It’s all well and good to call yourself a holistic advisor, but the number of tasks and range of knowledge that label covers are so varied that providing an integrated service offering as a solo advisor is a nearly impossible task. One firm has taken a different approach to offering comprehensive advice by building a team of experts.
Up to and through its merger last year, the JMRD Watson Wealth Management Team has focused on delivering complete multi-generational family advice through specialization. This approach starts with the older generation, which has the team’s portfolio managers to look after their investment portfolios. From there, financial, estate and insurance planning experts step in to paint a full picture of the family’s financial needs.
Investment associates assist with managing accounts for children and grandchildren, bringing the whole family on board. That approach won the JMRD Watson team National Bank Financial’s 2019 Wealth Management Excellence Award, which is given to a team that exemplifies a client-centered approach. The merger of the two firms – JMRD Wealth Management and Watson Wealth Management – has broadened that effort and allowed team members to become experts in their specific areas. But this specialization hasn’t impacted JMRD Watson’s functioning as a cohesive, unified team, even as all team members have begun working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To call yourself a full-service advisor, there are probably 100 different things you should be able to provide,” explains Reg Jackson, co-CEO of JMRD Watson. “There’s no chance a single advisor and their assistant can provide those 100 things well. What we had at JMRD and what the Watson Wealth Management Team had was a very good back office – we could take those 100 areas and divide them out over seven or eight people. Now, with a team of 18, we can really focus and build expertise.”
JMRD Watson is building that expertise across the team, which was initially spread between four offices in Southwestern Ontario and is now spread further into 18 separate homes. Team members handle the areas where they’ve developed the deepest expertise; the result is a higher quality of service for clients and their families.
Working as a team allows everyone to bring their strengths and abilities to the table. Since the merger, the JMRD Watson team has been sharing best practices, technology solutions and marketing strategies with one another. Through a dedicated integration team and weekly meetings, they’ve turned the merger into a series of successive wins.
That process didn’t come without challenges, though JMRD Watson prefers to frame them as opportunities. The merger meant they were managing four offices in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Chatham. Moreover, the advisory team stretches across generations, from young advisors in their 30s to veterans in their 60s. The core team at JMRD Watson had to ensure the group felt like a single entity. To do that, they pulled from the cultural similarities between the JMRD and Watson Wealth Management teams that led to the merger in the first place.
“When JMRD and Watson made the decision to merge, it was the culmination of 20 years of friendship and business partnership coming together for what we hope will be the next chapter in our business’s future,” says Adam Watson, portfolio manager at JMRD Watson, former co-manager at Watson and the new Chatham team lead. “We were quite fortunate that our cultures were similar, and we were able to set up a schedule for regular meetings with various people in the offices, as well as a few fun events for everyone to get to know each other better.”
That has resulted in a team that, despite its geographic spread, has a high level of trust and open communication. Watson and Jackson recall that in mid-March, when markets were falling, clients were calling and the practice had to suddenly go remote, one of their advisors’ home internet connections went down just as he received a trading order from a client. Using his data plan and the team Slack communication tool, he got three team members ready to execute the order, placed the order over the phone and ensured that his client’s needs were met by another member of the team, exemplifying how the JMRD Watson team operates as a unified whole.
"The coronavirus is one of those black swan events that you just can’t prepare for,” Jackson says. “You can think you have all of your systems and technology and processes in place, and then something comes along that tests everything you’ve been working on for the last months and years. We are so fortunate to have National Bank as our partner, as they have stepped up and made going remote quickly and efficiently a top priority – 18 people in 18 different locations would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, but with the advances in technology over the years, this has become a new normal.”
There was some luck involved, too. Just six months ago, the whole team shifted to laptops and began using tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, which have become resources they can’t live without. Now that they’re remote, the team holds a daily office video call, a portfolio manager video call and weekly team meetings. They’re even using video conferencing functionality on client calls to help ease the transition for clients at a moment when they need seamless service and want to stay connected to their advisors.
Through the crisis, the JMRD Watson team hasn’t lost sight of its big-picture goal: better serving clients as a team of experts. “The size of our team and the people on our team are our greatest assets,” Jackson says. “We have decades of experience, multiple industry and university accreditations, and a range of specialists who like to focus on certain aspects of wealth management, including financial planning, portfolio management and insurance. We believe that having a team working together with one common goal is the only way to move forward.”