About three years ago, financial advisor James Sheldon noticed that many of his clients were starting to move south of the border, drawn by retirement options and business opportunities.

Sheldon, along with the team he had built at a national independent broker in Toronto, decided to be proactive. They opened Cardinal Point Wealth Management Inc. , also in Toronto, with the goal of providing wealth-management services specifically tailored to clients with complex cross-border interests. Now, Sheldon, who is CEO and managing director of Cardinal Point, notes that the company has a growing client base and a branch office in California.

Sheldon — along with his team: son Jeff, who is president; and Jonathan Samuel, senior vice president — has spent the past three years coming up with and implementing a strategy that allows Cardinal Point to provide full financial planning on both sides of the border. Now, when a Canada-based client is finally ready to move to the U.S., the team can continue to manage the client’s financial affairs stateside.

Sheldon also did his homework when it came to the competition. He found that while there are a number of tax lawyers and accountants that specialize in cross-border legal and tax work, there are only a few wealth-management firms that provide clients with a seamless process for transferring and managing wealth in both Canada and the U.S.

Sheldon now works with about 80 client families in Canada and the U.S. The firm works from a fee-only platform, based on a client’s total assets under management.

“You are starting to deal with a far more educated and sophisticated client,” Sheldon says. “And we welcome the idea that you should steer away from commissions and trailers. We welcome the industry moving toward lower costs, higher ethical and fiduciary standards and greater transparency when reporting all fees to clients.”

When it comes to obtaining new business, Sheldon says, he maintains high standards for his client base and makes sure they meet his “AAA” standard: assets, attitude and advocate. Each client must have a minimum of $500,000 in investible assets. They must also support the firm’s service model and philosophy, he says, which is based on “holistic” wealth management. Clients must be willing to refer the firm’s services to family and friends — all new clients are obtained through referrals from either existing clients or the firm’s partnerships with existing clients’ accountants or lawyers.

Sheldon does not believe in any direct marketing or advertising to bring in business. His approach appears to be working. As the business has continued to grow, so have the referrals.
@page_break@The bulk of Sheldon’s cross-border clients consist of retirees, individuals with a Canadian connection who work in the U.S., professional athletes who play and live on both sides of the border and business owners with companies on both sides of the border.

Financial planning was not always what Sheldon had planned to do. He completed a bachelor of science degree and then went on to obtain a master’s in science and a bachelor of education degree. A childhood interest in marine life eventually led to a career as a marine biologist, consulting for various fish and shrimp farms in China.

In the early 1980s, Sheldon owned and operated a number of businesses, including a Christmas-tree farm and fish farm. It wasn’t until the age of 47 that he decided to make a big change. That’s when he went from being a small-business owner to an investment advisor.

“I took pride in running my personal and my businesses’ finances,” Sheldon recalls. “I believed that experience could be used to help others make good financial decisions. I entered the investment industry at the tail end of the dot-com era. People were chasing inflated returns, and I believed my conservative views toward investing, money management and risk management could help people make good decisions.”

Sheldon and Samuel spent seven years working together at a national independent brokerage, with Jeff Sheldon joining them in 2004. But when the southward trend began among their clients, it was a team decision to move on. Dealing with cross-border issues came easily to James Sheldon, who has been married to Candace, an American citizen, for 35 years. But expanding a business into the U.S. is no easy task and it took Sheldon and his team more than two years to set up their U.S.-based wealth-management arm, Cardinal Point Wealth Management LLC, in San Jose, Calif.

First, Sheldon and his team had to pass exams to allow them to become registered representatives in the U.S. Jeff then relocated to California, where he spent two years training with large independent advisors throughout the U.S. In addition, the team had to go through the lengthy process of obtaining visas that would allow them to establish a business in the U.S.

“This process shows just how serious and dedicated we were,” says Jeff. “A lot of people would have given up. But we stuck it out over the past three years, and now we are here.”

For advisors who lack expertise in supporting a client’s transition from one country to another, Sheldon offers a service that allows those advisors to maintain their client relationships. This arrangement can also be used for clients with both Canadian and U.S.-based investment accounts.

“It can be challenging,” Sheldon says, “to provide the holistic financial planning and investment management that a client requires when the advisor is only overseeing part of the total assets.”

Every meeting takes place where the client wants to meet — which means a lot of air miles for the team. Sheldon travels once or twice a month. In the future, he hopes to open a second office in southern Florida, one of the key locations for his retired clients.

When he is not busy meeting with clients, Sheldon enjoys golfing, skiing and fishing and spending time with his family, which includes daughter Julie. IE