Mike Treurniet likes to call what he does, “the non-egotistical method of investing” for his clients.
It fits his style and his nature. Rather soft spoken, he doesn’t believe in tooting his own horn. It’s just not his way. Even talking about himself for a magazine profile — for the first time, at that — makes him a bit uncomfortable. But as we ease into the conversation, he finds his way into a new comfort zone — mostly.
“I call it the non-egotistical method of investing because I really do concentrate on the best managers and focus my attention there,” he says.
He came up with the term over 20 years ago, when he was an investment specialist at Clarica (now Sun Life). “They asked me to write a book about it,” he recalls.
But he didn’t want anything to do with that. Just not his way. “I’m a humble guy,” he chuckles softly.
Holding the course through the crash
His client-focused investing philosophy proved to be the right thing in the spring of 2000. That was when the dot.com bubble burst. On March 10, 2000, tech stocks peaked on the Nasdaq Composite Index, then came crashing down. The bust lasted until October 2002.
“Before the tech bubble burst, my portfolio focused on hiring the best managers. I didn’t try to pick the funds myself,” Mike says. “I allowed the managers to make those decisions for me and my clients, and I would make sure they were doing what we hired them to do.
“So when the tech bubble burst, my clients didn’t lose their money. Which was extremely rare at the time because basically every advisor in Canada was on the tech bandwagon. Their clients were making 80% a year and mine were making 30% or 40%. But the difference is, I’d say, ‘Well, if the best managers in the world don’t think you should be in tech, you need to listen to them.’”
He adds, “My approach was, the managers have the ability to get out of tech and go elsewhere, and they did.”
Mike’s approach didn’t necessarily win him friends in the advisor community at the time. But it did two other significant things.
Reaping the rewards
First, he established a reputation “as the guy who didn’t blow up his investors.”
Then he got asked to meet with other advisors’ clients whose portfolios did get blown up, and redo them. Within three months, he was asked to take over the Wealth Management Division of Bencom Financial Services Group Inc. in January 2003. He was a partner in the firm until 2012.
It was rewarding to be asked to rescue others’ clients. But Mike takes it in stride. “I stay disciplined to what I believe and the experiences that I had working in the corporate world,” he says matter-of-factly.
There’s passion for his clients, and for what he does, in his voice. “The reason I enjoy doing what I do and being a financial advisor is because I love helping people. I started working with small clients, all the way up to multi-million-dollar accounts. I get just as much satisfaction out of turning a $5,000 account into a $50,000 account as I do turning $1 million into $3 million.
From forest ranger to financial advisor
The passion is genuine. And he was born into the financial services industry — Mike’s father Dan was an industry executive for 30 years. But being a financial advisor wasn’t Mike’s original plan. He was at the University of Waterloo in the Environmental Studies program, planning on becoming a forest ranger. “But the jobs disappeared when I was half-way through my degree program,” he recalls.
It was the 1990s in Ontario, under the Conservative government of Mike Harris. When deep cuts dashed his dream of working in the provincial forestry service, Mike (Treurniet) adjusted his courses to include political science and business.
Then he ended up at Manulife Securities International — sort of — as a coordinator, straight out of university in 1996. His father had connections at Manulife, and directed Mike to them.
“They said, ‘I’ll hire you, but you have to go through this temp agency and tell them we’re hiring you’…the crazy thing is, within three months I was managing my division but I was doing it through the temp agency.
“I was the first person to ever get a management position in Manulife Financial who technically didn’t work for the company. It was insane. But it was a great experience,” Mike laughs.
Shaping his future—and laughing along the way
Ambitious to move up, he moved on after a year. Mike did stints at both Clarica and Brightside Financial in 1997/98. At Clarica, he worked as a marketing and investment specialist. Then at Brightside as a branch administrator. In these early roles Mike shaped himself for his future as an advisor.
“I worked with hundreds of advisors from Manulife, Brightside and Clarica across Canada…I basically started following the good advisors; the ones who are doing it right. And I modelled myself after them.”
Mike’s core values are honesty and integrity. He sticks to these two principles every day in his holistic practice. He has done so ever since becoming an advisor with Assante Financial Management in December 1998.
While he’s principled, he’s no stick-in-the-mud. “I like to have fun at work, and my staff like to have fun at work. And my clients appreciate that,” he says.
“Sometimes difficult situations are easier when someone can laugh. And we do a lot of laughing in our meetings to get the results.”
He adds, “I believe my clients do understand I’ve got their best interests at heart. They enjoy our meetings because they’re motivational and fun, and less detailed and serious, when the moment requires it.”
“Winning” with and nurturing clients
“I have real down-to-earth clients who appreciate their relationship with me,” Mike says.
“I love working with my clients and the relationships that I have. And it makes me feel good to see them be successful. That’s the most rewarding part of being a financial advisor. I like to win, and I like to see my clients win. I think that’s what drives me. I call it ‘winning.’”
He’d never think of segregating his business and dropping smaller clients just because somebody suggested it would be a good idea — and it has been suggested. Servicing big and small accounts alike and equally “takes a little extra effort,” but it’s worth it and made easier when he has “a really good team.”
A complementary team
His associate advisor, Paula MacKellar, was an advisor in the U.K. “Her personality and drive complement my practice,” says Mike. “She’s also very caring and nurturing. And we both share the same values of honesty and integrity, and doing the right thing, putting our clients first and taking a holistic approach. So our program is not all about just investing. It’s about holding our clients’ hands when they need that.”
Administrative assistant Gail Campbell keeps the team and the practice glued together with her “lots of experience.” When you’ve got a good team behind you, it reflects on everything. “It really does,” affirms Mike.
One of the most rewarding things about his practice for Mike is that he had a chance to work with his father Dan Treurniet. “My father worked in the industry his whole life until he called me and said, ‘Mike, I think I’m done working in the corporate world. Do you think I could join you?,’” Mike recalls with a chuckle.
Parental guidance and trust
He did. And Dan became Mike’s trusted “right hand” in the practice.
“It’s pretty unusual when you can work with your father in a trusted fashion. You don’t have to worry about confidentiality, or lack of trust, or being on the same page. We were a good team. He did a lot of the income forecasting and portfolio development, and again with his 30 years of corporate background, he had experiences that I didn’t so it was a good complement. And then he was getting older and slowing down, and we transitioned Paula into that role.”
The elder Treurniet is still — sort of — involved in the practice. “Now he just shows up for lunches,” laughs Mike.
There’s levity when it’s needed, but Mike and his team are always focused on their clients. “We take an interest in our clients’ development; and we celebrate their successes; and hold their hands during their failures.”
Adding value with holistic approach
That holistic approach encompasses developing investment and tax strategies; life insurance; talking about retirement planning; long-term care; clients’ hobbies, events and part-time jobs they’re going to do; talking about buying a cottage; and transitioning businesses.
“Fees are what you pay, value is what you get, is the cliché,” Mike says. “I think the value our clients get is confidence and consistency in delivery of our financial services and advice.”
But he says this humbly and simply matter-of-factly.
Mike’s practice is 100% referral. He’s in the top 10% of advisors with Assante. And he’s been on the Assante Chairman’s Council since 2013 — this is on his business card in fine print — but Mike doesn’t make a big deal out of it at all.
“I think our actions speak louder than words, and I’ve always believed that. I’ve had friends and family say, ‘What is this chairman’s council?’ on my business card. And when I tell them, they say, ‘Geez, Mike you’ve got to tell people that.”
In fact, he says it’s “weird” for him to even be talking about his practice and successes.
The path to success
Getting invaluable hands-on experience early on, with trusted mentors to guide him, helped Mike build a very successful practice and reputation with his clients.
“I started working and had several mentors over my time and I really got good hands-on experience working in specialized fields with corporate and business owners, and entrepreneurs. So I created a niche for myself working with families and businesses. It’s a niche I fill and most advisors don’t know how to do what I’m doing.”
To Mike — and his clients — what you do for them matters a whole lot more than where you do it for them. He doesn’t believe in having a posh office…like he did for the shortest time when he was just starting out and learned a valuable lesson.
“My first office when I started my business, was very posh. And I had a client walk in and say, ‘This is how you’re spending my commission you’re earning? I don’t want anything to do with that.’”
Nowadays he doesn’t even have the best view. Mike’s practice takes up about one third of the Assante building overlooking the picturesque Grand River in Kitchener, Ont. It’s nestled between the river and the Conestoga Parkway. “My window overlooks the expressway,” Mike laughs.
Giving back on his success
For years, he ran his practice as a sole proprietorship. He finally incorporated in 2012. Mike says being incorporated himself helps client relationships because he “understands how business and corporations work.”
The year he incorporated, he also started a charitable foundation, The Michael Treurniet Family Foundation. He believes it’s important to give back to the community. The four major charities he supports are Children’s Wish Foundation Canada; Parkinson Canada; the Canadian Cancer Society; and Lupus Canada. As well, he and his whole team get involved in charitable volunteerism such as food drives.
“Every Christmas, I used to give out gifts to my A clients,” Mike says. “Now, I just let them know that I give a lot of money to the foundation that supports the charities, and that wouldn’t be possible without them being with me.”
He adds, “I found a few people make the comment that, ‘I’d rather you do that than send me a gift.”
“You want to give back. And you want to help other people,” Mike says. “It does come back to feeling good, and those who are blessed should help those who are less fortunate. It’s an old cliché, but it’s true.”
Reflecting on his success, Mike says, “…If you can keep on the straight and narrow and keep doing what you love, the business grows on its own.”
His advice to newer advisors getting started in the industry? “You have to have a disciplined approach that’s client focused. You’ve got to be humble, be dedicated to doing what’s right and keeping a work-life balance.
Dean Askin is a B2B and non-profit content writer/consultant with more than three decades of experience in journalism and communications.He’s worked in radio current affairs; written for and edited national trade magazines; and taught journalism.
Dean learned to master the craft of telling powerful stories with words under the guidance of Canada’s master storyteller – the late, great Stuart McLean.
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