Valerie Pippy is a strong believer in being financially prepared for unexpected events.

All too often, says Pippy, who runs the St. John’s office of fee-only planner T.E. Wealth, a division of Toronto-based Jovian Capital Corp., people do not think seriously about wills, taxes, debt management and cash flow until an emergency occurs. This was brought home recently by the helicopter crash off Newfoundland’s coast that cost 17 people their lives.

Pippy, who alternates between St. John’s and Toronto in one-month intervals, says part of her job satisfaction comes from helping clients tailor their finances so the impact of unfortunate events is reduced as much as possible.

“Every day is different. With comprehensive financial planning, you’re dealing with everything, including tax returns, estate planning and insurance,” Pippy says. “Many clients will confide their feelings to me and tell me important things about their families — which is very important when structuring insurance, wills and financial plans.”

Pippy, who was born in St. John’s, spent most of her professional career in Toronto prior to establishing T.E. Wealth’s Newfoundland and Labrador office in 2007. After almost 25 years as a financial planner, including 20 years with T.E. Wealth, she decided to return to her roots — not bad timing, considering how buoyant Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy has been in the past few years.

“Every Newfoundlander has a bungee cord that brings [them] back home after hitting 55 years of age,” Pippy says, “which is what happened with me.”

Pippy’s goal is to build T.E. Wealth’s St. John’s base while slowly reducing her Toronto-based business by systematically transferring clients to the firm’s roster of financial advisors based in that city. As for the St. John’s office, there is one other employee working full-time, predominantly in building the firm’s corporate client base.

“With technology, I can be visiting a client in England or Paris but still be in contact with my other clients in Toronto, St. John’s or the U.S.,” Pippy says, who works with approximately 145 clients, with combined assets under management of $150 million. “Location doesn’t matter as much as it once did, although you still want to be available to meet with clients in person when they need it.”

Pippy characterizes her client base as being predominantly high net-worth, which she defines as people with assets of at least $500,000. She emphasizes, however, that she also works with those who have considerably fewer assets, many of whom tend to be younger and dealing with mortgages and numerous financial obligations. “With younger people,” she says, “we usually focus on debt reduction and building RRSPs and appropriate investments.”

T.E. Wealth, under the guidance of founder Tim Egan, began operating on a fee-only basis slightly less than 40 years ago. The firm was hired by corporations to conduct comprehensive financial planning for executives. Although corporate clients remain a crucial part of the company’s business, it has grown into a wealth-management firm for individuals, families and businesses.

And it is the “holistic” nature of planning that keeps Pippy enthusiastic about her job. The first priority when meeting both new and existing clients is to identity the person’s profile and develop a comprehensive financial plan. She examines the client’s assets and liabilities, cash flow, insurance, taxes, investments and retirement plans.

As a certified financial planner and a registered financial planner, Pippy works for salary and receives no commissions. She says that arrangement gives clients the comfort of knowing they are receiving unbiased advice. As a member of a financial planning firm, Pippy works on behalf of clients to obtain quotes on insurance and has enjoyed success in negotiating lower fees on investment vehicles such as mutual funds. Clients also benefit from her firm’s access to the nation’s most highly regarded investment managers.

“I help clients do what’s right for them; not what’s right for me or our firm,” Pippy says. “Most of my clients have been with me for 10 to 15 years, and the children of some of them have also become clients.”

Pippy admits the recession has eroded the assets of clients and many of them are wondering how much further the markets will decline before they rebound. “We’ve had a lot of nervous clients in the past six months,” she says, “but our long-term clients have remained happy because we had put in place the things they needed to achieve their cash flow. Their net worth may be lower now, but their cash flow is still there.”

@page_break@T.E. Wealth’s philosophy of encouraging clients to buy low and sell high has paid off throughout the history of the company, Pippy says, and the current climate is ripe with the potential for building wealth in equities. Lingering economic uncertainty has scared away some investors, while others may be unable to take advantage of opportunities that may be lurking.

“Now is a good time for people to look at where they are and where they should be,” she says, “and assess what changes that should be made.”

Pippy has a message for those who have asked why she doesn’t join a larger investment-planning firm, in which she could double her income: “Why would I go somewhere else? I’m one of the lucky ones in the world who can get up in the morning and like going
to work.” IE