Prem Malik believes that you should never use a cookie-cutter approach in providing financial advice to your clients.
“No two people are alike,” he says. “Investment strategies should be as unique as the people for whom they are developed.”
Financial planning isn’t just about risk tolerance and managing money, he tells his clients. Rather, he says, “It’s about you, your family, your current goals and your future dreams.”
Malik, an investment advisor with Queensbury Securities Inc. in Toronto and an insurance advisor with its affiliate, Queensbury Insurance Brokers, also holds two accounting designations: chartered accountant (CA) in the U.K. and chartered professional accountant (CPA) in Canada. Those qualifications, he says, broaden the scope of advice he provides to his clients.
Malik takes a holistic approach to financial planning. He spends copious amounts of time discovering and rediscovering his clients’ details to ensure he has a complete understanding of their current and future needs.
Malik has slightly more than $60 million in assets under administration, with approximately 40%-50% invested in mutual funds, 30%-35% in ETFs and 15% in individual securities. He also offers life, disability and critical illness insurance products.
In keeping with Malik’s holistic approach, he provides advice on estate planning, living wills and powers of attorney, which he typically offers through his centres of influence (COIs) – lawyers and accountants – after he has conducted a thorough analysis of a client’s needs.
Once Malik refers a client to a COI, he monitors that client’s progress with that COI.
“I follow up and receive regular feedback from [that client],” Malik says, “to ensure that my clients’ needs are met based on plans we originally developed.”
Prior to becoming a financial advisor 17 years ago, Malik, age 64, had a diverse career in the corporate world spanning more than two decades. He began his career at Peat Marwick (an accounting firm, which now is part of KPMG LLP following a merger in 1987) in England in 1978 before moving to that firm’s Calgary office in 1980.
He subsequently joined Royal Trust Corp. of Canada as managing partner of the division that administers assets for mutual fund and pension fund portfolio managers. Later, Malik joined the mutual fund firm Global Strategy Financial (acquired by AGF Management Ltd. in 2000) as director of national sales.
Having worked for 15 years in investment funds administration and for 10 years in mutual fund sales, Malik has a deep understanding of the dynamics in the investment industry and the role of advisors.
“I admired the passion [that advisors] have for building their business,” he says. “But I also saw their strengths and weaknesses, [which] provided me with invaluable experience that I can apply to my own practice.”
But more important, he discovered that one of his strongest skills is in communicating with clients – which, he says, is critical for advisors.
Malik began his stint in the advisory business as a commissions-based advisor under the purview of the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada. He later made the transition to the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada platform in 2010 so that he could offer a broader range of investment strategies to his clients.
Two years ago, Malik began to move to a fee-based account structure. Only a small percentage of his client accounts remain commissions-based.
“My goal,” he says, “is to become 100% fee-based soon.”
Malik offers a tiered fee structure, with fees declining once certain asset thresholds are achieved.
Malik does very little marketing. He maintains a personal blog and also communicates with his clients regularly via email.
“One hundred per cent of my business comes from referrals,” he says. “I am quite comfortable growing my book one client at a time.”
(Referrals come primarily from existing clients and often are the children of those clients.)
Clients are more likely to refer you if you gain their trust and confidence, Malik says. And building trust begins at the discovery phase and continues through the lifetime of the client.
As well, Malik maintains a group of 15 trusted clients who act as “informal centres of influence.” He meets with each of these clients for lunch on a rotating basis once or twice a month to gauge, by using a soft, subtle approach, how he can obtain referrals from them. He encourages these clients to bring their spouses to the lunch meetings.
“[Serving clients well] is not just about investments and financial planning,” Malik says. “It’s also about helping clients grow personally and professionally. Clients must trust you enough to call you about financial matters at any time.”
Engage clients in conversation and listen to their story, he advises, bearing in mind that each story is unique. This is the only way to get to know your clients well. You also should remember to revisit their stories at each face-to-face meeting – or more frequently, if warranted.
Although Malik does not have a minimum asset threshold for clients, any clients he takes on must fit his values. “[Prospects] must appreciate what I bring to the table,” he says. “There must be good chemistry between us.”
Malik may turn away prospects whom he believes are not a good fit. In order to determine if that fit exists, he goes through a diligent process to ensure prospects are comfortable with his approach, his process and his fees. He often asks straightforward questions, such as: “What are the key reasons for choosing me? Are you prepared to follow my recommendations? Why are you leaving your current advisor?”
Malik aways discusses the reasons for making his recommendations with clients, but sometimes finds that some clients prefer to make their own investment suggestions.
He tells such clients subtly that he is “not an order-taker” and that he uses a diligent investment approach. Malik’s rationale is simple: ultimately, he takes responsibility for the performance of his clients’ portfolios.
Malik emphasizes the im- portance of managing client expectations. “Never overpromise clients anything,” he says.
Malik travels to India at least twice a year to help take care of his aging parents, doing his part to share this responsibility with his siblings. He also uses this time to relax, reflect and “recharge his batteries.”
Malik enjoys golf and is an avid squash player. He has been a member of a local squash club for several years, but, he adds, although he is well acquainted with members of his squash club, he never promotes his business to them. People go to clubs to relax, he says, not to listen to a sales pitch.
Malik, although of Indian heritage, was born in Prague. His father was a diplomat who worked for India’s foreign service; thus, Malik lived in several countries as a child, including Norway and a number of South American countries.
One of the special relationships Malik’s father developed while working in the foreign service is with the Dalai Lama, whom, Malik says, is a revered family friend: “His Holiness has blessed my family.”
As an adult, Malik studied in England to become a CA. He also is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in the U.K.
Malik and his wife, Nishi, a retired school teacher who had worked in the Montessori system, have two sons, Sanjiv and Navin, both of whom have successful careers on Bay Street.
When Malik retires, he expects to transfer his book of business to one of his sons. But don’t expect that to happen any time soon.
“I love what I do,” he says. “And I plan to stay on for a while.”