Vancouver-based pi financial Corp. is no longer a regional investment dealer following the opening of its Toronto office and the announcement of major hiring plans. The independent investment firm, a feature of Western Canada for three decades, recently targeted the country’s financial capital.

“We really feel that there is an opportunity for PI,” says Don Cormar, senior vice president and head of private-client services at PI. “There are very few independent firms out there. And, after having established ourselves over the past 30 years in Western Canada, we feel that we can now emerge as the next leading independent firm.”

PI, which targets high net-worth clients, intends to hire as many as 20 financial advisors over the next two years. One advantage that PI has in luring top-notch advisors into its fold is the ability to give an equity stake in the firm to new hires.

“We have an opportunity here for advisors to have an equity position in the firm, which is rare these days,” says Cormar. “The bank[-owned] firms continue to consolidate. We are seeing it with National Bank [of Canada] having acquired Wellington West [Holdings Inc.]. There just are not many independent firms that are out there that are focused on growth in the retail market. The best thing we have going for us is a 30-year record of profitability, no debt, no leverage and significant capital under our belts.”

Cormar says that equity in PI can be granted when an advisor joins the firm, as wells as be awarded based on hitting production and growth targets. The company also prides itself on a very easy to understand formula that is used to price its stock.

“Our stock has grown its book value since inception,” Cormar says. “There is no smoke and mirrors in how we price our stock; it is priced at or near book value.

“We continue to grow; we continue to attract advisors who are asset gatherers,” he adds. “We are unique because we can go after an [Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada]-licensed advi-sor, and that is how we are positioning this firm.”

PI has leased an 8,500 square-foot office space, in the Scotia Plaza tower in the heart of Toronto’s financial core, which currently is home to 10 capital-markets staffers. These include institutional salespeople, an investment banker, a trader and an analyst.

The firm has hired financial services industry veteran Paul Wylie as vice president and Toronto regional manager to spearhead the company’s expansion in the East. Wylie, who was most recently senior vice president and branch manager with TD Waterhouse Canada Inc. in Toronto, thinks market trends in Ontario’s capital city are leaning in PI’s favour.

“I think there is lots of room; there is opportunity for a lot of key players in the space,” he says. “Being an inde-pendent brokerage firm, I think there is ebb and flow. And the market looks like it is coming back into this [independent] space.”

PI, co-founded in 1982 by chairman and CEO Max Meier and vice chairman John Eymann, has grown to 100 advisors in offices in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary operating in both the retail and capital-markets sides of the business. With the addition of the Toronto office, the company now has more than 15,000 clients and more than $2 billion in assets under administration. Says Cormar: “As we grow on the wealth-management side, we expect our [AUA] will grow further.”

PI’s advisors serve individual, corporate and institutional investors and, according to the firm’s press release, “undergo significant and continuing educational requirements and have access to a wide range of in-house and third-party investment research.”

PI does not sell its own proprietary products — a decision that, the release adds, ensures that its clients receive “independent and unbiased advice.” The firm’s capital-markets division is a leading investment bank for small- to mid-cap companies with a full range of research, investment banking, advisory, and institutional sales and trading services.

“The history of PI,” says Cormar, “is really [as] a Vancouver-based metals and minerals financing company. Those are our roots. We [also] have an emerging oil and gas business in Calgary. In fact, on the capital-markets side, last year, we did more oil and gas financings than metals and minerals.” IE