Peter Simons
Christopher Lawson

This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Peter Simons didn’t envision getting into financial advice, but he’s glad that’s where he landed — and he credits his dad with planting the seeds that led to a fruitful career.

Simons’ father, Wes Simons, emigrated from Jamaica in the early 1970s and worked for CN Rail before a friend of a friend suggested he try his hand at financial advice. He founded CPN Financial Services Ltd. — named after his three kids: Collin, Peter and Nicole — in 1993.

While Wes was eager to see his kids join CPN, Peter had other plans: becoming a teacher. He taught Grade 5 for Ontario’s Peel District School Board for a handful of years while his dad kept trying to cajole him into a career as a financial advisor.

Peter Simons finally relented and got his life insurance licence — although he kept his job as a teacher. But as he began bringing in new clients for CPN, his interest in the business grew and he eventually became a full-time employee. Seventeen years later, Simons is now CEO and managing director of the Mississauga, Ont.-based firm.

“A lot of clients will say, ‘Why did you leave teaching? These are two drastically different careers,’” Simons said. “I beg to differ. I’m still teaching — I’m just teaching people about financial products.”

And CPN is still a family affair — Simons’ siblings, Collin and Nicole, are both advisors with the firm. Their dad is now semi-retired and spends part of the year in Jamaica — but he brings his laptop with him and still answers clients’ emails from his second home in Montego Bay.

The family legacy behind CPN Financial appeals to the firm’s clients, many of whom have young families. CPN’s logo is an image of a copper beech tree — a tree that takes about 100 years to grow to maturity. Simons uses the tree as a metaphor with clients.

“What we’re doing is planting seeds. We’re trying to make the next generation a little bit more wealthy, a little bit more knowledgeable and to grow your family name,” Simons said.

Simons encourages clients to begin planting seeds early — his typical clients’ age range is 25–55. He offers life insurance and segregated funds through Hub Financial Inc. (CPN has been with Hub since Day 1) and mutual funds through Carte Wealth Management Inc.

In order to make financial advice more accessible, Simons doesn’t have account minimums; any client is welcome to invest with CPN, no matter how deep their pockets.

“I’ll take on anyone who’s willing to learn, who has the ambition and wants to put something down and strive to achieve a goal,” he said.

Many of Simons’ clients are visible minorities — a segment of the population that has been underserved by an industry in which systemic racism has created barriers for Black people and people of colour. Simons is determined to remove those barriers.

“The financial industry is for everybody,” Simons said. “We serve a lot of minority clients [who] think, ‘[The financial services industry] is not for us. It’s for other people.’”

Many new clients, for example, may not realize they can invest in Fortune 500 companies through seg funds and mutual funds, Simons said. Or they may think they need tens — or hundreds — of thousands of dollars in order to begin investing.

Clients who are visible minorities benefit from seeing Black people working in wealth management, he added: “I always say representation really matters because you’re a product of your environment.”

Consistent with CPN’s vision of planting seeds for the future, Simons encourages clients to consider purchasing whole life insurance for a child at an early age to maximize the policy’s cash value and death benefit in order to build wealth for future generations.

“We love the idea of planting the seed now when your child is one or two, or maybe not even a year old,” Simons said. “If you buy [a whole life policy] at $500,000 when your child is one … that $500,000 policy is going to be more like $2.6 million [when the policy matures].”

Although Simons is now a veteran of the financial industry, his passion for teaching hasn’t waned. He’s still an active member of the Ontario College of Teachers.

Over the years, Simons has continued to work with local school boards to educate kids about financial literacy — something he’s done online for the Peel Region School Board since the onset of the pandemic.

In 2017, Simons established a non-profit organization — Seeds for Success — to teach youth about managing money. Hub has supported the program by sponsoring events.

Seeds for Success started out small, with Simons inviting clients to bring their kids into the CPN office to play financial-literacy board games and learn about dollar-cost averaging and compound interest. But the program quickly outgrew CPN’s office: the third Seeds for Success workshop attracted more than 100 kids.

Simons began renting space in community centres for subsequent workshops. The events always sold out and were sometimes standing-room only when parents on waiting lists showed up anyway.

“[Kids] want to know everything,” Simons said. “They want to know about Bitcoin. They want to know about stocks. They’re super-inquisitive.”

Simons is working on transitioning Seeds for Success to a virtual format while raising kids of his own. The married father of two boys — Jonah, 11, and Lucas, seven — spends much of his free time going on family hikes along local trails.

He’s also a gym rat. Simons has been confined to working out in his basement during most of the pandemic and eagerly awaits the reopening of gyms in Ontario. “I can’t get the same pump [at home] — the workouts just aren’t as intense,” he said.

Although he’s now a successful advisor in his own right, Simons can’t give his dad enough credit for getting him into the family business and setting him on a course to help others achieve their financial goals.

“If [my dad] didn’t plant those seeds and get into the business, I’m not sure where I’d be,” Simons said. “The more people you serve, the better your life can be — that’s one of his mantras.”