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There’s a slight touch of irony in Iqbal Amiri’s success story in financial services. That’s because it begins in the middle of a recession.

“There was an economic downturn, and a lot of cutbacks. And I became a casualty of the cutbacks,” says the founder, president and CEO of Edmonton-based Amiri Wealth Management.

Iqbal had worked in the retail sector for 11 years. He’d progressed from starting as a part-time clerk in 1982, to being “a general manager in a large, major retail chain.” But the 1990–92 recession hit the retail sector hard. In 1991, Iqbal got hit with a pink slip.

In retrospect, he says, “It’s the best thing that happened to me.”

At the time, Iqbal’s wife “was working for a general insurance company in home and auto insurance,” and urged him to make a move into the sector.

It was just the “kick in the pants that pushes you to do something else” that he needed. But it was a stressful kick at first.

First Steps in Financial Services Career

“We were expecting our first child in three weeks when I got laid off, and a week later I found a job and I had two weeks to write my licensing exam,” Iqbal recalls. “It was very stressful because you have to study; you have to pass. And you’ve got a wife at home and no money and all those sorts of things and then you have to be away for three weeks after the exam because you have to go through the training program. So I left my new-born at home and you do what you have to do to provide for your family.”

And so began what would be a multi-year career with Allstate. “I’d be working from eight in the morning until 11 at night six or seven days a week; whatever it took to learn, grow and advance in my profession,” says Iqbal.

Going Out On His Own

In 1996, after five years selling home and auto insurance, he had the a-ha moment that would lead to him start Amiri Wealth Management three years later.

“What I determined was that people were not buying a product, but a promise that they feel I was making to them. Because insurance is just a promise. It’s a promise that I’ll come through for you when things go bad for you.

He also realized “I didn’t like home and auto insurance all that much” and “wanted to be on my own” so he could “focus entirely on financial services” providing corporate and personal investment and insurance advice and solutions.

Going out on his own in 1999 “was actually the same feeling as when I was let go from my retail job, because you’re now back to working on commission only. But the difference was that I made the decision. The entrepreneur in me was saying, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ It was a choice.”

Proudly Spanning Generations

It was the right choice. Over 20 years, Iqbal has built a very successful practice based in Edmonton, with a second office in Camrose, AB. He’s working with second generation clients, and has many clients who’ve been with him since day one of Amiri Wealth Management. Of these two things, he’s proud — and rightly so.

“The clients I have generally don’t leave me unless they pass away or they move to a province where I don’t have a licence to practice,” Iqbal says. “I know I can’t be 100% to 100% of the people; we may not have that connection for whatever reason. But people generally don’t leave us. They stay with us…and then we look after the next generation.”

He adds, “When they say, ‘Can you look after my son or daughter,’ that’s the highest compliment an advisor can get…that can make you misty.”

It’s being trusted that’s the key to it all, Iqbal says. Especially when it comes to his high-net-worth clientele. “There’s zero margin of error with respect to trust. You can have human errors…but trust is one thing that has zero tolerance. There’s no variation, no deviation. That’s expectation number one,” he affirms.

The Importance of Relationships

“Expectation number two is, what’s important to them, is important to us. Their objective is paramount. Our objective is to make sure their objective is met.”

He calls client relationships “super-important.”

“One client told me that I knew more about him than his pastor at the church knew,” says Iqbal. “The more I know, the more I’m able to protect them…I can do everything I can based on what I know about them.”

What clients appreciate most, Iqbal believes, is “being up front and honest.” So he’s not afraid to recommend change because a strategy hasn’t worked “and we need to move forward.”

That’s because what Iqbal wants for every client “first and foremost is their peace of mind.” He wants to make sure clients not only have future financial security, but also that they don’t feel guilty about spending money in the present.

“If you’ve worked hard to earn that money, you have the right to enjoy that money today as long as you’re saving for the future. Enjoy what you’re spending; don’t spend with guilt.”

Keeping Clients on the Path

He adds, “I want my clients to understand where their money is invested, what the volatility of it is, what the cost of it is; so that if there is some volatility, they can say, ‘We were expecting that; we knew this was the movement so we’re okay with it.’ It’s like having good shock absorbers [on a vehicle].”

He spends “a lot of time trying to educate my clients.”

While he’s contemplating holding group educational seminars, Iqbal much prefers one-on-one meetings with clients. “It’s a more intimate time,” he says. “In a larger group setting people don’t ask questions because they feel it’s a stupid question but it’s very relevant to them so it’s not stupid as far as I’m concerned.”

He meets with clients “once a year for sure, twice a year for some and for people with significant assets I’ll meet with them as much as three or four times a year.”

Often, those meetings are held over Skype. And he’s “surprised how many clients prefer just text messages.” Emails can get long and convoluted, but text messages “just pop up and it’s usually two lines, and that’s it.”

Technology’s Good — “Tips” Aren’t

Iqbal embraces technology that’s making it’s way into the financial services sector. “I think technology is only going to add to and complement what we do. It’s not going to replace what we do; it’s going to complement what we do. I think it plays a big part.”

What he doesn’t at all embrace is clients coming to him for help after the fact, when he can’t help them.

“It doesn’t happen a lot. But I have seen people lose a ton of money because they go from zero risk to 100% risk and I’m thinking, ‘How did you end up here? You were someone who didn’t want to take any risks, and all of a sudden you get into an investment and you lose all of your money.’”

He adds, “Some people put all their money in tech and then the tech bubble burst [in 2001] and they lost 90% of their assets…They’ll say, “Well, I got a tip.’” And that just means you’re about to lose money. I cringe when I hear, ‘I got a tip.’”

His Biggest Challenge

Clients who invest based on a tip instead of professional advice aren’t his ideal clients. “I like the ones who value my advice,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how much money they have. If they don’t value your advice, if they don’t value the service we provide, there’s no point having them as clients because no matter what I do they’re not going to be satisfied.”

Iqbal says “my biggest challenge is the internet” because “there’s so much misinformation out there” that’s readily accessible and can lead to clients making bad decisions based on something they read that may not necessarily be from an authoritative source.

“It’s a very important thing, particularly in smaller communities where they don’t have access to all the research, products and services that might be available in larger centres,” he says.

He urges clients to “base things on facts and facts alone. Don’t make decisions based on somebody’s opinion.”

Creating the Right Surroundings

Iqbal believes one of the keys to building a successful practice and helping clients make the best decisions for them is surrounding “yourself with knowledgeable and professionals whom you can learn from.”

By doing this early, Iqbal says, “I was able to understand those more complex products, strategies and concepts. It allowed me to understand quickly, and convey that to my clients quickly.”

Keeping up to date with continuing education is also critical. “It’s really important…in the new economy, [knowledge] has a short lifespan. Whatever you know today is going to be irrelevant in six months or a year depending on what it is…so you have to have continuing education.

The challenge for advisors, Iqbal says, is that “you run out of time so you have to be very focused on what subscription you’re going to read.”

You also have to determine which websites are the most authoritative sources of information, he adds. “That’s a big thing.”

High expectations

“What’s interesting is that a financial advisor is expected to know tax laws; they’re expected to know tax laws; they’re expected to know estate laws; they’re expected to know accounting and human psychology. [Clients] come to us for everything, so yes, you have to be very, very knowledgeable.”

Iqbal’s thirst for knowledge led him to complete the Ivey Executive Program in Business Administration, Management and Operations, at Western University in 2012. “It was my bucket-list item to do before I turned 50,” he says. “It was three weeks of mental boot camp full of case studies. I highly recommend it for executives.

To Iqbal, it’s all part of being fully committed to your own success.

Both Iqbal and his wife Shamim are committed to the success of Amiri Wealth Management — they run the practice together. Shamim holds an associate engineering degree and a few years ago obtained her Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP®) designation. Drawing on her past experience in the insurance business, she is Vice-President of the firm, handling administration as well as client relations and management.

“It has worked well for us,” says Iqbal, noting the couple has a pact of not bringing work discussions home. “We try not to do that.”

Looking Back, It’s All Good

Iqbal says looking back over the last 20 years of his practice, he’d “still do everything the same” including “have my wife working with me.”

But, he adds retrospectively, “The things I know now, if I’d known them 15 years ago…I think I would have a greater asset value, and a greater asset size and a bigger business.”

He’s much more than okay with the size and state of his practice, however. That’s because making sure his clients have financial security “gives me that satisfaction; that energy.”

Iqbal recalls one situation where, “I kind of insisted and made my case to have a life insurance policy for this man, and the wife was against him spending all his money on insurance. But four years later he died, and the wife got all of the money. It was millions of dollars that was tax free, and what I did was for her benefit. And when she got that money, she was set for life. And she was only in her early 50s.

“I get paid to do what I do, but the joy that I get is priceless,” he says. “You can’t put a paycheque or a dollar value to that.”

That joy is going to keep coming for a few years yet. Iqbal, who just recently turned 57, is nowhere near wanting to trade running his practice for golfing on the links every day. Still, he’s making sure there’s a succession plan that puts his clients first.

“I don’t want to give it to some stranger who doesn’t know my clients and my clients don’t know them, and they don’t have any relationship. So I’ve got two young associates that I’m hiring and training, and my plan is that when I retire, they’ll take over from me,” he says.

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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