Nicholas Hounsell built his business the old-fashioned way.
When he was a rookie financial advisor 15 years ago, Hounsell made 100 cold calls a week. His boss and mentor at the time warned him that the success rate would be low. For every 100 calls, only 10 people were likely to respond; four would agree to meet; and one would become a client.
“I knew there was a significant road you had to go down,” says Hounsell, now principal and president of Bloom Wealth & Legacy Planning in Halifax, which operates under the umbrella of Quebec City-based Investia Financial Services Inc. “Still, I wasn’t prepared for how hard [building a practice] was going to be.”
Hounsell, a Newfoundland native, first became interested in the financial services field by watching his father, a chartered accountant who operated his own business. That interest became entrenched as Hounsell completed his bachelor of commerce degree at Halifax-based Dalhousie University (with a minor in music, as an opera performer). “I knew I wanted to deal with the public,” Hounsell says.
A conversation with a family friend who was a financial advisor led Hounsell into the field. He discovered in his second year as an advisor that his understanding of accountancy and his connections to the profession would help in building his business in ways a hundred cold calls never could.
Hounsell returned to Corner Brook, a community of about 20,000 people on the west coast of Newfoundland, to work with a family friend whose office just happened to be in the same building as that of Hounsell’s father: “I worked with individuals I knew and clients of my Dad’s firm.”
Hounsell returned to Halifax in 2005 and, for the next decade, continued to serve clients on the western and northern peninsula of Newfoundland, as well as clients in Labrador, from his home office in Nova Scotia. Maintaining these long-distance clients made sense, says Hounsell: “That’s where I had built my business.”
The roots of Bloom were laid in 2005, when Hounsell went to work for his “true mentor” in the business, Andrew Stevenson, and his company, Bridport Group Inc. Hounsell purchased that business in 2013 and rebranded it as Bloom.
Meanwhile, Hounsell’s father sold his accounting business to a national firm in 2007, which provided more introductions and networking opportunities for Hounsell. “They helped me get to the next level,” Hounsell says. “I had conversations with people I wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity to meet.”
Such centres of influence have been key to the success of Hounsell’s business, although he notes that getting recommendations and referrals from larger accounting and professional firms can be difficult.
Once introductions are made, Hounsell moves into a planning phase, which he sees as a core strength of his firm. He sits down with clients to discover their goals, understand their retirement plans and get to know them as individuals. “It’s like a puzzle at that point,” Hounsell says. “How do you best put together the pieces?”
For Hounsell, the answer to that questions is twofold. One important step is developing an effective plan for clients and managing their risk. “That’s long before you talk product,” he says.
Sometimes, however, a plan isn’t needed, in which case Hounsell will meet with a client to discuss a specific investment or offer a second set of eyes to review an investment plan prepared elsewhere.
For clients who do require planning and ongoing advice, Hounsell makes a point of working with their accountants: “When other professionals are involved, it gives the client much more peace of mind. It gives me peace of mind.”
Hounsell believes such partnerships also make for a better financial plan. Accountants, for example, offer important insight into tax issues that, in turn, complement the client’s retirement plan.
Although Hounsell does not target any specific market in his business, which encompasses about 200 families in Newfoundland and Labrador and 400 in Nova Scotia, working closely with accountants often means working closely with their clients. And that, in turn, leads to an increasing number of clients who own businesses or work as professionals. But, ultimately, what matters is not what a client does for a living, Hounsell says, but how he or she connects with the Bloom team and its approach to financial management: “We’re looking for clients who see value in our advice and who we can work with.
“The value is really in our planning efforts,” he adds. “They can see the homework we’ve done.”
Clients also see value in working with an independent advisor, Hounsell says. He is not committed to one firm or one product line, and he can shop around for the best deal.
Hounsell and his team make a point of keeping in touch with their clients. In fact, it’s part of the company’s client service standard. “It’s important for the client to meet at least once a year for a review. Some meet more often,” says Hounsell, who also sends out personalized quarterly reports.
Today, Bloom includes two advisors and two “client-care specialists.” Hounsell’s wife, Anna, handles marketing and the overall operation of the office.
Hounsell, age 37, notes that the environment in which advisors work continues to shift. He points to the growing number of products that advisors must be familiar with, as well as privacy and compliance issues.
Outside the office, you can find Hounsell on the baseball field, at the swimming pool or on a skating rink with his three sons. Music is still important to Hounsell, who plays guitar.
“My peace and quiet is in playing music,” says Hounsell, who sometimes performs with friends. “It gives you a break from the day-to-day.”
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