SUSAN MALLIN, CFP®, CIM®, Financial Planner and Associate Portfolio Manager, Watt Carmichael Inc.
"Focused on Doing the Right Thing"
It’s often said, money makes the world go round. But how can people make sure their money is managed strategically to make that impact? For Susan Mallin, Financial Planner and Associate Portfolio Manager with Watt Carmichael in Toronto, Ont., it’s a dual-disciplinary approach to managing wealth that maximizes the power in strong financial planning and the opportunities realized through experience and sound investment strategies. Underlying that approach is an ever-present genuine care for her clients at the foundation of everything Susan does. “In all the years’ experience I’ve had doing this work, my biggest strength has always been my desire to get to know each client and to really care about them and their wellbeing,” says Susan. “We must be focused on doing the right thing. This is not a game; it’s a profession.”
In Susan’s early life experience, she developed a deep understanding around the emotion and sensitivity surrounding money. As a teen, she, her mother and brother moved from Quebec City, Que., where she was born and raised, to Calgary, Alta. “Our financial situation was not good and we couldn’t afford much. I started working as soon as I could. I worked at Wendy’s through the winters and I joined the Army Cadets to earn extra cash at summer camps,” says Susan. “Everything I’ve personally gained in my life today has been a function of my practicality, my outlook, my good attitude, and my ambition to do the necessary work while I intuitively envisioned where I would be to in order to break out of that poverty cycle.”
Throughout her journey, Susan steadfastly envisioned her future working in the world of business. It was a vision that remained crystal clear and steered Susan towards the life she always dreamed of living. Selling most of her possessions at the age of 25, she paid off her student loan and packed her essentials into her car, driving from Calgary to Toronto. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to the city to work on Bay Street,” says Susan with a laugh today. “I got a job at the Keg and hunted for work in the financial district. It didn’t take me long to get where I planned and the rest is history.”
Twenty-five years later, the majority of Susan’s clients have also built their wealth through their own work, some practical discipline, and daring to dream, giving them a common ground to work off. In the meantime, her anticipation for the energy Bay Street held saw Susan initially venture into the investment side of wealth management, an area that takes time and experience to master. “As a skill, it takes years to develop,” she says. “The research is ongoing and time consuming. There’s a learning curve when mistakes are made, gaining understanding as to the ways various components work especially well together, grasping the practice of great portfolio construction with good diversification, and creating strategies that minimize risk.”
At the same time Susan worked to quickly master the investment piece of her work, she pursued her Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation in 2001. “It takes time to learn the many moving parts in financial planning. My clients really liked that part of the work and I felt like I was onto something. I thought, ‘I’m going to make the plan the focus and talk about the performance of the investments and stocks more secondarily with the clients,’” she says, recalling that the traditional stockbroker portfolio reviews of the time used to put people to sleep. Instead, by focusing on their financial life goals and the ways to achieve them, Susan enjoyed seeing their eyes light up.
In marrying these two fundamentals of the wealth management spectrum, Susan found a perfect match in her service offerings that took her portfolio construction to the next level. “Matching the type of investments and including a diverse offering that work with what the individual needs from their financial plan is important,” she says. “If the financial plan requires specific parameters to reach a client’s financial goals and the most important assets are not invested where they should be, there is a huge disconnect. Having both disciplines under one belt, it’s much easier and more effective when we match all these pieces up.”
However, Susan’s years of experience revealed the difficulty in giving a highly detailed focus to both investment management and financial planning as each requires a vastly different skillset. With that, it’s challenging to take on both jobs in a fulltime capacity to the level of expertise she insists her clients deserve.
“I’ve always held the philosophy that if I were to join up with a team, I would only align myself with portfolio managers who truly cared about the people attached to that portfolio,” says Susan. “When there is a lack in connection to human emotions people tend to take more risks with the investments. Portfolio managers, in conjunction with a financial planner, should get to know the client to understand and care about what they need and want. When we keep clients happy with incredible service, reasonable fees, great results, and open communication, especially through challenging markets, the client loses less sleep and partners with us for the long term.”
It’s with that priority that Susan enthusiastically joined Watt Carmichael Inc. The full-service investment management firm focuses on integrity, service, and performance. Susan’s financial planning focus truly meets that mandate. “I’m in a position where management values me and they like adding that client-centric financial planning our clients really appreciate to our business model,” she says.
It’s a role that blends Susan’s passion for the art of investing with the value of comprehensive planning. She has an expert team of portfolio managers who take on the day-to-day legwork – research, conference calls and meetings with external companies, portfolio construction and diversification strategies, and the buying and selling decisions of investment products. Meanwhile, as the associate portfolio manager, “I’m doing more of the asset allocation that matches the client’s financial plan,” says Susan. “At our firm, every client has access to financial planning at no additional cost. We have the portfolio managers managing money, I’m in the middle ensuring an ideal match between the client and the portfolio manager. We’re all working together with the guidance of our founding partners to give our clients the ultimate wealth management service and experience.”
Also unique to Watt Carmichael is the fact that their services are not provided with in-house products or commission incentives and the majority of employees own shares in the company. “We have a situation where staff are in it for the long haul and turnover is eliminated,” says Susan. “Everybody is working together with the same interest as far as making our company reputation a priority and there’s a distinctive cohesiveness within our group, which in turn reflects well for our clients.”
Whether she’s working with clients in the accumulation phase, those retired or preparing to retire, or doing comprehensive estate planning, Susan is passionate about finding ways to save people money at the same time her strategies grow those savings through smart, customized investment strategies. “There are so many proven ways to save people money, and I’m talking hundreds of thousands of dollars over a decade or two,” says Susan. “This is also true in saving my clients countless billable hours with their lawyers or accountants. If I prep everything in advance, converse with my client about all the considerations they should cover, and help them organize everything first, it’s an effective time and money saver that pays off for them. My role is to amalgamate all the financial disciplines, including tax and estate planning, investment management, and insurance.”
It's with an eye to the critical importance in synergistically integrating all these professional disciplines under the umbrella of a good financial plan that Susan approaches her work. “If we were to focus too much on one area at the expense of the others, there would likely a money loss in the long-term,” says Susan.
Underlying all she does is an inherent drive to protect her clients with personalized financial plans designed to guide them through life’s many stages and changes. Susan’s personal touch is valued by her small business clients, corporate accounts, academic professionals, and widows alike. “I work with several widows whose husbands passed knowing their wives weren’t as involved in the finances and that’s why they worked with me, knowing the need to plan for that succession,” says Susan. “My clients are regular people who just want to do the right thing so they can meet their goals.”
At the same time she steers people to achieve their dreams, Susan continues to live that hustling business lifestyle she envisioned before her brave solo trek across the country. Watt Carmichael just celebrated their 50th anniversary and is one of the last truly independent investment firms left on Bay Street. “I love living and working in central Toronto – the people, the vibe, the nightlife. I feel safe here, even walking downtown at night, but maybe that’s because I’m a proud Orange Rank in Muay Thai kickboxing,” she says with a laugh. “I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years holds for me and my clients.”
Natalie Noble’s love of writing stems from her passion for hearing and sharing people’s stories. Over the years she has written for various business, real estate, and agriculture publications. At the heart of her work is a desire to continuously learn and connect.
Susan Mallin CFP®, CIM®
Financial Planner and Associate Portfolio Manager
Watt Carmichael Inc.
365 Bay St Suite 1200
Toronto ON M5H 2V1