Investment Executive June 2018 front cover
Investment Executive

Bill Packham’s vision for Aviso Wealth Inc., the entity created by the recent merger of three major providers to the Canadian credit union system, is for Aviso to compete head to head with the wealth-management arms of Canada’s big banks and insurers.

“We have a very compelling opportunity, on a combined basis,” says Packham, president and CEO of Aviso, “and I’d like to make sure we make some big strides.”

In December 2017, wealth- management firms Qtrade Canada Inc. and Credential Financial Inc., and asset-management firm NEI Investments, announced that they would be merging to create Toronto-based Aviso.

Aviso, with $57 billion in assets under management and administration, now is the primary provider of wealth-management services to almost every credit union in Canada outside Quebec, as well as to other independent financial services institutions.

“We now have the size and scale,” says Packham, “to be able to make the necessary investments in technology, systems and other initiatives to ensure we have an organization that’s right at the forefront of the wealth-management space in Canada.”

Prior to taking the helm at Aviso, Packham served as CEO of Qtrade and as executive managing director of wealth management with Lévis, Que.-based Desjardins Group, Qtrade’s parent firm and co-owner of NEI. (Aviso is 50% owned by Desjardins and 50% by a partnership made up of the provincial credit union centrals and the CUMIS Group Ltd. The credit union centrals were co-owners of Credential and NEI; and CUMIS Group was a co-owner of Credential.)

The planned, stage-by-stage process of integrating the various business lines of Qtrade, Credential and NEI under one umbrella is underway and expected to be completed by the middle of next year, says Packham, whose resumé suggests he’s well suited to guide Aviso through the integration and beyond.

“I’ve been a builder and amalgamator of independent firms over the years,” says Packham, who in previous postings ran or held leadership roles with Hampton Securities Ltd., Rockwater Capital Corp., Merrill Lynch Canada Inc. and Midland Walwyn Capital Inc., among others. “[Aviso] is my fifth or sixth iteration of this. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Aviso will build on the strengths of its three constituent firms, Packham says. In that vein, Aviso’s dealer platform will be built around the Credential brand, which is a more established platform relative to Qtrade’s. The online brokerage will keep the Qtrade Investor platform, with Credential Direct integrated into it. The asset-management arm will build out under the NEI name, as opposed to the brand of OceanRock Investments Inc. (a subsidiary of Qtrade). And Credential’s and Qtrade’s correspondent and institutional businesses also will merge. The Aviso name will serve as the umbrella brand in the background.

“We needed to bring an identity for the overall organization, particularly for our employees,” Packham says. “Over time, we’ll use [the Aviso name] to articulate who we are as an organization.”

As a combined entity, Aviso will have a total of 2,400 advisors on its wealth-management platform – 2,000 on the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada platform and 400 on the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada platform.

Advisors are employed by the credit unions themselves, but are registered through Aviso, which provides assistance in the hiring process.

Aviso also will inherit the partnerships Qtrade had with major insurers that allow some of these firms’ insurance advisors to offer clients access to trading securities.

Packham expects to see continued growth in the total number of advisors on Aviso’s wealth-management platform. He adds that advisors are joining credit unions from the banks’ branch networks and brokerage arms, independent firms and insurers, among other sources.

“We have quite a number of insurance-licensed advisors who might want to [make the] transition to a whole financial services practice,” Packham says, “and to do it with an established organization in the community [such as a credit union].”

Regarding Aviso’s asset- management platform, Packham says, the five mutual fund brands that currently exist under NEI and OceanRock will be consolidated into two brands later this summer: one for responsible investing (RI) funds and the other for non-RI funds.

RI funds remain a key strength and opportunity for Aviso, Packham says: “We’re seeing millennial clients being very focused and conscious about RI. [The selection of RI offerings] also is quite helpful when we’re dealing with institutional clients.”

Aviso will continue to build out Qtrade’s VirtualWealth robo-advisor platform, which launched last year, while Aviso is “working through” the partnership arrangement Credential had with Toronto-based Nest Wealth Asset Management Inc., Packham says.

Aviso also is working on an advisor version of the Virtual-Wealth platform that will be available to the firm’s network at the same time as the wealth-management platforms are integrated. Finally, Aviso will offer the VirtualWealth platform to third-party firms, as it already does with its direct brokerage platform.

“We make sure that the brands that we are using in our digital or robo-advisor solutions can be fairly agnostic and can be used by partners without any channel conflict,” Packham says, “and that [those partners] can bring a little of their own identity to it.”

Although Credential, Qtrade, and NEI will be combined into a new entity, there are no plans to merge products and services with Desjardins’ offerings, Packham says. However, Desjardins and Aviso will look at ways they can continue to partner on streamlining back-office systems and on shared technology.

“[Desjardins has] been highly supportive of bringing [Aviso’s three constituent] organizations together,” Packham says.

Aviso’s executive and management teams have been selected and merged already, and the firm has “confirmed for the vast majority of employees their ongoing employment status,” Packham says. Although there are synergies and cost savings associated with merging three firms, the primary rationale remains “to grow stronger and faster and even more competitively.”

Packham says he and his executive team are split evenly between Vancouver and Toronto – with one executive located in Calgary. Executive team members travel every second or third week to meet and to be in front of employees, he says, adding: “We’re quite comfortable with [travel] as an executive group.”

Packham hopes that once the transition is completed, the new organization will reflect the best of each of its three constituent firms.

“We’ll close off any weaknesses and gaps, and enhance the strengths of the various business lines,” he says. “We’ll increase the size and scale of each business line as we go forward.”