After graduating in 1987 from the University of Western Ontario with a BA in physical education and economics, Scott Findlay held a number of positions in the financial-services industry—including advisor, director of agencies, and regional manager.
In 2000, Findlay—who was later elected to the board of directors of the professional association Independent Financial Brokers of Canada, in 2003—purchased a financial-services firm. Valley-Wide Financial Corp. now has offices/representatives in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, White Rock, and Ft. Saint John, British Columbia, as well as Regina, Saskatchewan. The firm serves corporate clients and also provides support and resources to more than 30 independent brokers who help individuals grow and protect their assets.
Advantage spoke with Findlay about how he’s achieved a healthy 22 percent growth rate for the past two years—and the challenges he’s faced managing both the client and broker side of his firm.
Advantage: You’ve been in the industry for more than 24 years. How did you get your start?
Scott Findlay: I didn’t graduate and say, “I want to be an insurance agent.” Two items tweaked my interest: you could have money freedom and time freedom, and you could dictate how you want to work and when you work.
What inspired you to make the move back to financial advising full-time in 2000?
The company I was with was going through a transition from regional to brokerage offices and offered to move me to Vancouver or Ontario. During the process, one of the independent brokerage agents I’d worked with said, “Why don’t you consider buying my practice?” I decided to set up a managing general agency, purchased his business, and started Valley-Wide with another partner. I knew opportunities were there—other brokers and offices needed a place to run their business through.
What challenges did you face?
On the sales side, we didn’t have relationships with the client base I’d purchased. On the management side, it was certainly challenging to determine how we could be unique in terms of our value proposition compared to other brokers out there. The owner was selling the practice because he was retiring, so the transition was very, very good from that perspective. He’s actually still with us and is 78. His presence has been very helpful to maintain those relationships. I’ve subsequently brought other practices that were more challenging because they’d folded—the transition was more abrupt.
How do you maintain communication across the organization?
Thirty active brokers do business through us. In 2000, it was just two of us. We have regular monthly meetings where companies that supply insurance or investment products come in and present to all representatives.
Graduates from the University of Western Ontario with a BA in physical education and economics
Purchases Valley-Wide Financial Corp.
Elected to the board of directors of the professional association of Independent Financial Brokers of Canada
Achieves a healthy growth rate of 22%
How have industry changes affected your work?
Governmental bodies in the insurance and investment industries have become very aggressive about regulating us. We’ve had to hire staff to look after regulation concerns. They have regular meetings to make sure they’re doing procedure implementation properly. Cost is a challenge—and can be more onerous for a smaller firm. That’s not to say rules are bad; they’re there to protect consumers. We just have to be concerned that they don’t penalize small firms from operating effectively.
What other challenges has Valley-Wide faced?
Navigating a client through turbulent markets—a negative economy makes clients behave more reactively. Our role as advisors is to keep them focused on their long-term goals. Keeping clients satisfied is often more challenging in a volatile climate. On the management side, the biggest challenge is to maintain the numbers and keep growing. It’s also important to look after the brokers so they don’t leave. We spent a lot of time systemizing our procedures to deal with customers, brokers, and agents. Documenting how someone answers the phone, business plans for corporations we deal with—that’s really helped us stay focused.
How did you achieve Valley-Wide’s 22 percent annual growth rate?
Focusing on our core business activities and staying true to who we are. Taking on new agencies has helped us grow. We also provide shares of our company to some of our better producers—the reason we can do that is because we’re small and nimble. We make sure we know how our agents and brokers are. Some companies know maybe 10 percent of their agents; we’re not trying to grow to that size. We want to maintain that niche marketplace aspect.
What advice would you offer financial advisors starting out in the industry?
Become a big prospector and become referable. So many reps in their first four to five years probably quit mentally 10 times. It’s important to get in front of people and ask for referrals. If you persevere, this business is second to none in terms of potential and opportunities.