Rowena Chan, the new head of TD Wealth Financial Planning, wants to double assets under administration

By Fiona Collie | March 2017

Rowena Chan may have spent her career at one financial services institution, Toronto-based Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), but she has never shied away from trying something new. For more than 25 years, Chan has worked in a wide range of roles at the bank, from retail branch management to data analytics.

Most recently, she has taken the lead as senior vice president of TD Wealth Financial Planning, a unit of TD Wealth Management, where she spent part of her career.

"This is my third time coming back to [the financial planning] business," says Chan. "I'm very passionate about it because of how it's integrated with the rest of the bank, so that we can bring the whole of TD to deliver value to our clients. I really like its fast growth."

Chan has no plans to stop moving forward. Having stepped into her new role in December 2016, she now oversees about 1,300 people, 930 of whom are financial planners, with the rest working in roles that range from financial planning associates - who act as support staff to planners - to a small team focused on strategy.

TD's financial planners work with clients who have $100,000-$750,000 in investible assets, mostly mutual funds, at TD branches across the country. TD Wealth Financial Planning has $57 billion in assets under administration - a number Chan intends to double in the next four years. Says Chan: "We will be hiring regularly and consistently to continue to grow the business."

Chan says she values the "people" side of her business. As an international student at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, she studied sociology and economics. After graduation, she returned home to Hong Kong for a stint working in communications for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, one of the busiest in the world. Following that introduction to financial services, and she returned to Canada and began her career at TD in the bank's management business rotation program. The program allows participants to work in several retail branches and positions over the course of a year, creating a rapid on-ramp to management in the retail bank environment. Chan says she chose TD largely because of this opportunity and because the bank is "people-oriented."

Chan then moved quickly into a number of leadership roles within the bank, including product development and acquisition strategy for TD Visa. She also worked for TD Direct Investing, the bank's discount broker. Her in-depth experience in financial planning began in 2007, when she worked as an associate vice president of the division until 2008, also with a focus on business development and national office functions. Says Chan: "It's possible to have multiple careers and to learn multiple new things under one pension plan."

More recently, Chan held positions in TD's legal and data strategy divisions. Between 2013 and 2015, Chan was vice president, TD legal. As part of that role, Chan, who describes the job as similar to that of a chief operations officer, helped to improve the efficiency of the bank's legal department operations and to build an external counsel-relationship management model. As well, between 2015 and December of 2016, Chan was vice president, data strategy, analytics, business communications and business solutions for TD Wealth Management.

In that role, Chan and her group studied data provided to the bank by clients, looking for clients' communication preferences, such as the kind of information they would like to receive, when they would like to hear about it and how.

For example, by analyzing client data, the bank might realize that the best way to talk to a specific client about opening an account is to contact her by phone after 5 p.m. on a weeknight. "That's a very exciting strategy because data are very critical," says Chan, "and we really want to build a comprehensive data strategy that can allow us to get closer to our clients."

Chan's experience using this data to develop strategies for connecting with specific clients made her realize how innovative technology can help build the client/advisor relationship.

For example, TD Wealth Financial Planning will soon launch a new tech tool that will help advisors delve more deeply into the details of their client's financial needs and preferences.

Chan also sees opportunity in digital asset allocation platforms, a.k.a. robo-advisors. She argues that although clients are becoming more digitally savvy, many will want to continue to have a human advisor help them with their finances. Her department is moving forward in this area, with plans to adopt some form of robo-advisor technology - unseen by clients - that will allow advisors to streamline the services that the bank provides to clients, while advisors continue to meet with clients in person, especially regarding financial planning. Says Chan: "What we really try to look at is how we can integrate the best of both worlds."

Chan says TD has already begun that integration between humans and technology. The bank uses what it calls an "omni-dial" or "omni-channel" approach to smoothing out client interactions with the bank. For example, when a client logs on to a TD app, he must authenticate his identity to access his information with the "omni-dial" channel. However, that client will not have to identify himself again during that session, even if he moves from using the app to talking directly with a customer representative over the phone.

"I think [the question] is: 'How do we leverage the omni-channels to help investors interact with us via different channels seamlessly?'" says Chan. "I think we have tackled the opportunities quite well, and we need to continue to do that."

In addition to technology, Chan plans to focus on ensuring the financial products offered to clients are appropriate, given changing regulations about fees and commissions and the resulting trend toward more fee-based services and products. "The industry is going more fee-based," she says. "So, how are we going to insure that we have the right product lineup that can speak to client's needs?"

To that end, Chan is ensuring her advisors are prepared for the new world of client relationships that is likely to develop once clients have received the new investment account reports required under CRM2. "I would say we are completely supportive of this change," she says, "because customers have been asking for more transparency in performance and cost."

For someone who clearly enjoys mastering a constantly changing business environment, it's likely that the fundamental shifts coming to the client/advisor relationship - on many fronts - are something to be embraced, not shunned.

© 2017 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.