Investment Execuitve Mid-October 2018 page 10

Montreal-based peak Financial Group has much to offer financial advisors across Canada who are interested in working in the independent channel – especially for the many advisors who are unaware of the firm’s various lines of business. That’s the message from Stéphane Dulude, who joined the firm as vice president of business development this past February.

Peak is a national financial services firm with approximately $10 billion in assets under administration (AUA) and about 1,500 advisors across its four main lines of business – mutual fund dealer, securities dealer, insurance managing general agency (MGA) and private wealth- management division – who serve more than 150,000 clients.

Yet, Dulude admits, much of Peak’s presence is in Quebec – only 25% of the firm’s advisor force is based outside the province – and most advisors who work under other companies’ banners are not aware that Peak is a full-service company. These are two facts that Dulude, who’s 53 years old and who spent much of his career at Lévis, Que.-based Desjardins Group, intends to change while in his role at Peak.

“We have all lines of business, but, for a mix of [reasons], advisors don’t seem to be aware [of that],” says Dulude. “One of the challenges that we have – and will be working on in the next few months – is increasing Peak’s brand awareness.”

To that end, Dulude says, one of the ways Peak will be spreading the word among advisors is through social media channels, such as LinkedIn, as well as in traditional media campaigns. Dulude is careful to add, however, that these campaigns will be directed solely toward the investment industry rather than at consumers.

“We don’t see ourselves trying to increase brand awareness at the consumer level; this is not where we’re heading,” Dulude says. “We first want to make sure that advisors know who we are and what we do.”

By giving advisors a clear idea about Peak as an organization, Dulude hopes to boost the firm’s recruiting efforts outside Quebec in all other provinces – particularly in the Prairie provinces and Alberta. Peak currently has offices in major Canadian cities, but, he notes, it has had a lot of success in smaller cities and towns away from major centres. Therefore, these other regions will be a point of focus for Dulude as he looks to build out Peak’s advisor force.

Peak aims to recruit established advisors who want to act as their clients’ financial “quarterback” and be the first person clients call for finance-related questions, Dulude says. Taking on the client role for a moment, he adds: “‘I’m not going to call the bank [or] my lawyer; I’m going to call my Peak advisor’.”

To accomplish this goal, Dulude plans to build up and emphasize the full-service offerings and broad range of products available to Peak advisors. He says Peak plans to focus particularly on growing its securities dealer and MGA.

Peak has about $2 billion in AUA on the securities side, which accounts for about 20% of the firm’s overall business.

Peak’s insurance revenue, Dulude says, “should be a lot bigger than we generate today.” Part of the issue is that many of Peak’s advisors who are licensed to sell insurance use a third-party MGA.

Part of Dulude’s role will be to speak with advisors to see if they would like to run their insurance business through Peak’s MGA. However, Dulude is adamant that Peak will not force its advisors to do so because that move would run counter to the firm’s independent advisor business model.

To help Dulude reach these goals for Peak, he will be drawing on more than 25 years of experience in the financial services sector. He began as an assistant manager with Laurentian Bank of Canada, then worked in the bank’s mortgage business. After moving to Desjardins Group in 1995, he oversaw that firm’s mutual fund dealer. (His role at Peak won’t be the first time he helps a Quebec-based firm grow outside its home province: he played a key role in helping Desjardins Group’s mutual fund dealer division, Desjardins Financial Security Investments Inc., expand across Canada.)

Dulude’s career at Desjardins Group began when the company purchased Laurentian Group of Cos. At the time, Dulude was working in Laurentian Life Insurance Co. Inc.’s mortgage business. Following the acquisition, Dulude ran the customer- service division of Laurentian Investment Services Inc., a small dealer that was a unit of Desjardins-Laurentian Life Assurance and had less than $1 billion in AUA at the time.

In 1999, Dulude left Desjardins Group for a brief time to work in the mortgage business of Quebec City-based Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. By 2002, he had returned to Desjardins Group, this time via Optifund Investments Inc. and OptiAssurance, the mutual fund dealer and insurance arms, respectively, of SFL Group, a Desjardins Goup subsidiary, both of which would be rebranded later as SFL Partner of Desjardins Financial Security and Desjardins Financial Security Investments Inc. (DFSI), respectively.

Dulude worked with Desjardins Group’s dealer arms between 2002 and 2016, taking on several roles, including senior director of administration, and president and chief operating officer. Also during this period, Dulude was involved in several large acquisitions that helped to build Desjardins’ presence outside Quebec.

Desjardins Group purchased Performa Financial Group Ltd. from Standard Life Financial Inc. in 2006. Desjardins Group then acquired MGI Financial Inc. from Jovian Capital Corp. in 2011. Desjardins Group was able to increase its presence outside Quebec significantly through these acquisitions and, by 2016, DFSI’s AUA was split 50/50 between Quebec and the rest of the country. According to Dulude, that compared to AUA being almost negligible outside Quebec in the late 1990s.

Dulude is not ruling out acquisitions for Peak, although, he says, its growth strategy will focus on recruiting for the time being: “We’re open to looking into an acquisition. We’d love to do one, but not at [just] any price. This is why my role is also to grow our business organically.”

When not at work, Dulude often can be found skiing or mountain biking around Mont-Sainte-Anne in the town of Beaupré, Que. Dulude has been married for 27 years and has two adult children, both of whom are pursuing education for careers in finance.