Canadian Family Offices Face Stiff Competition

Terry Flanagan

Family offices in Canada are a rarity, given the iron grip Bay Street exerts over the wealth management industry. Independent wealth managers are themselves becoming an endangered species.

Mutli-family offices are even rarer, numbering perhaps five or six.

“In Canada, that industry, that segment, doesn’t really exist,” said Arthur Salzer, CEO and chief investment officer of Northland Wealth Management, which has $300 million in assets under management. “Basically there’s ourselves and a couple of other providers and that’s really the extent of things. So we’re a bit of an anomaly in Canada from that perspective.”

In the United States, a segment of the RIA space operates as multi-family office, and many of them typically originate from a single family office, a family that created significant liquid financial wealth and is not only looking to manage it but also to manage the family and the family dynamics around it. Not so in Canada.

“To a large degree, either through their private banking or through their brokerages, Canadians in general deal with something with a name bank behind it and the independent space is very tiny,” Salzer said. “Most providers that call themselves wealth managers tend to be working at broker dealers that are owned generally by the Canadian banks, and they tend not to work as a fiduciary, which an RIA would or a multi-family office would, but really as a salesperson.”

Independent wealth managers can provide unbiased advice, noted Stephen Kahn, CEO of Condor Asset Management, which has assets under management of $15 million. “There is another subset of people are not 100% comfortable with the banks because of the inherent conflicts of interest,” he said. “They’re not always looking out for the clients the way maybe an independent will. You can get lost in a large organization, whereas if you go with an independent, typically, they are not as large, and your account manager is not going to change every 4 or 5 years. It is more of a longer-term relationship.”

A multi-family office typically begins its life as a single family office which then decides to offer its services to additional clientele that are not family members. For example, a single-family office that serves large and extended families may serve someone who is a 5th cousin.

“In this regards you are related, but not quite,” Salzer said. “It’s not a large step to extend the family office offering to someone who may be your neighbor. “The advantage is that these non-family clients may now have access to additional asset classes, managers or investments that a family offices typically can.”

The impetus behind Salzer forming his company was a family that he was serving took its company public in 2003, and as a result its financial assets became significant.

“Once that happened, things became much more complex because you end up investing in both direct and through private equity funds, hedge funds, farmland and real estate,” he said. “Large amounts of financial wealth act as an amplifier, so you need to have a firm that spends as much time on the intrinsic wealth of the family as the actual investments. We enable families to live the way they want to and do it in an intelligent fashion.”

Salzer views himself as a consigliere. “We’re the family member that’s not a family member,” he said. “If you take the illegalities out of the Mafia and you look at the family basis, then they were families that stuck together for generations. You get rid of the bad part and there’s something very good going on.”

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