After five years in the wealth-management business, executives of the boutique-sized HighView Financial Group are right where they want to be: providing wealthy clients with a tighter strategic focus, which has helped generate $1.25 billion in assets under management/administration across all three of HighView’s client segments.

The firm, based in Oakville, Ont., fills a niche by offering portfolio-management services to high net-worth clients who already have financial advisors. The service is provided either directly to the clients — in partnership with their existing financial advisors — or indirectly through managed asset programs. The arrangement, known as the HighView Partnership Program, allows HighView to fill a role that president and CEO Mark Barnicutt describes as “similar to that of a chief investment officer.”

In this role, HighView designs investment portfolios for its clients, using advice from top portfolio managers whom it retains on a contract basis.

Says Gary Brent, chairman of HighView and the elder statesman of the group: “We don’t pick stocks or bonds; we act as architects of client portfolio structures.”

Brent began his career in financial services in 1970 and has played a prominent role as an investment advisor at several of Canada’s biggest banks and brokerages. Of HighView’s expertise, he says: “We select the most appropriate [portfolio] managers to satisfy the overall objectives of each client.”

Given the specialized nature of the discretionary asset-management business, says Barnicutt, many advisors lack the expertise to offer these kinds of services to their high net-worth clients.

HighView fills that gap by partnering with a range of professional advisors, either through a formal referral program or a co-branded offering. These partners include financial planners, insurance advisors, employee benefit consultants (for institutions), advisors who specialize in wealthy families, accountants and actuaries.

Barnicutt gives an example: “It may be that there is an insurance advisor or a financial planner who has a client who is high net-worth and who has had a great, long-standing relationship with [the advisor]. But the advi-sor’s only tool set might be mutual funds or segregated funds. Most high net-worth clients we have dealt with are looking for more of an investment-counsel proposition. That is when we come alongside [the advisors] and do that with them.”

HighView’s clients are divided into three segments: affluent families who have more than $10 million in investible assets; institutions — including foundations, endowments and retirement pension plans — that have minimum investible assets of $10 million or more; and financial advisors, a segment that has grown to include 19 advisory firms (with clients who each have investible assets greater than $1 million). Examples in this last group include Toronto-based Richardson GMP Ltd. and Vancouver-based Credential Financial Inc.

HighView executives say they haven’t come across any other firms that use the same model. But they don’t underplay the competition when it comes to providing portfolio-management services to each of their client segments. That competition includes the big banks and firms that offer similar, third-party portfolio-manager selection and research services.

“Where we differ is that we don’t just do manager research and selection,” says Brent. “We help [our clients] find out how they can take that research and build it into proper portfolios using an [investment] goal-based approach and proper insight.”

HighView started out as a broad-based consulting business to the wealth-management industry in 2005. However, two and a half years ago, Barnicutt and Brent decided to concentrate exclusively on the asset-management niche.

“We always had an asset-management core to what we did,” says Barnicutt. “As we evolved over the past couple of years, we saw that this was an opportunity for us — especially with what had gone on in the capital markets between 2007 and 2009.

“We have always worked with the advisor channel,” he adds, “and we continue to do that very selectively today. We have built some very specific managed-asset programs for these advisory firms. [These managers] are more than just a list of investment managers on a menu.”

Adds Brent: “When you look at those 19 firms and the advi-sor reach that it brings to us, then we are looking at more than 7,000 advisors.”

The HighView team consists of nine executives who all work out of the office in the Bronte neighbourhood of Oakville, including the newest member, Dan Hallett, vice president and director of asset management. Hallett joined the team in January 2010, when HighView acquired Windsor, Ont.-based Dan Hallett & Associates Inc., which had specialized in analyzing mutual funds. The acquisition has allowed HighView to expand its research and asset-management services for advisors.

“This was a big coup for us,” says Brent. “Dan was the last real main independent mutual fund analyst. And he brought that skill and competency over to us, as well as a strong brand and exposure in the marketplace.” IE