Ahead of the Curve

Wolverton successfully responds to changing market trends

Species that survive, Charles Darwin once said, are “the ones most responsive to change.” That could equally apply to Wolverton Securities Ltd.

Founded over a century ago, Wolverton is thriving as a full-service independent investment advisory firm. Of late, it opened new branch locations in Victoria, Prince George and Edmonton and expanded operations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Calgary. As a result, it has achieved substantial incremental business growth by welcoming over 8,000 new client accounts at a time when many participants in the industry are downsizing.

Wolverton chief executive officer Richard Butterworth notes, “With our latest evolution, we offer both new and existing clients the advantages of dealing with a seasoned player in the investment services market.” Wolverton is committed to surpassing $2 billion of client assets by 2015 and is doing so partly by providing investment advisor payouts that are typically 20 to 30 per cent more than its closest rivals, and by transferring client accounts in record time.

Butterworth, who also recently presided over a bold redesign of the company logo and a new corporate website, views these developments as the outcome of “contrary thinking that has been a hallmark of this company ever since Alfred Newton Wolverton founded it in 1910. TSE and TSX numbers demonstrate that transactional business is slowing yearly. Other organizations have responded to industry pressures by raising client fees and reducing investment advisor payouts, but we decided to realign our approach by eliminating some client fees, increasing investment advisor payouts and introducing new product offerings to our clients.”

The Wolverton appeal Prince George-based senior investment advisor/branch manager Dan Seiter joined Wolverton in January 2013 after managing accounts on behalf of Canaccord Genuity Group for 22 years. “I started looking at alternate options for my office by talking to all the other financial specialists,” he says. “I quickly appreciated Wolverton for being a progressive boutique-style firm with lots of capabilities. It had history, financial stability, plus upper management was easy to talk to.”

Seiter’s clients were similarly enthused to be represented by Wolverton. “Typically, you lose 20 per cent of your clients when you go from one firm to another, but I’d be surprised if I lost even five per cent,” he says.

Responsible investment

Another new addition to Wolverton’s stable of investment advisors, JP Lafleur, was even more surprised by the efficient manner in which Butterworth and associates established an office in his home base of Victoria when he joined the team in October of 2012. “Our team agreed to come aboard on a Wednesday, office space was secured for us the next day, full furnishings arrived two days later and we were open for business on Monday morning. It was a pleasant shock to be able to continue business so quickly,” Lafleur recalls. 

Lafleur is excited about opening a new division next year that will align his clients’ values with their money. “We call it Socially Responsible Investing, and it will benefit people who want to pick and choose industries to support rather than being detached from the investment process,” he explains. “Kudos to Wolverton management for appreciating that this approach to investment has a place in the next 100 years of operation.”

Doing things differently 

Product innovation is nothing new to Rose Zanic, senior vice president, corporate finance. During her 17 years at Wolverton she has helped usher in a steady stream of policies and initiatives, which stem from the company’s concern of catering to investment advisor and client needs.

[pagebreak]One example of innovation is Wolverton’s plan of developing alliances to achieve a unique industry model. “Several years ago we disbanded our in-house capital markets group, and since then have chosen to align with outside specialists to provide the same capabilities,” she says.

Another example is Wolverton’s expanded diversification across a variety of industry sectors. “We decided to extend our reach beyond the traditional oil and gas and mining sectors in response to changing market conditions. Our investment advisors are involved in a wide range of business opportunities,” says Zanic. “We have also developed a strong advisory business for corporate clients,” she adds.

Calculated expansion

Helping Wolverton stand out is that it operates in 25 U.S. states, which is a benefit for both U.S. and Canadian clients. “Only a small percentage of investment advisors in B.C. are U.S. licensed, with the licenses being for institutional business; but we also have a retail license, which is a strong advantage,” says investment advisor Daniel Robinson. “Our established U.S. capabilities support Americans looking to do business in Canada,” Robinson adds.

“Local Canadian companies are trying to access the U.S. market more than ever, and we’re well established to provide them with expert guidance,” adds investment advisor Alex Blanchard.

Kelowna-based Blanchard has benefitted from Wolverton’s relentless pursuit of giving comprehensive service to clients. His office opened in 2003 with a small team of three employees, but within the last year that number has grown to 11. “New investment advisors joining us do so without hassle because we have a smooth transition system,” he says.

Into the future

Wolverton chairman and chief investment officer Brent Wolverton points out that in order to drive positive change as the investment landscape evolves, it was imperative that he devote his energies to portfolio management and nurture his growing stable of investment advisors: “This group of individuals is the fastest growing segment of our advisor base and will certainly be a key component of our future success.”

Wolverton goes on to say that one of the joys of the investment business is the great diversity of organizations he’s able to positively influence on an annual basis: “Every day is different as our advisors and portfolio managers interact with public companies with operations around the world.” In addition to its involvement in the investment business, Wolverton currently has interests in restaurants, brewing and liquor sales, real estate and retail.

As Wolverton blazes into its next 100 years, Brent Wolverton stresses that community service will continue to be a big part of the company’s focus. From small projects to large projects undertaken by the Wolverton Family Foundation (which helped launch facilities for the Sarah McLachlan School of Music), Wolverton is devoted to helping the community it serves. “As a fourth generation Vancouverite I feel a real need to acknowledge the role this city has played in both my and my family’s success,” he says. “This vibrant city has afforded us great opportunities, and giving back plays a huge role in our business.”