Special Feature

Advisors giving back 2014

In this Building Your Business special feature, we look at financial advisors who donate significant time and expertise to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate. From creating a concert hall to promoting financial literacy and building schools in Africa, these advisors shine at making time and money work harder. From the Mid-February 2014 issue of Investment Executive.

Alfred Chien, an advisor with BMO in Vancouver, oversaw the launch of a free tutoring program for high-school students in one the city's less fortunate districts. He has also created new fundraising activities and a merit award for local volunteers

By Donalee Moulton | Mid-February 2014

As an entrepreneurial student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Alfred Chien began a tutoring company for high-school students struggling with math. As part of that venture, he hired other UBC students to assist in other subjects.

Although Chien left the tutoring company behind to enter the financial services sector, his experience in running the company made an indelible impact on him. Chien, a financial advisor with Bank of Montreal (BMO) in Vancouver, has turned that idea into a tutoring camp to help needy students from the city's east end.

"Education can change people's lives, but lots of people don't have the money for a tutor," Chien, 34, says. "It's time for me to pay it back."

The seeds for the tutoring camp were sown in 2010, when a friend encouraged Chien to join the Vancouver Chinatown New Century Lions Club, an organization for 20- to 40-year-olds dedicated to community service. Within two years, Chien was president of the club.

Chien, 34, established the tutoring camp in 2012 as one of the club's three annual initiatives. Now, up to 10 students from East Vancouver, one the city's poorer districts, turn out at a Lions Club hall for a little extracurricular help every Saturday. "There is no cost whatsoever," Chien says.

The program is promoted through local high schools. Students sign up for help in the subject areas in which they're struggling, although the focus is predominantly on math and English.

"So far, students are coming in regularly," Chien says. "Sometimes, students don't realize they need tutoring. In other cases, they may be embarrassed."

Participants share one goal, says Chien, who originally planned to become a teacher: "These are kids who want to go to university."

Chien is a Hong Kong native who immigrated to Canada in 1995. As an immigrant, he says, he wants to give back to the country that embraced him as a teenager and now as an adult. "I've gotten a lot of benefits from living in Canada," he says.

At one point, Chien considered returning to China, but decided he was more comfortable and content in Canada, both personally and professionally. "It was very tempting," he says. "But I like the people in Vancouver. In Hong Kong, it's all about sales. Here, it's the personal side, with an emphasis on the family. In Canada, it's not about the money."

Chien began his career with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Vancouver's Chinatown, then moved to a call-centre position with HSBC Bank Canada. "I wanted to see if people would understand me," he says, "if they couldn't see my face."

Chien joined BMO two years ago.

When he was president of the Chinatown Lions Club (his tenure ended this year), Chien wanted to diversify the membership - primarily bankers and accountants - and he wanted to move the group into new ways of thinking and doing things.

For example, he replaced the traditional fundraising dinner with more fun and active events, such as a badminton tournament and bartending classes, with the proceeds going to charity.

He formed a partnership last year with the Sing Tao Daily newspaper to establish the Lions Club Medal of Merit Award: Outstanding Young Leaders. The award recognizes individuals who give their time to charities, especially on a smaller, local level. The medal program honours the volunteer efforts of three individuals from the Asian community in Canada by donating a $1,000 prize, funded by local sponsors, to their charity of choice.

For Chien, volunteering is an opportunity to meet new people and gain new experiences. "It creates a bond," he says. "You can't expect any return. Your motivation needs to be pure."

Volunteering does require time and effort, however, and not everyone at every stage of their life will have either of those to spare.

"At this point," Chien says, "I still have energy and I'm young enough to be seen as a brother to young people."

© 2014 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.