No one would argue that greg Walsh took a direct route to becoming a financial planner.
Now a financial advisor with Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. in Toronto, Walsh, 41, touched on financial services briefly at the beginning of his career path before veering off into another area entirely, only to return to the profession later, rich with experience.
Walsh graduated with a finance degree from the University of New Brunswick in 1999 and took the Canadian Securities Course while spending a summer in Sweden. Afterward, he returned to his hometown of Toronto and began working at a string of jobs on Bay Street.
“[My jobs] really were straight out of The Wolf of Wall Street,” Walsh says, referring to the 2013 Martin Scorsese film about unethical stockbrokers. These jobs, none of which Walsh held for more than one day, emphasized selling above everything else. “[Those jobs] very obviously had nothing to do with clients’ best interests.”
Walsh, disillusioned by his first brush with the investment industry, “took a step back and realized that I had to re-evaluate my career path.”
A conversation with a good friend from high school led Walsh to consider Taiwan as a place to live. He decided on a whim to move to the East Asian country, initially to teach English.
For a few years, he taught English in Taipei to university students planning to study abroad. An active athlete, Walsh played hockey, softball and baseball in Taiwan, even travelling internationally with his baseball team. He learned from a fellow team member that a local bar was up for sale. Walsh put together a small partnership, including the high-school friend who had suggested the Taiwan move, and created Citizen Cain, a hot spot for local expats hungry for a gathering place.
Walsh calls Citizen Cain, which he ran from 2002 to 2010, his “food and beverage MBA” because he learned much about the restaurant industry through that experience. These lessons included the importance of systems to create efficiency and the impact of teamwork. “As a business owner, you’re never just one person,” he says. “You’re always a team.”
Walsh incorporates that philosophy into his financial advisory practice today. He tries to instil in his two support staff members that each person plays an important role that ultimately benefits the business. “The more important you [feel],” he says, “the more motivated you are to contribute.”
The success of Citizen Cain prompted Walsh to develop a fast-casual restaurant concept, Sababa Pita Bar, focusing on middle Eastern fare, which, until then, wasn’t available in Taiwan. Eventually, he sold franchises for six Sababa Pita Bars across Taipei.
After more than a decade in Taiwan, Walsh, who had returned home to Toronto almost every summer, began to consider moving back for good. “I realized that I didn’t want to be a restaurateur my whole life,” he says. His influential high-school friend had already returned to Canada and begun working as a financial planner with Sun Life. Walsh met the Sun Life team on one of his trips home and felt that financial planning offered an opportunity to help people. “The seed was planted,” he says.
This was a crucial time for Walsh. He had recently learned that his father had cancer and Walsh wanted to be at home to provide support during his dad’s medical treatments. In addition, Walsh and his girlfriend, Elisa, whom he had met in Taiwan, were considering starting a family.
“I would go for walks in parks and really analyze what I wanted to do,” he says. “When you make a career change in your late 30s, you better make the right one. You don’t want to make a mistake and get in the wrong field that late in life.”
Walsh’s gut told him that financial planning was for him. He never had a savings plan himself and, although he was always able to afford to live a good life in Taiwan, he didn’t take into account any thought of the future an omission he now views as a grave mistake. “There’s not a single person on this earth who can’t benefit from a financial plan,” he says.
Walsh began studying for his certified financial planner designation (which he expects to acquire this summer) while still in Taiwan, but his plans were on hold until he could sell his franchise business. Finally, an employee offered a fair price and Walsh returned to Toronto in 2014, enrolling in the financial planning program at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. He interned for his financial-planner friend to gain more experience. Walsh’s first client was a fellow student at Humber who decided that financial planning wasn’t for him but liked Walsh’s approach.
Today, Walsh has slightly fewer than 100 clients, with assets under administration of about $3 million.
Walsh strives to serve two types of clients, both of which have similar interests to his own. The first is entrepreneurs, who can benefit from Walsh’s experience as a former business owner. He even has offered to monitor a restaurateur client’s food and beverage systems.
Walsh’s second target market is young families. Walsh and Elisa, now married, have a son, Benjamin; hence, Walsh can relate to what people go through when they become parents.
“I know how everything changes as soon as that baby comes into the world,” he says. He exhibits at the Toronto Baby Show each year and his message to new parents centres on the message he created for some promotional material: “A new baby means you’ve just become a lot more important.”
This message stimulates conversations about insurance, the importance of saving and protecting the family, he says.
Walsh likes being active in his local business community, and enjoys sharing insights with others. He’s a member of his local business improvement association and plans to launch a networking club for his neighbourhood’s business community. He also returns to Humber on a regular basis to offer insight into the industry to students.
Although his family and career leave no time for team sports for now, Walsh runs a few fantasy baseball leagues and his office is within walking distance of two major sporting venues, so he catches games whenever he can. He bought eight season’s tickets for the Blue Jays this year, as well, in order to take clients to games.
“I’m not saying you have to be a sports fan to be my client,” Walsh says. “But if you are, you’re probably going to enjoy working with me.”
© 2017 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.