Jonathan Lin
Jonathan Lin built his practice in large part by cold calling members of professional organizations such as accountants and engineers. “I’d just start smiling and dialing,” he said. Photo by Paul Lawrence

Jonathan Lin got his first glimpse into the world of investing when he was 14, watching his mother buy and sell stocks. The two would read the newspaper together and she would show him which positions she was buying.

That early experience sparked Lin’s interest in the investment industry as a possible career. Lin, 39, now is a wealth advisor and financial planner with BMO Nesbitt Burns Toronto. He was honoured in October as the 2021 winner of the Investment Industry Association of Canada’s Top Under 40 Award. Sponsored by Investment Executive and its sister publication, Finance et Investissement, the award recognizes and celebrates the next generation of financial professionals who bring distinction to the industry. Lin was selected from among 35 nominees (read about the top two finalists).

Lin began his career at Bank of Montreal 15 years ago as an associate advisor immediately after graduating from the University of Waterloo, where he earned an honours degree in economics with a specialization in finance. He got his footing at the bank during a co-op rotation while working on his undergraduate degree.

Lin’s early years in the business helped him develop his skill as an advisor. The global financial crisis of 2008-09 offered particularly valuable lessons. “It gave me experience and confidence because when accounts go down 50%, it’s a big deal,” he said. “So, [I learned] how to talk to clients, how to manage their expectations and what you should do.”

Lin works as part of a six-person team at Nesbitt, serving clients either in the midst of their career or nearing retirement. He primarily focuses on medical professionals, lawyers, veterinarians, pharmacists, dentists and similar professionals, but also serves retirees because every year, four or five of his clients make that transition.

Lin holds the chartered investment manager, certified financial planner and certified international wealth manager designations, as well as a certificate in retirement strategy and a life insurance licence.

Lin’s practice takes what he describes as a “Warren Buffett-like approach” to investing, a nod to the famous proponent of the “buy and hold” strategy. “We don’t like to chase the markets,” Lin said. “We [approach] investing very responsibly. This is people’s hard-earned money that they’ve saved through blood, sweat and toil and then entrusted to us to help them grow and preserve their wealth.”

Lin considers his success partly a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but also acknowledges his drive and persistence.

“I came up from a poor family and I never want to be poor again,” he said. “I just don’t want to go back to living that lifestyle, so I drive myself to be successful.”

A bigger motivation is Lin’s desire to use his skills and abilities to help people. “If my clients succeed and they do well and they’re able to realize their wishes and wants, then we all get better,” he said. Lin described this result as the ripple effect:if clients can accumulate more money and have a comfortable retirement, then they can share more wealth with their children. And that family’s wealth, in turn, can be distributed throughout its community.

When Lin was in the early stages of building his practice, he relied on “hard work and persistence,” he said, because he didn’t have much of a network in place.

He used both cold calling and warm calling to meet prospective clients. His cold-calling strategy involved acquiring membership lists of associations such as the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario and Professional Engineers Ontario, as well as lesser-known professional groups such as the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario. “I’d look up their list and just start smiling and dialing,” he said.

Lin has since added several other prospecting techniques, such as speaking at seminars and conferences. He partners with organizations that serve professionals such as dentists, doctors, and accountants, and speaks on topics related to financial markets and trends. After the pandemic put in-person events on hold, he switched to delivering virtual seminars.

Lin also uses centres of influence to help increase his client roster. He has built a referral network through accountants, lawyers and other professionals. He also gets referrals from current clients.

Lin welcomes opportunities to coach and mentor his peers. His advice to new advisors is to be persistent — to realize that “no means no for now, but not forever” — because succeeding in the financial advisory business is becoming increasingly difficult. “Only one out of 10 make it after a few years,” he said, adding that half of the members of his graduating training class are out of the industry now.

“The expectations are super high. Young advisors have to determine that this industry is for them. If you don’t have a passion, you won’t be successful,” Lin said. He also said advisors need to believe that “the solutions and services you provide will really help a client out.”

One of the biggest challenges for advisors today is the ease with which information (both useful and misleading) is disseminated on the internet, especially through social media. Lin also noted the competition presented by discount brokerages such as Questrade Financial Group Inc.and Wealthsimple Inc. “The game has always changed, but the industry has changed tremendously.”

This overabundance of information has made a growing number of people reluctant to seek out advisors in the belief they can handle investments themselves, Lin said. This mindset can be particularly risky for retirees, he said, who may want to try trading for themselves because they have more time on their hands.

“It’s become harder, not only for advisors,” Lin added, “but also for investors, to be able to [sift] through the information in order to make the right investment decisions.”

Lin works to dispel misinformation by telling clients “there are opinions on both sides.” He said he speaks frequently with his clients, “giving them my version of the truth.” He said he advises clients to research credible sources and speak with people who have experience, knowledge and education.

When Lin isn’t at the office, he often can be found doing volunteer work. After the pandemic hit in 2020, he helped organize and deliver almost 1,200 meals to emergency front-line workers at Toronto Western Hospital and Toronto General Hospital.

Lin also donates his time to the Mississauga Chinese Professionals and Businesses Board, the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, the Continued Health Interactive Education Forum, the University Health Network Foundation and the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation. For the last, he was the director and treasurer of St. Michael’s Young Leaders (a fundraising group) and organized fundraising events for inner-city mothers and a hospital renovation.

Lin has gained some clients as a byproduct of his volunteer work, but he said prospecting is not his primary motivation for volunteering. “When I pass away,” he said, “I want a higher being to say, ‘You made a mark on this world. You did good.’”