Assante repositions after acquisition by CI Fund Management

By Martin Beaudry | September 19 2004 08:11PM

Assante is repositioning and re-branding itself following its integration into CI Fund Management. Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Insurance Journal, president and chief executive officer Joe Canavan, and vice-president for insurance and financial services Clive Smith, laid out their plans.

Among other changes, they want to introduce a single back-office platform, improved services, strategic applications of insurance, and lower management expense ratios.

“The integration is going very well,” said Mr. Canavan with a smile, “but it was difficult at the beginning.” That is why, when he took his position in November 2003, he established what he called a “hundred-day plan.”

Essentially the plan was to communicate with as many advisors as possible and to get their input as to what was right and what was wrong with the company. “I went around asking people what they liked and disliked. The dislikes were numerous,” he admitted.

In March this year, following that countrywide consultation with advisors, Mr. Canavan began dealing with the concerns expressed. He is determined to make the company a one-stop shop for every aspect of financial planning, both for clients and for advisors.

In either September or October, the company will start a massive rebranding and repositioning campaign, said Mr. Canavan. Several cost-cutting measures will be realized, management expenses and redundancies will be reduced, and a team of experts will be on hand to assist any advisor doing business with the company.

Assante’s advisor group for high-net worth clients will be renamed Assante Private Counsel, while its wealth management division will be named Assante Wealth Management. Changes will be made to all marketing material and to the company’s advertising campaign. The company will also announce a new two-year charitable arrangement.

By the first week of December, each of the current seven back-office platforms will have been fully integrated into a single platform. The biggest of these conversions, the Optima platform, will occur in October. Other conversions have already been made, with the first having occurred in May. The new platform will be assessed through the busy 2005 RRSP season, and any remaining modifications to it are slated for the second quarter of 2005.

As the conversion process drives to a close, the cost savings reaped from the new technology and from the elimination of redundancies following integration to owner CI Funds will be assessed. In either October or November, all of the company’s proprietary managed funds will have their management expense ratios reduced. An announcement is planned for then to explain the scale and magnitude of the cuts.

On the insurance side, Mr. Smith has been mandated to integrate the strategic use of insurance into the wealth management practices of the company. Despite the fact that Assante has always had fairly strong insurance practice as well as a strong wealth management presence, he said the company has been missing the boat on mixing the two as a tax management strategy.

Another challenge Mr. Smith plans to address is the company’s capacity to provide support to all of its advisors, regardless of their calibre. Each will get full access to all companies and all the tools they need.

Whether selling a range of products or sticking to just one line, an advisor will be fully supported to allow them to provide an integrated financial plan and service. For the areas where advisors may have less expertise, the company will offer expert guidance to help them serve their clients.

As part of Assante’s new profile as a one-stop shop, prospective clients will be asked to fill a questionnaire to describe their situations and wishes, as with the forms used to meet the ”know your client” requirements in mutual fund sales. A wealth planning team of 26 analysts from different sectors of financial services, including accounting, law, financial planning, and insurance, will then formulate a financial plan for the advisor to present to their client.

Recruitment to come

As the whole repositioning effort is being completed, the company will embark on a recruitment campaign. Mr. Canavan foresees typical candidates as having a certified financial planner (CFP) designation, about eight to twelve years in the business, and managing about 300 families.

The necessary size of their book of business will vary by geographical location. Most important will be that advisors focus on providing solutions, as opposed to just selling products. Ideally, they will have a lower turnover of clients.

Essentially, Assante wants to be a place to grow and develop a book of business oriented toward meeting each family’s needs. On the other hand, if an advisor already has a lot of experience and a large book of business with no need for support, Assante may not be the best place, he cautions. “If you are a pure salesperson, we are not a good place.”

Recruitment efforts will be through advisors already with the company. Those bringing viable new recruits will be rewarded by financial incentives.