Growing up in a Vietnamese-French-Canadian family, An-Lap Vo-Dignard heard stories that have led him to connect with his clients deeply decades later.
From having empathy to a willingness to listen, some of his greatest professional strengths are rooted in his experience as the son of an immigrant, says Mr. Vo-Dignard, investment advisor and portfolio manager with the Vo-Dignard Provost Wealth Management team at National Bank Financial Wealth Management in Montreal.
More specifically, he has developed an innate sense of when to test the waters, push harder, or back off. For example, when a client insisted on buying physical gold bars, Mr. Vo-Dignard didn’t try to push the client toward an exchange-traded fund instead. He knew it was a discussion he wouldn’t win.
“I respect the 80-year-old who saw the local currency plummet to zero overnight and whose family could’ve been killed if they didn’t hide gold in their children’s clothing because it was the only way to pay their [way] out of the country,” he says.
“Older generations who have been through hardships often want to invest in something tangible that they can see over the test of time, and I understand that completely.”
He says his parents owned businesses in Vietnam and then lost everything when communism took over.
“All they wanted was to recreate the huge house they once had,” he says. “To them, real estate is tangible, but you can’t touch or feel the stock market.”
Mr. Vo-Dignard is one of several of Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors who are using their personal experiences as members of minority groups to help their communities embrace financial planning, adjust to new investment goals and gender roles, and change attitudes around money.
Focusing on what’s unique to a culture
Jerry Basran, senior investment advisor with the Basran Wealth Management Group at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Vancouver, was referred to an Indo-Canadian couple who was also leery of the stock market not long after he joined his current firm.
As a starting point, Mr. Basran, a first-generation Indo-Canadian himself, made it a priority to clarify the couple’s future needs and expenses.
“What’s quite unique in our culture is how much we gift to our children,” he says. “This family wanted to pay for their five children’s weddings and sizeable home deposits on top of that. The weddings, as you can imagine from television and movies, are huge – $100,000 is cheap these days.”
The couple wondered how they could still have enough to live on afterward and were determined to stick to land ownership as a safe investment. But once Mr. Basran explained the benefits of different long-term investments for wealth, estate, and succession planning, he was able to ease their concerns.
“I explained it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term investment – just like you’d look at real estate,” he says. “So, when it came time to present a recommended portfolio, they felt comfortable. I had earned their trust.”
When Mr. Basran serves clients from his community, he always starts by sharing his personal story of how he put himself through university pulling lumber in a sawmill.
“My great-great-grandfather actually came to British Columbia to do that, hauling wood by horse and cart, and built it into a business,” he says. “Hard work, integrity, work ethics – those are things that are understood and respected in my community, particularly among the older generation.”
But for newcomers who arrive as refugees, saving long-term can be a foreign concept.
Faisal Karmali, portfolio manager and investment advisor with the Popowich Karmali Advisory Group at CIBC Wood Gundy in Calgary, likens his role working with new Canadians to something between a coach and an air traffic controller.
As a member of the Ismaili Muslim community, Mr. Karmali gets many referrals to clients with the same religious background but who hail from different parts of the world, including east Africa, Pakistan, and central Asia.
“Refugees are accustomed to living day-to-day, not thinking about retirement planning in 35 years,” says Mr. Karmali. “So, I work with them on how to pay bills in a brand new country in a brand new way, the purpose of saving to meet different goals, and all the opportunities to generate revenue and explore new skill sets that come along with that.”
Often, first-generation Canadians will experience cultural differences between how their parents view money and how they actually want to live their lives, he says.
“Being part of that discussion is very rewarding. The best way to learn about the family dynamic is to learn about their finances,” Mr. Karmali says. “That involves asking questions about how bills are paid, and how household expenses are shared.”
How to incorporate inclusion
One key element of those conversations about money with these families is that all members of the household should be included.
Maili Wong, senior wealth advisor and senior portfolio manager with the Wong Group at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Vancouver, says she often hears a reoccurring theme when meeting with new clients – their former advisor failed to include women in the conversations.
“I view this as a missed opportunity,” says Ms. Wong, whose clients include women looking for guidance on managing a windfall acquired through the sale of a business, divorce, or inheritance. “Often, they feel worried about the responsibilities that come with navigating their new wealth. I absolutely love empowering these women to take control over their finances.”
She says she used to find women were less involved in financial decisions, especially in the Asian culture, but sees a big shift now toward women taking more control across minorities.
The intent of Ms. Wong’s 2016 book – Smart Risk: Invest Like the Wealthy to Achieve a Work-Optional Life – is to empower more women to think differently about risk and investing.
“It’s important to truly understand what this wealth means for them. Managing the assets is equally important as managing the emotions of wealth,” says Ms. Wong, a third-generation Canadian who created the Maili Wong Scholarship in Finance at the University of British Columbia to encourage more women to consider a career in this sector.
Sophia Ito, wealth advisor and client relationship manager at Nicola Wealth Management Ltd. in Vancouver, also says it’s vital for women to be included in the conversation, but she stresses that it’s important to take it a step further.
“Another thing we’ve been encouraging all our clients to do is to bring their children, the next generation, into their planning meetings,” says Ms. Ito. “This provides exposure to the planning process and initiates a base-level understanding of financial literacy and the family’s plan for the future.”