Congenial and cheerful, André Sirard puts you at ease right away. The head of Professionals’ Financial for ten years now, he has initiated and promoted a host of changes that have transformed the firm. We are going to take a look back with him now at the key events of the past decade and discuss his vision for the future.
You took the helm of the Financial in 2009. What was your vision for the firm at the time?
You have to remember that we were then just emerging from the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. The stock markets were down sharply, the banking system was fragile. With widespread job losses in the financial industry and a significant drop in the market value of investments, concern was palpable.
My mandate was to transform the experience of the Financial’s clients by making available to them, under one roof, all the services they could need for the management of their wealth. From a firm focused primarily on portfolio management, we gradually became a wealth management firm, and we did it our way, with the simplicity and agility that our structure afforded us. Our priority was to provide an unparalleled experience for all the members of our professional association shareholders. Our goal was to personalize each aspect of our offer while maintaining highly competitive management fees.
We restructured our departments, created new internal centres of expertise (Wealth Management, Professional Practice, Securities), enhanced our investment services and updated our corporate culture. We formed new partnerships (MFC, FMEQ and Adm. A.) and expanded our network of business partners (National Bank, Eterna Trust, MultiD), while strengthening our special relationship with our affiliated companies Sogemec Assurances and Sogedent Assurances.
In addition to completely revamping our brand, this evolution gave rise to new educational initiatives―workshops and events on different financial subjects―to disseminate more information to our shareholders. At the same time, we opened new offices in Brossard and Laval to get closer to our clients.
Of which changes are you the most proud?
First, the development of personalized assistance that is in step with our clients’ evolving professional and personal lives. We learned to know them better and we adjusted our offer to their life stages, to provide them with effective solutions for all the situations they may face. Professionals often have a longer and more complex career, which requires thorough knowledge of the challenges and opportunities they face, whether it’s managing student debt, deciding to incorporate their practice or planning for retirement.
With regard to investments, we introduced new Private Management options and we diversified our range of funds. With the events the markets have witnessed, it was necessary to develop more investment solutions featuring a global approach and unconventional strategies. Complementing our traditional but very distinct funds, these new strategies enable us to further diversify sources of return and to better protect the portfolios. As always, our primary objective is for our funds to be among the best performing on the market, especially in terms of risk-adjusted returns.
We are now committed to socially responsible investment to respond to the concerns of our clients, particularly young professionals and women, and also because it is a major investment trend. We have already started to integrate ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors into our general investment policy and these factors are a key consideration in our choice of external managers, who must be familiar with them. To be consistent with our values and those of our professional clients, we have also decided to exclude from our investments all producers of tobacco products and cannabis and manufacturers of firearms.
In collaboration with Mackenzie Investments, a leader in this field, we are now launching three socially responsible funds, whose themes respond to the concerns of our professional clients. They can now choose to actively participate in solving certain environmental or social issues through their investments, without sacrificing returns.
How do you see the future of the Financial?
It’s difficult to talk about the future without talking about technology. We must recognize the huge benefits we derive from it, it’s the concept of HERE and NOW. Immediacy is crucial for our clients, who need information at all times and at their fingertips. It enables connectivity and proximity. We must also ensure maximum information security, because preserving the confidentiality of data and the trust of our clients is a top priority.
What matters for our team is putting the client at the centre of all our actions: we must fine-tune our service and product offering so that it exactly matches our clients’ expectations. We also want to develop a personalized assistance offer, particularly for physicians in private practice, with a complete suite of services (business strategy development, legal structure set-up, financial guidance, accounting management, etc.). This support will help them succeed and we intend to extend it to the other professions of our association shareholders.
Because investment diversification and a range of investment options are essential, we are constantly enhancing the choices available to our clients in order to even better protect their assets. We are continuing our expansion and this year we will be present in two new regions: Saguenay and Ottawa-Gatineau; other markets are also being considered.
My vision, that of our management team, and that of our board of directors is to be the best in everything we do and to become a reference of quality and focused expertise in our industry, nothing less. Our success is our clients’ success. We are committed to their satisfaction and their peace of mind because they are our raison d’être.