iStock/Lisa Marie

A year after announcing a transformative wealth acquisition, Canadian Western Bank (CWB) executives say the bank is ready to compete to manage the wealth of high-net-worth (HNW) entrepreneurs.

“[The big banks] can’t match [us], even with all of their resources, because they still have to be everything to everyone,” said Stephen Murphy, executive vice-president of banking with Edmonton-based CWB.

CWB’s deal to acquire T.E. Wealth and Leon Frazer & Associates from iA Financial Group, which was announced in March 2020, meant that CWB more than tripled the size of its wealth business in terms of assets under management, administration and advisement. 

The goal now, CWB executives said, is to integrate the scaled-up wealth business with the bank’s commercial and personal banking units to create a “seamless” platform tailored to business-owner clients.

While the Big Six have made efforts in recent years to align their HNW advisory businesses internally, “they can’t seem to unpack the intra-competitiveness” of their channels, suggested Murphy, who has overseen wealth management for CWB since late 2019. Murphy said CWB hopes to avoid the “lumpiness and tripping on one another behind the scenes” that besets the big banks.

“Nobody has brought [commercial banking, personal banking and wealth management] together in a way that feels seamless, feels fully integrated, at the client end,” said Matt Evans, president and CEO of CWB Wealth Management, the bank’s wealth brand. “We think that’s our real disruptive opportunity.”

CWB acquired about $6 billion in assets under management, administration and advisement in the deal for T.E. Wealth and Leon Frazer, which provide financial planning and wealth management services to high-net-worth clients. The transaction brought CWB’s total assets to about $8.5 billion at close in June 2020.

As of mid-April 2021, CWB held about $9.5 billion in total private wealth assets, Evans said, including about $2 billion of assets under advisement as part of T.E. Wealth’s Indigenous Services business.

The deal allowed CWB to extend its footprint into Ontario and Quebec, while scaling up its existing business in Western Canada. CWB now has about 40 client-facing teams, and 200 employees across the country, providing fully discretionary investment management and wealth advisory services. “We want to be present where a great deal of entrepreneurial wealth creation is happening,” Evans said.

Since the deal closed, CWB has realigned some back and middle-office teams and investment management staff within its wealth businesses, “all with the goal of simplifying the model, clarifying some goals and responsibilities, and supporting our client experience at the front end,” Evans said. He added that the changes were part of “a multi-year journey to shape the private wealth platform.”

A key part of that journey will be addressing branding issues and clearing “channel confusion,” Murphy said. CWB has five “legacy” investment and asset management platforms in the market: CWB Wealth Management, CWB McLean & Partners, CWB Western Financial, T.E. Wealth and Leon Frazer.

The plan is to have a “road map” on branding by the end of the current fiscal year, Evans said: “Each of those brands has strength. We are taking our time, we are listening to our clients and our people, and considering the right strategy.”

The third leg of the growth strategy will be upgrading the bank’s digital tools and technology, with execution beginning next year, Evans said. Clients will always prioritize personal service and experience, “but they also want smooth, powerful technology behind that experience,” he said.

Evans said he’s pleased with the current mix of CWB’s asset management capabilities, with about half of the bank’s core assets under management held in proprietary strategies — including separately managed accounts and pooled funds — and the other half managed through third-party subadvisor relationships, primarily on the T.E. Wealth platform.

“We want to provide our clients with breadth of choice and fully diversified portfolios,” Evans said, “but we don’t want to try to cover the whole field ourselves.”

Evans said his focus will remain on supporting CWB’s existing client-facing teams rather than on adding advisors, at least during the integration process. “We are always interested in finding top talent and I think in due course, as our reputation grows as an elite player in wealth management, we’ll attract folks,” he said.

In the same vein, CWB will focus on “getting the integration right” rather than on looking for further wealth acquisitions over the near term, Murphy said: “We have the critical mass now to actually unlock the potential of [our] strategy.”