Dreams as Sure-Fire Investments

Coming from humble beginnings, the president and CEO of Investment Planning Counsel, Chris Reynolds, brings dreams to life for his network of advisors and clients, using industry-shifting wealth-management strategies with a personal touch

Chris Reynolds doesn’t give handshakes. Instead, when the president and CEO of Investment Planning Counsel (IPC) meets with advisors, he gives hugs. All of the company’s advisors do. “Focusing on meaningful relationships within IPC is very important,” Reynolds says. “The business is about people.” That ethos is not only what IPC was founded on; it continues to pervade every aspect of the business. For IPC, wealth management doesn’t start with money—it starts with something much more personal: a dream.

Before he founded IPC, Reynolds saw the need to make financial services less sales oriented and more client oriented. “I saw that there wasn’t really an organization that was focused on helping advisors build a better business,” Reynolds says. “I felt it should be more aligned with business principles and helping clients live their dreams. So I started Investment Planning Counsel.”

Twenty years after Reynolds founded the company, IPC manages more than $24 billion in investments and is a financial planning firm with over 800 advisors, 300 offices, and a network that reaches 300,000 Canadians. Here, Reynolds speaks to Advantage about the lessons he learned from and since the farm, the state of the wealth-management industry, and how IPC is going to change it for the better.

I know you grew up on a farm—how has that experienced helped shape you as president and CEO of IPC?
Farms teach you work ethic. Even as a teenager we had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and work on the farm before school, and when we got home we had more chores. It was that work ethic that helps as an entrepreneur. If you’re used to hard work, work doesn’t really seem so bad. Getting into financial planning, it seemed like getting into the greatest business in the world. It paid you for fostering long-term relationships with clients. It was the greatest gig that I could ever think of.

The other thing I learned was accountability. Animals are counting on you. You’re their source of survival. So there weren’t really any excuses. That certainly helps in business when you realize that there are no excuses—you do whatever you put your mind to.

So since then, what would you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
I’m most proud of the team that we’ve put together at IPC. I mean that from both the internal team that we have here and the people that we get to work with every day. But also the advisors that we work with—who I would consider some of the best in the world in providing world-class advice and client experiences. Being surrounded by all of those people and knowing that I at least had a small part in it—that’s what I would consider my greatest accomplishment.

Why do you think you are successful?
My primary talent is finding other people who have much greater talents than I do and more or less getting out of their way. I would have to say, I’ve learned to be lazy in my old age. What that results in is giving my team a lot of empowerment. Other than setting direction and strategy, they do most of the work. I surround myself with very good people but also very alternate personalities—certainly people who are willing to challenge the status quo and me at times. If I had to pick a talent that’s gotten me the farthest its getting someone else to do my work! [Laughs.]

What excites you about your industry?
The main thing that I love about the financial industry is that our primary objective is developing relationships with our clients. Really and truly understanding their situation not just financially, but what their goals are, what their dreams are, who their children are, what their ambitions are from a legacy standpoint, and with that understanding, helping them to literally live their dreams.

Not too long ago we invited some of our clients and all of them talked about their dreams. “Remember when we were planning on going to China? Well we got to do that. Remember when we were going to send Lindsey, our daughter, through dental school? Well she set up her practice. Remember when I wanted to retire on Niagara on the Lake? The place closed the next week.” The real power of the financial planning industry is helping people achieve their goals. Within that there are certainly a lot of complexity around the investment world and complexity around taxation and estate and really just simplifying all those things so that people are confident that if they work hard they will get the things that they set their minds to.

“The industry thrives on making the simple complex. We love complexity to a fault.”

What about your pet peeves?
The industry thrives on making the simple complex. We love complexity to a fault. To the point where there are six different television channels dedicated to the financial world, which only makes it more confusing. I will say that there is a certain element within the industry that is more focused on financial sales. They are not necessarily focused on the client. That is totally contrary to the philosophy that we hold at IPC.

Where do you see you see the financial services industry headed?
There is a very large contingency of the population—which I call the mass affluent—who continue to appreciate good financial advice. They’re looking for somebody they can trust and who they can delegate their financial planning to and know that they’ll be guided through the ups and downs. But technology—whether it’s robo-advising or automation—is also changing the industry and introducing new challenges to independent financial advisors.

For a certain sector of the population that robo-advice will be all they need to get where they want to go. But, I believe there’s a place for both independent advisors and robo-advisors in the industry to thrive together. I don’t see one replacing the other. There are certain  clients  where that’s their methodology and they like to control their own destiny. There are other ones who want to focus on their life and delegate their financial well-being and guidance to somebody else who has access to better information, better disciplines, and has a more streamlined investment approach.

What really sets IPC apart from its competition?
If you look at the competitive landscape many of our competitors provide back-office services. And these are very good services—we do that as well. But our focal point is helping our advisors create and build a better business.

So what does building a better business look like?
Our aspiration is to work with advisors in three primary areas of their business. First is how to simplify their portfolio offering. What we find many times is that advisors hit what we call “the ceiling of complexity.” They’ve created such complexity around the portfolio management process for their clients—whether that’s different investments or products—that they literally have no time to deal with their clients. They certainly have no time to find new clients. What we help them with is really simplifying their whole philosophy around asset allocation models, rebalancing, and oversight.

That just frees up a tremendous amount of time that they can spend on the client experience, which I consider to be the next important part. It’s how you make each interaction with the client one that adds value to their personal situation. Whether it’s through better planning, helping them with their estate situation, or lowering taxes—this is where real value is created.

Thirdly, many clients complain that they never hear from their advisor or that they only hear from them when they want something. When really, if I’ve entrusted my money to somebody, I would like to hear from them on a regular basis—not only about what is going on but also what they are doing about it. So we help set up a communication plan—which includes reporting and communication tools—that advisors can use with their client to help them understand what’s going on in their portfolios oversight that’s being provided.

We have an Action Plan process that we take our advisors through as we help them build their business. We have an annual review to help them determine where they want to be in three years and what kinds of value they want to provide customers. Then we provide a defined methodology with steps on how to reach those objectives. For example, if they want to focus on the Total Client Experience, they can draw from 150 different customizable templates to help guide their interactions. We did an analysis and found that, on average, advisors who have followed the Action Plan process increased their assets by nearly 45 percent  compared to only 9.5 percent among those who didn’t.

As the head of the company, how do you divide your time between strategy, people, and customers?
Over a year of work it breaks down into thirds but it comes in different time frames. I actually color code my calendar so I can tell if each area is getting adequate attention. The nature of that approach is very cyclical because I get a lot of input on what’s working well and what needs attention from internal staff and our network of advisors, which brings me back to developing strategy to address those issues and best practices to share with the network.

IT MAKES A VILLAGE

“I volunteer—working with very poor villages in Honduras. It really gives me a huge appreciation of how good we have it here in North America. The group I volunteer with, Capenteros & Friends, works with the 120 families and 300 children under the age of 12 of specific villages in Honduras. You can imagine going into these places, where they sleep on dirt floors, have very poor latrine facilities, and have no access to fresh water. We’ve helped them put in cement floors, dig wells so they have fresh water, and create opportunities for them—from a personal aspect that is by far the most rewarding thing I spend my time on.”

What about company culture—what steps do you take to cultivate a healthy one?
The culture that we try to cultivate is one of empowerment—letting people do what they do best and trying to get out of their way. That’s why they were hired in the first place! But it’s also a culture of fun and teamwork—we have each other’s back. If nothing else, people will say that IPC is a fun place to work. Hopefully that culture spills over to our clients and advisors.

What sort of activities?
It’s something different every month! We actually had trampoline dodgeball recently. But all that taught me was that I’m very old and the team is very young because I got killed. We have a Spirit Committee that is very innovative and entertaining. It’s voluntary by staff and they organize anything that brings people together.

Looking back at your career, is there anything you wish you knew about running a business when you started?
I was very much an A-type personality. I was a self-proclaimed workaholic and happy to work 14-hour days, seven days a week. In fact I took great pride in that. But as I’ve grown I’ve found that it’s not very effective and it doesn’t let the people around you do their best work. I wish I knew that there is nothing stronger than finding good people and empowering them to do great things.

What does the future hold for IPC?
We have a very big focus now on a program we call “IPC Private Wealth.” IPC Private Wealth is a particular platform that we’ve developed for high net-worth clients—which we define as any client with more than $500,000 in an account. In about three years, we’ve grown this program to over $600 million in assets under management. We anticipate that we’ll be well over a $1 billion by the end of 2016. This is now becoming a bigger and bigger part of our organization because there’s a very big market. It really falls into a big demographic of  people who are selling businesses, property, or inheriting large sums of money, and they’re not really sure how to manage that money or what it means for them from a financial planning point of view. We can only see this area of the market  growing faster over the coming years.

Additional Reporting by Jeff Silver