In 2008, a crisis befell the financial markets, and by September 17, 2008, more public corporations had filed for bankruptcy in the United States than in all of 2007, triggering a crisis of confidence that sent the global financial markets into a tailspin. While most financial companies faltered, one in particular chugged on, thanks in part to its diversified offerings.
“All four companies under the Global umbrella function in the financial-services industry, but each one focuses on a different area and has its own strengths and weaknesses,” says Sam Bouji, CEO of the Global family of companies, one of the largest independent financial-services firms in Canada, with more than 200,000 clients collectively. “If one of our companies feels the pressure of market events, our other companies are likely going smoothly. That allows us to not just persevere through tough times but to thrive.”
Global is the brainchild of Bouji, an Egyptian immigrant who began selling Group Scholarship Plans, an education savings plan in which contributions are pooled together and invested mostly in fixed-income instruments, in 1989. It was a new field for Bouji, but he excelled. Over the course of the following years, he noticed there was room for an individual education savings plan that could be more responsive to the needs of Canadians who want their children to have postsecondary education. In November 1996, Bouji created the Global Educational Trust Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that created an education savings plan, and in 1998 he got approval to distribute it through Global RESP Corporation (formerly Global Educational Marketing Corporation). The distinct features of that product—which Bouji called the Global Educational Trust Plan—led to rapid success, and Bouji began exploring other areas of the financial-services industry.
Today, the Global family of companies serves clients in every Canadian province and has offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax, as well as affiliate offices across Canada. With 150 full-time employees and close to 1,300 independent sales associates, Global provides services to 200,000 Canadians through four divisions: Global RESP Corporation (a distributor of education savings plans), Global Insurance Solutions Inc. (a distributor of insurance products), Global Maxfin Investments Inc. (a distributor of mutual funds), and Global Maxfin Capital Inc. (a full-service securities dealership).
“We cater to the family market,” Bouji explains. “With Global products, you can ensure your family’s safety with life insurance, plan for your children’s education with an education savings plan, save for retirement with a retirement account, and invest whatever you have left over in a full-service brokerage account. We have a product for every Canadian at every life stage.”
It’s a strategy that works well for Global’s clients, the sales associates who sell the company’s products. “Our sales associates have the opportunity to carry up to three licenses, which allow them to sell everything they need to develop a full financial solution for their clients, the Canadians who rely on our products,” Bouji says.
Global’s diversification also, as noted, lets it get through tough times. During the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, for example, the mutual-fund industry suffered tremendously, with many funds declining by 40 percent and losing 60 percent of their assets. Although that affected Global Maxfin Investments, Global RESP Corporation was going strong. “We invest securely because we want people who purchase our plan to sleep at night, knowing they’ll be able to send their children to postsecondary education,” Bouji says. “While that might lead to lower returns in good times, it protects principal in difficult times. The Global Educational Trust Plan, which is now 13 years old, has never reported a calendar-year with negative returns, and has provided about a 4.8 percent average annual return since its inception.”
That’s not just a good track record for a single division; it gives Global the liquidity to acquire other entities as needed. “When the markets declined in 2008 and 2009, many smaller businesses suffered, and we saw an investment opportunity,” Bouji says. “Over the past seven years, we’ve acquired seven small and medium-size financial entities.” Included, he says, are some mutual-fund dealers. By acquiring their assets when they were down in the financial crisis, Global was able to benefit when the markets rebounded in 2010.
“I dream and I plan,” says Bouji of the vision behind Global’s diversification strategy, but he notes that overcoming tough times starts with a unique perspective. “You have to understand that there are things you can control and things you can’t control. The things you can control, you must be aware of and deal with; the things you can’t control, you have to let go. That’s not to say you ignore them; you acknowledge them, but you accept the situation and do whatever you can, personally, to make a difference in your own life.”
As an example, Bouji points to the European debt crisis, which has driven the global markets’ wild ride of the past year. “We have nothing to do with that situation, but we feel the impact regardless,” he says. “I could stay awake at night worrying about the markets, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. Instead, I review my vision and stay steady in my plan, making changes to accommodate the situation wherever possible.”