Patrick Canion (left) and Troy MacMillan

Perth-based financial planning firm The Wealth Designers and former ipac adviser Patrick Canion have teamed up to offer cross-jurisdictional advice and investment services to TWD’s high net worth clients, and to provide Canion with a base to continue to service his Australian clients.

Canion left the ipac and AMP fold in 2019, and decamped to Switzerland where he became an independent financial adviser under Swiss law, establishing a private client advisory business. But he has maintained close links with his Australian clients, and the venture with TWD builds on a relationship that is more than 20 years old.

It will see Canion providing advice to his own clients and to clients of TWD who require expert guidance on investing offshore and dealing with taxation issues in multiple jurisdictions. For TWD, it represents a significant value-added service for its wealthiest family and individual private clients.

Canion crossed paths with TWD founder and chief executive officer Troy MacMillan in late 2002 when MacMillan joined the financial advice industry with a licensee owned by AXA. The advice newbie was urged to meet Canion to get the lay of the advice land.

“I remember it very, very clearly for me at least, because he was the first person I met in financial advice,” MacMillan tells Professional Planner.

“We had a great chat, but it wasn’t limited to that first chat, and what I will always be grateful for was that Patrick was very giving of his time.”

The was crucial to MacMillan who says that he now appreciates that business owners don’t have excess time.

“He gave me a lot of his time, talked through exactly what to expect, the challenges and hurdles, and, you know, try not to reinvent the wheel, and here’s some tips of the trade and some secrets I’ll share with you, and so on,” MacMillan says.

“To be really honest with you, he was the only person who actually gave me time. We did go to a few other practices, and others I found just didn’t have the time. They gave you a 30-minute chat but didn’t have the follow-up part.”

Back to the start

In 2009 MacMillan set up The Wealth Designers and by 2011 he was being named Australian adviser of the year by the Association of Financial Advisers; followed by advice practice of the year by the Financial Planning Association in 2012; and for best practice by Professional Planner, in conjunction with consulting firm Business Health, in 2013. TWD would go on to win a string of other awards.

MacMillan says Canion’s approach to work together came out of the blue but was something they were able to quickly agree had legs.

“We had some really great chats initially, talked very broadly around things, what was happening in Switzerland, what his thoughts were for the future,” MacMillan says.

“He said he was coming to Perth, and when he gets to Perth it would be great to have a bigger chat. And that’s when we really sat down face to face, and chatted through what are the opportunities, and what it could look like going forward.”

Canion says he learned through his own experience of moving to Switzerland that finding the right advice in a new country can be challenging, and through contact with an Australian expat client base that there was demand for services he and MacMillan could offer.

“Increasingly, in an affluent society, investors are looking beyond just the domestic situation and [asking] where’s a safe home for my capital?” he says.

“There’s sovereign risk and fiat risk involved in any investments, so what’s the most appropriate way of both protecting my assets and protecting against such risks?”

Canion built a network in Switzerland, amongst the Australian community living there and became licensed in Switzerland as a client adviser.

But Canion also recognised that he had a natural market of clients still in Australia and faced the issue of how to service them.

“To be active in Australia I both needed to be regulated but more importantly, I needed the infrastructure,” he says.

“I don’t want to do it all and re-create the wheel myself. I really was looking for a practice that I felt comfortable with, that I understood, but also operated in a similar area of market but with similar qualities to what we always tried to achieve at ipac.”

MacMillan says TWD has cultivated a high-value client base that often throws up complex financial issues and challenging advice tasks.

“What we can do now is say if there are any complexities there we do have someone over in Switzerland, who can take care of that for you, or who may know someone introduce you to,” MacMillan says.

“We’ve just got an extension now which, for us, is another value-add that we can actually do for these wealthy family groups that we’re looking after. It’s been well received already, just the fact that we’ve got someone there.

“For these high-need wealthy families, knowing that they’ve got someone overseas [and] they’ve got someone who understands how structuring issues are solved around the world and if not do it himself, he can certainly refer us to the right group to help our clients, it’s a real extension of what we’re offering here to his private clients in Australia.”

Linking up with Canion coincides with TWD’s plans to expand its operations from its headquarters in Perth to the east coast.

“We have two advisers in Sydney at the moment and we want to grow that, probably inorganically, initially,” MacMillan says.

“Then we’re going to grow organically into Brisbane and Melbourne, which what we’re trying to set up in the next six months. Stay tuned – this time next year we would hope to have a bigger presence on the east coast.”

The main difference is the weather

Canion says being regulated as an adviser in two separate jurisdictions has not proven to be a barrier. He says there are thematic consistencies around issues such as disclosure and the need to act in the client’s best interests, but adds that “without being overly critical, they are much less paternalistic”.

“They basically take an attitude that as an adviser you have to have good systems and robust systems,” Canion says.

“You have to have PI [professional indemnity] insurance. There’s a complaints mechanism in place. You can earn a commission, but you have to disclose it. You can’t double-charge. But beyond that, you’re consenting adults.”

Canion says that like in Australia an adviser is required to undertake a client risk assessment and invest according to the client’s wishes. But Switzerland doesn’t have Statements of Advice.

“You basically have to give them annually a statement of their investment account which, on most systems, they can just log in and get anyway,” he says. “It’s much more light touch there.”

Canion adds that a significant difference between Switzerland an Australia is the role played by self-regulation.

“To be an investment manager or client adviser, you’re actually regulated by a co-operative self-regulatory organisation in the first instance,” he says.

“Only then the national regulator after that. You actually have practitioners overseeing and supervising other practitioners.”

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