Peter Merrick is not your typical financial advisor. He’s probably as well known for his writing as he is as an advisor.
Merrick has become a recognized expert on topics such as business succession planning, estate planning, trusts, pensions and executive benefits – in roles as diverse as advisor, author, educator, keynote speaker and television commentator – during his more than 25 years in the financial services sector.
“I started out writing for anybody who would take my stuff,” says Merrick, who began by writing articles for publications such as Computerworld magazine on subjects he thought would be of interest to the specific groups of clients he was targeting. “Writing allowed me to express anything I wanted to. It gave me branding. At the same time, I was educating myself.”
As a result, Merrick was viewed as an expert on the subjects he wrote about, which created opportunities for him to approach prospects. He wrote a regular column for the Bottom Line, the now defunct magazine for accountants, for 16 years, as well as occasional articles for CA Magazine and other business publications. He also has written four books.
Born, raised and based in Toronto, Merrick is a consultant with TheIceSolution.com (“ice” is an acronym for “income and capital enhancement”), which he set up with his longtime mentor and partner, Richard Segal, in 2007. The firm specializes in helping business owners and self-employed professionals manage and plan the conversion of their business assets into personal and estate wealth. Merrick’s clients typically have assets of $10 million-$30 million.
Using a “holistic” approach, Merrick develops strategies to shelter income at the corporate level, reduce taxes on personal income, defer or eliminate taxes on investments, and “creditor-proof” business and personal assets.
Business owners generally don’t have a lot of personal investments, Merrick says, and their wealth is tied up in their business assets. These clients, therefore, need help to convert their business wealth into personal wealth.
Merrick typically is engaged by business owners as either a generalist or a specialist.
As a generalist, Merrick works, for example, as a project manager to oversee merger and acquisition transactions. In these cases, the business has its own in-house specialists.
As a specialist, Merrick is directly involved in activities such as tax and succession planning and in setting up the structures associated with maximizing the value derived from the client’s business and minimizing taxes.
Merrick loves the flexibility of taking on different roles. “Because of my independence, I go wherever business pulls me,” he says. And Merrick’s qualifications enable him to provide a range of services to his clients: he holds the certified financial planner, trust and estate practitioner, and fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute designations.
Merrick’s approach to client service is “high touch,” requiring mostly face time with his clients – unlike most advisors, who use technology to keep in touch.
The attraction of working with business owners stems from Merrick’s own experience as an entrepreneur, as well as from working with independent consultants since early in his career.
Following graduation from York University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and urban planning, Merrick began working as an advisor, selling mutual funds and health and disability insurance to business owners, most of whom were independent computer consultants.
As an independent businessperson, Merrick understood the needs of business owners. He recognized that members of his target market had no insurance coverage for their medical, dental and disability needs and usually also had to take care of all planning and administrative tasks related to their business activities.
In January 2004, Merrick moved to San Diego to write for a U.S.-based website on the subject of cross-border tax planning and succession planning. “There were a lot of U.S. companies purchasing Canadian companies, and they didn’t know the Canadian landscape,” he says.
That position offered Merrick an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise in this area. Although he held this position for only a short while, the experience he gained set him on a new path. He returned to Canada in 2006 and set up TheIceSolution.com a year later.
Merrick is licenced to sell insurance in both the U.S. and Canada. He focuses on selling premium financing insurance, which involves a loan to a person or company to cover the cost of an insurance premium: the premium finance company pays the insurance premium and bills the individual or company policyholder for the cost of the loan – or the loan’s interest can be capitalized. Premium financing is a tax planning strategy.
Merrick continued his writing career after his return to Canada. He was one of the first people in Canada to write about individual pension plans (IPPs), an activity that landed him consulting assignments with several firms, including large Canadian banks and insurance companies.
“[These firms] suddenly became aware that IPPs represented a business opportunity,” Merrick says.
That experience inspired Merrick to write his first book, The Essential Individual Pension Plan Handbook, in 2007. In that book, Merrick shares his expertise on using IPPs as income-enhancement and tax-planning tools.
Merrick also wrote three other books: ASK: Advisors Seeking Knowledge: A Comprehensive Guide to Succession and Estate Planning; The TASK: The Trusted Advisor’s Survival Kit; and, most recently, The King of Main Street.
Merrick’s first three books use a standard textbook approach, focusing on tax minimization, business succession, estate planning and executive benefits. The King of Main Street uses storytelling techniques to demonstrate the challenges faced by business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs and ways of achieving enduring business and financial success. That book’s underlying focus is on succession planning and mentoring.
“I wrote this book for myself; not to make money,” Merrick says. “It is a self-motivating tool.”
Now 49 years old, Merrick is married and has three children. He loves to spend time in California with his family.
As an educator, Merrick has taught at Humber College, Centennial College and Ryerson University, all in Toronto. He is a widely recognized speaker on the topic of project management for business succession. He also is a regular commentator on TV, making frequent appearances on CP24, CTV News and BNN.
Merrick relishes being an entrepreneur. “Being independent provides me with a feeling of liberation,” he says, adding that his independence has given him freedom to write for various publications and make public appearances without having to ask for permission.
“If I worked for a large firm,” Merrick says, “I could have never done that. I never had to go through compliance.”
He adds: “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started out, but now I’m doing work I want to do.”
Merrick’s advice to advisors is to dream big: “Don’t put a cap on your vision.”