Knowing Your Worth as an Independent: Janine Guenther

01 March 2023 by National Bank Independant Network
Three National bank experts share their thought about money taboo

An industry veteran with more than 35 years’ experience, Janine Guenther got her CFA charter in 1995 and has worked on the buy-side as an institutional money manager and been in leadership at both TD and BMO before going out on her own as an advisor at CIBC. She was recently appointed President of Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel.

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to work in the investment world.

When I graduated university, it was in the middle of a recession. You couldn't get a job for love or money in the equity markets at that time. So, I took a job as a commercial banker, and started that way with balance sheet analysis. When I was with Lloyds Bank, I was lucky enough to get a position in special credit. I got posted in Windsor, Ontario, right when Chrysler was going through its first bankruptcy.

During that process I met Ed Rosenbaum, who ran a CFA prep course at the University of Windsor. He convinced me to get into the program and that’s how I became a CFA Charterholder. That led to my role as an equity analyst and portfolio manager at Great West Life in Winnipeg, which gave me my start in the analysis and recommendation side of things.

I credit my husband for convincing me to move over to the retail side of the business after 10 years as an analyst and portfolio manager on the institutional side. Things were okay, but not great. And my husband really saw how I enjoyed working with people, building relationships, and helping people who come to me with money problems—including family members when we’re at the cottage!

So, I took a chance and moved to TD to run their private counsel business, and I’ve never looked back.

How did you know that going independent was the right choice for you?

Working for the banks is great because you get to learn the business from “the ground up and the customer in.”

But it was my role as an advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy that gave me my first sense of what going independent could really look like, and the opportunity that presented itself at Dixon Mitchell really cemented for me that this is a great part of the business. There's lots of product out there for you to build a business on your own.

You’ve recently transitioned from advisor to President of a company. Was that always a goal or was it a matter of the right opportunity presenting itself?

Well, leadership is actually something that I’ve come back to. When I was at TD and at BMO, I was in leadership and didn't really have a book. I didn't want to compete with the people that I was leading.

But I left leadership to go become an advisor at CIBC, so coming back to leadership felt quite comfortable.

Rob Mitchell has built Dixon Mitchell from zero to about $4 billion over the last two decades. I’ve known him since I moved to Vancouver, 22 years ago. But Rob is beginning to step back with an eye to retiring in a few years from now. So, when I was asked to join Dixon Mitchell as part of its succession plan it felt like the right move. .

I was appointed President of the firm on January 1, 2021, and it is something of a hybrid role, as I do have my own book of long-term clients I brought with me.

Tell us more about Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel Inc. How do they do business and what makes them special?

We are an ICPM (investment counselling/portfolio manager) firm, and we have a high number of CFA Charterholders at our firm. Over 50% of the firm are either CFA Charterholders or Candidates in the program. That means we have very robust discussions, and everybody is right! But eventually we do come to a consensus. I love those conversations. They show the intellectual horsepower of our organization.

We work well together as a team, too, which is vital if you're deciding to go independent. You need like-minded individuals that you can work with and grow the business. Growing a good business and having good discipline is what attracts clients.

You also need an effective strategy around how you're going to build portfolios, create wealth, and help clients get to their financial finish line in a way that makes sense for them. For us that includes investing in our people, investing in technology, and a relentless pursuit of making our process better.

You mentioned your passion for being a financial solution provider, both in your personal and professional life. Is that passion crucial for someone to be successful in the independent space? Is it common amongst independents?

I think it is common in the independent world. You really have to want to help people get to their finish line and be a solution provider.

When the markets are down 15%, for example, other advisors aren’t calling their clients—I am. If the market drops 500 points, the rest of my day goes on hold and I’m phoning clients. I want to be the person who reassures them on a day that they're the most nervous. It’s that kind of care and commitment that attracts and retains clients.

I joke that all I get are weird questions every day, by which I mean I face a lot of unique situations. The referrals I get are usually people coming to me when there are problems. Often times, people come to me, especially women, when there's death or divorce. In many cases, it’s because their current advisor always talked to the husband. These women want and deserve somebody who is going to tell them the straight goods. My role is often as an advocate for them.

What are some of the biggest wins and challenges of being independent?

In terms of wins, there are fewer restrictions in the independent space about the kinds of clients and the kinds of investment policy statements that you can take on. Risk management is very generic at the banks and anything that's special or unique takes a long time to get approved. As an independent, however, because you’re closer to the client and to the actual investment management, you can customize solutions that really make sense for your clients and get them to their financial goals more easily.

Fees are also more transparent when you're an independent. We can track to the penny what a client is paying us and how that's manifesting itself in their portfolio performance.

As for challenges, the hunting is a little bit more difficult on the independent side. It really comes down to making relationships and building your business and your brand over time.

What advice would you give to someone who is curious about going independent?

Understand what your support group will look like when you go independent. Will you be coming with your associate or coming on your own? If you’re on your own, you need to be organized on the administrative part of the job, which is not for the faint of heart.

You also really need to know, whether you're starting your own firm or joining an existing one, how you will be compensated, what the milestones are, and if they're achievable. If you’re joining an independent firm do your homework and be very clear on who owns the client and how you will grow your business. For some people who come from banks, 100% of their book comes with them. For others, it might only be 50%.

Going independent might mean taking a pay cut for a couple of years, as you re-grow your book. But it could end up being the best thing ever if your payout is higher than it ever was at the bank.

Wherever you're going, whether it’s out on your own or joining a firm of like-minded individuals, do the due diligence on their product and their process so that you can easily explain them to your clients. You need to distill into very simple terms how they are better for your clients, and how it's better for you. And that’s important: if you leave out how it's better for you, clients may start to think that it’s just about the money or that you made a move for some reason other than their well-being. You need to strike a balance.

The good news is that there is enough support within the industry to be able to attract and retain the best kind of clients. These clients are looking for a combination of the strength of an independent company with the assurance that there is an independent custodian out there that is keeping an eye on their accounts. That’s the role that NBIN has played for Dixon Mitchell since 2014. We lean on our custodians a lot as independent record keepers and as an added level of assurance for clients.


Are you thinking about going independent? Contact NBIN today to learn more about independence.

Legal disclaimer

National Bank Independent Network (NBIN) is a division of National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF Inc.). Please note that comments included in this communication are for information purposes only. The opinions and endorsements expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of NBIN.