When Bob Vandewater talks about a commitment to long-term investing, people listen. And why wouldn’t they? The veteran investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy in Winnipeg celebrated his 50th anniversary with that firm last June.
To put that tenure into perspective, when Vandewater started as a bond trader in Toronto back in 1964, Beatlemania was sweeping North America, the U.S. surgeon general’s report that first linked smoking with lung cancer was released and Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters made their débuts on television.
Vandewater has remained in the investment industry for five decades because he loves the business, his job and his clients.
“Over time, you develop a relationship with a lot of the clients, and they become like family,” says Vandewater, age 72. “You do things that are not just buying and selling; you’re counselling them on debt, how to deal with their estate and keep them out of trouble. You become like a family friend.”
In 1966, Vandewater was transferred to Winnipeg, where he took over the book of an advisor who had been transferred to another city. Later, Vandewater worked in Regina from 1969 to 1973 before returning to Winnipeg for good. Upon his return to that city, Vandewater worked in institutional sales and became a vice president and branch manager who still maintains his own book.
Vandewater attributes his loyalty to the firm to his admiration for Charles Gundy (son of co-founder George Gundy), who was the company’s president when Vandewater joined the firm. He describes the younger Gundy as a “total role model of integrity.”
“He was an absolutely beautiful human being,” Vandewater says of Gundy. “He was committed to his firm, his country and his people. If you had problems, the ‘family’ helped you solve them. They never let you down, and I never let them down because they earned my loyalty.
“I was offered opportunities to work elsewhere for a whole whack of money,” Vandewater adds. “But I would have been uncomfortable doing that. I respected the culture and the Wood Gundy family more than you can imagine.”
Vandewater has witnessed many changes in the investment industry throughout his career. When he was a junior advisor, he and his peers learned like apprentices, working during the day and taking courses in the evening. “Two years [after training started], you might be allowed to speak to the public,” he says. “When a director came by, you stood up.”
And when a junior advisor reached his second anniversary of service, he would receive a visit from Gundy, who would present the employee with a copy of the “Wood Gundy bible.”
“It was a yield book,” Vandewater says. “That’s how you priced bonds. Now, there are calculators … on computers.”
When Vandewater first arrived in Winnipeg, he recalls, he and his colleagues got stock quotes from a teletype system. “Later,” he says, “we shared a quote machine between two of us.”
Vandewater believes the biggest changes have occurred in the area of compliance. Compliance issues, he says, have recently become an obstacle to advisors’ ability to conduct business. The records advisors are required to keep – regarding suitability, for example – and requirements on the part of management, he says, are a hindrance.
“It has become very heavy-handed now,” he says of the compliance culture, “with the level of written documentation required. That’s the thing that has changed the most, and it takes some of the fun out of it.”
Yet, Vandewater has served in a position of compliance oversight. In the late 1970s, he was chairman of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada’s (a predecessor to the Investment Industry Regulatory Association of Canada) Western Business Conduct Committee. He oversaw the discipline of firms and advisors who had run afoul of the rules.
Looking back, Vandewater downplays the seriousness of those digressions: “It wasn’t fraud. [Our role] was to keep a balance and keep people tuned up.”
At this late stage of his career, Vandewater is reluctant to take on any new clients. He is proud to point out that he still works with his first-ever client.
“Quietly, he thinks I’m a miracle,” Vandewater says of this client. “He was a priest without much money, and now he has money and he can’t believe it.”
Although Vandewater does not plan to retire right away, he is making preparations to transfer his business. “It takes time to [make the] transition out of the business,” he says. “You want to get your clients into the hands of people you trust.”
Throughout Vandewater’s career, he has eschewed making cold calls to build his book. Instead, he preferred to build his reputation by volunteering for a variety of boards. Over the years, he has been a director of the Health Science Centre, the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, the Manitoba Club, St. Paul’s High School and the Kinsmen Club.
He also has been chairman of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba IDA districts, chairman of the Canadian Securities Institute and president of the Winnipeg Stock Exchange. He is honorary lieutenant colonel of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and was the vice president of the Royal Military Institute of Manitoba.
Community work is good for business, Vandewater says: “People saw that I was the finance chair at the Health Science Centre, and thought I knew what I was doing. And that attracted clients.”
Vandewater also gained clients through referrals from accountants, thanks in part to his position on the board of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba. He also is an honourary chartered accountant.
Once a client was on board, Vandewater would set out to create a long-term relationship in which he “did the right things in a strategic way over time, bought value and was patient.”
Vandewater is a member of the St. Charles Country Club, but plays only the occasional round of golf. “My athletic endeavour,” he says, “is snooker at the Manitoba Club.”
Four simple rules for success
After a half-century in the investment business, Bob Vandewater, investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy in Winnipeg, has seen it all. Several times. He offers four simple rules for new financial advisors:
1. If it’s not in the client’s best interest, don’t do it.
2. Join a firm that has a culture that you believe in and are comfortable with.
3. Be disciplined – very disciplined.
“Come in before 8 a.m.,” Vandewater says, “stay there until 5 p.m., do your homework, nurture your clients, do a good job for them and they’ll help provide referrals. Be a person of your word, even if you’ve made a mistake. Your word is your bond.”
4. Get involved with your community.
“Show people that you’re there to contribute to the community,” Vandewater says, “and not just to make money. People respect talent and they respect professionalism. They don’t respect people trying to sell them something, like a hot stock tip. This isn’t our business.”
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