging my business with his, which we did in January of 2004.”
Since then, Sung has been an advocate of Nicola Wealth’s detailed and process-oriented approach. The firm has built an infrastructure to deliver a breadth of product that’s similar to large institutional pension funds.
Our clients tend to be professionals and entrepreneurs, perhaps family business owners – those who have divested of a large business or have built a business over many years and want to preserve capital,” Sung says. “Many clients are also attracted to our real estate investments – unlike many firms, we have a large internal real estate acquisition, development and management team.
Looking back, Sung sees the decision to start his own firm as one of the biggest challenges of his career, but also one of the best decisions he ever made.
“Starting my own firm in 2000 and making the decision to go forward with my father, which luckily worked out very well, but which I approached with an abundance of caution, was my biggest challenge,” he says. “Many years prior, in my youth, my dad also worked with family but experienced the downside of when a multi-generational family business does not plan well. My dad was able to bring his invaluable life and business lessons to the table, and I will be forever grateful to him for what he taught me.”
Since merging with Nicola in 2004, Sung has had many highlights. The main one has been the firm’s overall growth, from $280 million in AUM when he first came on board to $7.2 billion today. Nicola has also grown from one office with 20 employees to four offices (in Vancouver, Toronto, Kelowna and Richmond) and more than 200 employees.
“Being a part of growing and building a company that has spawned so many jobs and careers is extremely rewarding,” Sung says.
Other highlights of his time at Nicola Wealth include the firm’s development of its asset management group, including the in-house real estate group, along with an internal technology and enterprise solutions team that has designed and continues to evolve proprietary client reporting systems and interactive and client-facing financial analysis tools. Sung is also proud of Nicola’s team of 80-plus advisors, all of whom hold or are working toward CFP and CIM designations; many have CFA or CPA designations as well.
Growth is a crucial part of Sung’s DNA, so it’s no surprise that continued growth is his focus for Nicola Wealth moving forward.
“We have ambitious growth goals and are looking to more than double our AUM in the next few years,” he says. “We are very much focused on growing across the country, particularly in Toronto. I am focused on building out and recruiting advisors not just for our Toronto office, but across the country. Whether it’s an up-and-coming advisor with strong technical planning skills or an established, seasoned advisor with a number of high-net-worth clients, we are an ideal organization for those who have an entrepreneurial drive.”