February 22, 2010 / 8:30 PM / in 8 years

Wealth Manager-Finding a niche can build up your book

* Advisers recommend targeting a group or area of interest

* Identify your best clients and find a common thread

* Increase your knowledge of the field, build your market (In U.S. dollars unless noted)

By John McCrank

TORONTO, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Like most financial planners, Daryn McBride started out as a generalist, but he eventually found a special niche — a target group of clients — that grew out of his passion for the game of hockey.

McBride played college hockey and later had a professional career in the American Hockey League before getting into financial advising.

During his first five years in the business, his clients came from all walks. But every so often he was approached on the golf course for advice by someone whose son was drafted into the National Hockey League, or by an agent who referred a player. That got the ball rolling.

“With me, with my niche, I really had to spend time focusing on it and really figure out what my competitive advantage was,” said McBride, who works for Raymond James (RJF.N) in Edmonton, Alberta. “It was an area of interest and passion to me.”

Becoming an expert in a specific area, whether it’s a target group or a sector of investment management, can help clients feel more comfortable and make referrals more likely.

McBride started out giving hockey players simple advice on retirement savings plans (RSPs). But knowing first-hand what young athletes are faced with when they turn pro, he was soon offering more comprehensive advice, and the result was satisfied clients and more referrals.

“Now what I provide clients is a real holistic financial planning and investment portfolio service,” he said. “We basically oversee and plan for every dollar that the player earns after tax that isn’t spent on day-to-day living.”

Pro hockey players, including Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, who recently signed a six-year deal worth $37.8 million, and Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who inked a five-year $33 million deal last year, now make up 50 percent of McBride’s book and a third of his clients.

IDENTIFY YOUR BEST CLIENTS

After several years in the business, Tina Tehranchian, a certified financial planner in the Toronto area, sat down and took a deep look at her book.

First she identified the clients she most enjoyed working with, and then the clients who were the most profitable to her business. The results were revealing.

    The common thread for about 80 percent of them was that they were small-business owners, an area Tehranchian could identify with, since she owns the Richmond Hill, Ontario, branch of Assante Wealth Management.

    “I am a small-business owner,” she said. “I am facing the same challenges that they are facing and I do connect with these people and I enjoy working with them.”

    So she started prospecting more in that community, honing her skills and knowledge in terms of the issues and difficulties that small-business owners face, and she built her niche.

    Once she had established herself as an expert in that area, the referrals began to roll in.

    It was also easier for her to market her practice.

    Now her favorite clients, who are on average 40 to 60 years old with assets for investing of more than C$250,000 ($240,000), make up the bulk of her book.

    Tehranchian said it may also make sense to target a particular area of knowledge, rather than a group of people.

    For instance, an adviser could become an expert on divorce planning, retirement planning or estate planning — they all need a different knowledge base.

    YOUR NICHE MAY PICK YOU

    Sometimes the niche can pick the adviser. Take Jeff (Jaafer) Gareau, who heads No Interest Investments in Oakville, Ontario.

    “My niche, the Islamic market, was thrust upon me through my faith,” he said, “but I did actively pursue trying to build the Islamic mutual fund market as well across the country.”

    Gareau, a practicing Muslim, found that there were few options for people like him who wanted to invest in RSPs, or education savings plans, while being compliant to their faith.

    Islamic investments cannot include companies that deal with alcohol, weapons, gambling, pornography, or interest-generating activity, among other restrictions.

    To build his market, Gareau has been giving seminars in mosques for over a decade on investment options for Muslims, and now people throughout the community come to him for advice.

    “I have a lot of professionals, doctors, lawyers, orthodontists, pharmacists, executives who own their own firms, right down to taxi drivers who want to open up education savings plans that accord to the Muslim faith.”

    $1=$1.04 Canadian Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Frank McGurty

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