Eighteen months ago, Laurie Stephenson started the part of her career she always dreamed about: She entered a partnership to start her own firm. As a veteran of the financial services industry — she began her career in 1989 as a manager in the Toronto office of a major insurer — Stephenson wanted to create a business that allowed balance. Now, as one half of Stephenson Daigle Financial, she is excited about the prospect of being able to do business, produce returns and build a business on her terms.
“Realistically, I think our decision to purchase our business property [in Halifax] exemplifies our business philosophy,” says Stephenson. She explains that she and her partner, Trevor Daigle, initially discussed purchasing a larger building, which would require the pair take on additional staff.
“We realized that neither one of us wanted to take on the role of manager. [We also realized] that everyone [currently involved with the business] was interested in maintaining a good standard of living. Last year I took 12 weeks off and spent a month in the south of France. Our philosophy is work hard, play hard, and keep it balanced.”
The key to this balance, and maintaining a big book of business, is realizing that financial planning is all about relationships, says Stephenson.
“When I got started that’s how I approached the business. This approach is how I built long-term relationships with clients, it’s also how I became referable and I built my book. Over 90% of my clients are still with me.”
Stephenson believes that the focus on relationships, not necessarily finding ideal clients, or making money, is “what makes us different than other firms. [In that respect] we bring a small town feel, even to Toronto.”
Stephenson Daigle Financial offers full financial plans, with Daigle focusing on investments and Stephenson focusing on comprehensive and insurance products. Neither sells stocks or bonds directly. While Stephenson concedes that most of her business is still commission-based, she explains that the firm does offer both fee-only service and commissions. “We offer our clients a choice.”
In addition to choice, Stephenson is pleased the firm does little to no marketing. “All of our new business comes through referrals. Word of mouth is our marketing and [we can rely on this] because we focus on what we do best: providing an intimate, friendly business.”
Based on her experience, Stephenson is absolutely certain that the big-book advisors of the future will no longer be the “best sales guy” of the early ’80s. Today, she says, it’s about finding team-members who can help facilitate and build relationships. She admits that her balance approach to work and life would be completely unattainable if she did not have the team at Stephenson Daigle Financial. She admits that while she and Trevor bring the big picture ideas to the table, office manager Krista and junior associate Joanne ensure those ideas are put into practice.
As a result, Stephenson does not worry about business, what will happen to her clients when she retires — which she says may never truly happen — or the future of managing a big book in two cities (she has clients in Toronto and Halifax). What she does worry about when managing nearly 800 clients, though, is bureaucracy. “I know we need compliance — clients need to be protected, but there is a load of red tape and paperwork. That aspect of the business exhausts me. I find that part of the profession more exhausting than anything else. It’s almost at a point where our files take up more office space than we do.”