It was 17 years ago that I moved my business address from Bay Street to Burrard Street. In 1991 I left Richardson Greenshields in Toronto to join Phillips, Hager & North Investment Management Ltd. in Vancouver.
I am still asked by my eastern friends and clients what it is like working on the Wet Coast. Is it a good place for an asset manager to be?
I don’t hesitate to tell them that Lotusland is a great place to manage money. There are trade-offs, but on balance Vancouver managers are in a good position to deliver attractive returns to their clients.
The Internet and the globalization of the industry have definitely levelled the playing field for firms based outside of the major financial centres. Some pundits even argue that money managers outside New York, London and Toronto have an advantage because they’re less likely to travel in the same research circles and more likely to look at things with a fresh eye.
The fact is, there are many successful investors who don’t ply their trade in the financial centres, including Warren Buffett, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and John Templeton, who managed money in Nassau in his heyday (and continues to live there). When Templeton was asked what helped him most with his investment decision making, he responded, “every mile I moved away from New York.” He was referring to the fact that making money for clients has nothing to do with being plugged in to the buzz of Wall or Bay streets.
Some of Canada’s leading asset managers are in Vancouver – Connor, Clark & Lunn Financial Group, Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel Ltd., Phillips Hager & North and the Cundill Group. There are also a number of boutique firms with impressive long-term records, including Cypress Capital Management Ltd., Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel Inc., Genus Capital Management and Vertex One Asset Management Inc. These firms are successful not because they are based in Vancouver but because they have some of the best people in the business.
Our city and province have contributed to the success, however, because people want to live here. Money managers are generally well paid and have the luxury of choosing where they want to live, and Vancouver is high on the list. Just as importantly, when portfolio managers and analysts get settled into the West Coast lifestyle, they rarely leave. This is relevant in a business where continuity of personnel is important.
The draw of Vancouver is complemented by a strong finance program at UBC – a pioneer in giving students a chance to manage real money through the $3.7-million Portfolio Management Foundation. While these students often move away to take jobs at top firms around the world, many come back a few years later armed with a wide range of skills and experience.
Working in Pacific Time requires that money managers make some adjustments. At its most basic, they need to get out of bed earlier; the North American markets open at 6:30 a.m. our time. It also means travelling farther to interview companies, attend conferences and meet with clients. It is an advantage, however, to live in a city where the markets close at 1 p.m.: there are few calls from the East after lunch, and the afternoons are a great time to do analysis and take time to think. From my experience, the days are quieter and less frantic here than they are in the East.
Vancouver’s asset management community is not large, but we have the critical mass to attract the attention of publicly traded corporations and the large brokerage firms. Corporate leaders will often stop in Vancouver – sometimes on their way to Whistler – to meet with asset managers, while brokerage firms bring their analysts and investment bankers to town on a regular basis.
I’ve always believed that it’s people who make money – not big teams and not prestigious addresses. When we selected the fund managers for our new firm, Steadyhand Investment Funds Inc., we ended up with people in Edinburgh, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. I love New York and London, but for our clients’ sake, I’m happy travelling to the quieter places, including downtown Vancouver. To quote Frankie Valli, “Silence is golden.” Tom Bradley is president of Steadyhand Investment Funds Inc. in Vancouver.