Many teens boost their spending money by selling clothes, serving food or landscaping. But Daniel Roy, founder of Praxis Wealth Management Inc. in Ottawa, was 17 when he decided to spend his summer working for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Although that choice was somewhat unusual, it also led to unusual experiences, Roy says: “Driving jeeps, blowing stuff up, throwing grenades, firing rifles. You don’t get to do that as a civilian. In the army, you get to do that.”

Roy enjoyed that summer so much that he’s made the army a part of his life ever since. Exposure to the Armed Forces also helped shape his choice of studies, which eventually led to an MA in international relations. He remained a part-time reservist and a Forces mechanic while attending university.

Although Roy eventually chose a career as a financial advisor, he says being in the army and studying world issues has added to his professional expertise and sensitized him to the investing implications of international events.

As a result, Roy still keeps a close eye on world events, looking for clues about the future behaviour of markets and investments that could affect his clients.

“You get a very good appreciation of the macro[economic] events that are going on and their repercussions on the investment world,” says Roy. “You look at areas of the world where there’s declining economic activity. There’s a direct parallel between appreciating what’s going on in the world at that high level and how to apply that in the investment world.”

Roy became an independent advisor in 1987, but he maintained his part-time connection with the Forces until 1992.

He spoke to Investment Executive shortly after the killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Roy notes that such events will be a “new reality” for Canada: “The war on terrorism is not ‘over there.’ It’s everywhere, including in Canada.”

Roy knew that helping others realize their financial goals would be a good use of his international expertise but, like many rookie advisors, he understood at the beginning of his career that he would need to target a community he understood.

“You’re sitting there, you’re brand new in the industry and you [don’t have any] clients,” recalls Roy. “Every advisor gets licensed, gets their business card and they go: ‘What am I going to do next?'”

It did not take Roy long, however, to realize that he was already close to a community that might be in need of financial advice: the Forces. In particular, Roy says his experiences with the rigours of basic training set him apart from other financial advisors.

As he notes, not many advisors have spent long nights in a wet, dark trench, waiting for peers who were role-playing as the “enemy” to “attack” during a training exercise. For the uninitiated, he says, “It’s hard to get into the smells, the things that are going on in your mind [and] how tired you are.”

Still, he adds, soldiers have the same anxieties as civilians do about saving for their families and wondering if their retirement plans are financially viable.

The strategy paid off, and Roy, a bilingual advisor, was soon meeting with members of the Forces to discuss their financial affairs.

However, Roy has since expanded the scope of his practice greatly. While soldiers and their families now comprise 10%-15% of Roy’s clients, he now serves a wide client base, drawn mostly from professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants.

In addition, Roy has recently begun to refocus his practice on his middle-aged clients. Roy says this decision flowed directly from experience with his clients: he would find himself in lengthy review meetings with clients in this age group, discussing their portfolios. However, they would not necessarily be worried about money. Instead, they wanted to talk about how they would spend their time in retirement.

Roy felt he did not have the resources to provide that type of guidance so he made it his mission to learn more. This inspired him to rebrand himself as a specialist in preparing for retirement.

One aspect of this process was developing a greater understanding of retirement issues. Roy acquired this knowledge by earning the elder planning counsellor and certified retirement coach (CRC) designations – in addition to his other designations, which include the certified financial planner and chartered strategic wealth professional.

This blending of skills allows Roy to help his clients with both the “hard” and “soft” aspects of retirement planning. He takes clients through his four pillars of retirement: finances, health, relationships and life purpose. “If you retire and you have no notion of what you’re going to be doing to bring meaning to your life,” he says, “you will gradually feel empty.”

Roy asks clients two very specific questions: “When you were 12 years old, what did you dream of accomplishing? And were you successful?”

Roy has found that the answers can be surprising. Clients may want to launch a second career, travel or take on a new hobby. However, there must be a purpose to these activities. “If they tell me they’re going to go fishing,” Roy says, “I know they haven’t made any plans at all.”

After clients share their lifelong goals with Roy, he crunches the numbers to ensure that those ambitions are financially viable.

Roy’s rebranding also includes an extensive marketing strategy to circulate his message through various channels. In addition to an active social-media presence, he shares his expertise through local media such as his regular column for an Ottawa-based magazine.

Roy is also awaiting publication of his first book, which will discuss his four pillars of retirement, entitled, The Essential Guide to Retirement Readiness.

Although Roy left the Forces in 1992, he still shares his fascination with Canadian military history through his volunteer work at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where he guides tours and uses his mechanical background to explain the technical evolution of weaponry.

He became involved with the museum with the encouragement of his wife, Raymonde, and their two teenage daughters, Veronique and Sophie.

Says Roy: “My kids and my wife were tired of all of my war stories, so they said, ‘Dad, you need to share your knowledge with a public that will be receptive to hearing that stuff’.”

Find unique ways to build a brand

Daniel Roy, founder of Praxis Wealth Management Inc. in Ottawa, has undergone an intensive rebranding process. Here are his tips for advisors looking to refocus their practice:

1. Establish your “ideal client” profile

An advisor’s planning interests and clients’ needs must be connected, says Roy. So, advisors have to conduct a comprehensive examination of what their current client base looks like. Study details such as clients’ professional backgrounds, life stages and interests.

“From there, the basic question is: ‘Are those the kind of clients you want to keep on targeting?'” Roy says. “‘Or are there other sections of your client base that are more appealing to you?'”

2. Look for what makes you unique

Advisors need a positioning statement that separates them from their peers.

Says Roy: “Financial planners essentially do the same thing, so what makes you different from the next person? Is it your process, the products you use, your target market?”

3. Get out there

A strong marketing strategy is not for the timid, according to Roy.

“You have to put your inhibitions away and just go talk to the people in positions that make decisions,” he says.

For advisors looking to increase their community exposure, approaching the executives of local media outlets and explaining how you can appeal to their audience can help.

4. Regularly revisit your brand

Advisors must remember they are running a business in addition to providing clients with financial security.

“As business people, [advisors] need to make sure that their services and their message is still relevant,” says Roy. “If they’re not, advisors are going to fall behind.”

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