Interview: Financial Planner – Dave Lee

Savvy investors know that working with a Certified Financial Planner® is a wise decision.   

What sets the top financial planners apart?  

As Dave Lee, Senior Wealth Advisor, of Scotia Wealth Management puts it, making smart financial decisions goes far beyond “hoping for the best.” 

dave lee wealth advisor scotiabank

We reached out to Dave to learn some best practices from one of the profession’s leading minds.  Dave has long been receiving local and national recognition for his financial planning insights, and we interviewed him to learn why his approach resonates so much with the clients he serves.

And we were impressed.  Dave prides himself on his ability to analyze a situation, and recommend the best course of action clearly and succinctly. But it’s the connection he sees between the numbers he crunches and what matters in the lives of those he works with that produces meaningful results.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree and several financial accreditations, but in keeping with his approach of reducing complexity for clients, Dave tries to avoid the “alphabet soup” approach to listing them all on his business card.  Instead, he displays the three most relevant qualifications: Chartered Investment Manager (CIM), Fellow of the Canadian Securities Industry (FCSI) and Certified Financial Planner® (CFP).  

However, he’s also someone who has been investing for a long time. Like…a really long time. 

A little history

Long before he became a CFP, Dave got his first job at 10 years old when he began selling catalogue products door-to-door with his sister. After making a few hundred dollars (or becoming “rich” as it was known on the playground), Dave considered the venture a success. He soon began delivering the Province newspaper before school and the Vancouver Sun after school. While everyone else hustled home to watch cartoons and grab a snack, Dave was becoming an entrepreneur. 

“This helped shape my view of what a dollar was worth,” says Dave. “It gave me the opportunity to see what investment choices the local banks offered, at a time when they didn’t seem to mind that they were opening accounts for a minor.” 

Dave began investing his paper route money at the age of 12, with the help of his father, who worked in the financial industry. Later that year, Dave’s father suffered a significant head injury in a car accident that ended his career, and Dave found himself involved in the family finances much younger than most. 

A larger view

Beyond a love of numbers, travel has also had a major impact on how Dave approaches investing. 

Inspired by a backpacking trip across Europe his father had taken as a teenager, Dave started travelling young. He spent a month in Japan on a student exchange when he was only 16 years old. Dave’s love of travel has taken him to more than 40 countries so far. 

“I believe this helps me to better understand the way in which economic events around the world are connected to each other and impact the Canadian and U.S. economic and investment environment,” says Dave. 

What does a financial plan look like?

As you may have guessed, Dave’s approach to building a financial plan goes far beyond a one-size-fits-all solution. 

After an open discussion and assessment of a client’s needs, Dave prepares a detailed financial plan and a long-range projection, which both take into account numerous factors, such as:

  • inflation
  • taxation
  • optimizing pension choices
  • insurance policies
  • property, including their home
  • vacation property and investment properties
  • the potential need for expensive health care
  • the potential for living a very long time

The end goal is to develop an investment strategy — a long-term financial planning process — to help the client define and meet their unique financial goals.

Who are Dave’s typical clients?

In Dave’s words, “I work best with established families and business owners with more complex investment, tax and family circumstances. I tailor investment portfolios and financial advice to enable each client to achieve their unique goals.” 

“Unless someone has an inheritance or lands a big contract, they typically won’t have a need for my services in their twenties or thirties,” says Dave. “But the space I operate in, I’m also not dealing with the ultra-wealthy. Most of the people I work with would consider themselves pretty average — they’ve saved up a million or two million, but they haven’t done it overnight, it has taken a lifetime.” 

Dave also finds himself working with many medical professionals. “I’ve worked with a lot of business owners and professionals,” he says. “My wife happens to be a nurse, so physicians and other medical professionals have always been a great fit for me.” 

“Business owners, including physicians and other professionals, face an additional set of tax rules that add complexity to their financial situation, but also provide wonderful wealth-building opportunities if handled by proactive and knowledgeable professionals,” says Dave. “These people are often very intelligent and good at making money, but often they lack the time or the interest in becoming experts in handling their financial affairs, so they look to experienced professionals like me who can analyze the situation, recommend the best course of action, and communicate clearly and succinctly.” 

On Scotia Wealth Management

Scotia Wealth Management provides Dave’s clients with a team of specialists who use their expertise to consider what they’ve accumulated — and how to manage it through life’s changes. 

“It’s an innovative, team-based approach to wealth management that addresses the entirety of your life — your family, your business, your future — one facet at a time,” says Dave. “From financial counsel on managing your wealth to careful contemplation of how to transfer it to future generations, it’s your thinking, combined with our thinking to create what we call Enriched Thinking®.” 

While Scotia Wealth Management falls under the umbrella of Scotiabank, Dave’s team operates in open architecture, which means they’re able to recommend any kind of bond, fund, stock or other investment. 

However, Dave doesn’t always recommend just any financial product.

“Although we have the ability to use any of the mutual funds that exist in Canada, I generally tend not to. I find they’re a bit on the expensive side. I prefer lower cost structures as the people I work with tend to have a bit more scale,” Dave explains. 

Dave’s focus is on personalized solutions and making the right investments for the right client. 

Building the right team

A perk to working with Dave is the team he brings on board to help his clients. 

Who gets brought in to help clients? That depends on each case. Dave calls in whichever professionals are best suited to each particular client. 

Dave regularly works with the existing accountants, lawyers and other financial or professional experts a client may have on board. 

However, he also has a number of specialists who he keeps in contact with, as well as the resources of Scotiabank available to help build a dream team of financial experts. 

“For example, I have a 25-year veteran insurance specialist, and all he does, all day, every day, is insurance,” he says. “In order to put advanced strategies in place, that’s the kind of personality I bring in.” 

“We can also bring in specialists from Scotiatrust, we can call on our total wealth planning team, our taxation team — it’s a number of different professionals who often get pulled in to each client case. I pull them in as needed and quarterback everything from there.” 

While Dave often brings in a team of specialists, he acts as the main point of contact for clients and as the lead strategist for their cases. 

The advantages of personal financial planning with a team

Bringing on a broad team of financial specialists is a practice that Dave says aids clients from both a costing and results perspective. 

“One of the things that my clients love in bringing on all these team members is that we all work together in the client’s best interests. We meet, compare notes and collectively put our brains together to design the optimal solutions,” Dave explains. “That’s really where the tagline of ‘it’s your thinking, combined with our thinking, to create Enriched Thinking®’ comes from.” 

One size does not fit all

While Dave has a number of go-to team members, not every client case will require the same specialties. He’s often willing to think outside the box. 

“On a current client case, we’re also going to be bringing in an actuarial firm to assist with an IPP — which is an Individual Pension Plan, which is basically a super-sized RRSP that people, through their own corporation, can set up to increase the size of the retirement savings that the government allows them to put away and get a tax deduction for.” 

Dave’s flexibility and willingness to offer flexible solutions extends into the diversity of investment options he’s able to offer. 

“I don’t have an in-house menu of investment options that I have to slot everybody into,” he says. “I’ve got complete freedom to use the best-of-the-best without a proprietary limitation.” 

What’s the most important quality in a total wealth planner? 

Dave believes it’s the ability to put the client’s unique needs and goals first. Often this means knowing the right questions to ask. 

“You need to be a good listener. But more than that, you need to have the depth of knowledge and experience to be able to ask good question after good question — to keep the conversation flowing in productive directions as you unpack each of the various facets that need to be explored,” he explains. 

It’s why total wealth planning is important. It goes beyond being sold a product or a cookie-cutter plan for your investments. It’s a conversation and relationship to help build the right solutions, the right action plan and the right outcomes. 

Dave feels the ability to formulate a strategy centred on a client’s needs is developed over many years. It comes from a combination of studying, learning and being genuinely interested in both the subject matter and the people. 

“If you can’t get people to share the right things in sufficient detail, you’ll never have the stories and fact patterns that you need to identify the real opportunities for improving their situation,” he says. “It’s a really essential thing that you have to do at the outset to make sure that everything — all the technical stuff that you’ll eventually execute on — that you actually know that it will work for the client and why it matters for them.” 

What’s the importance of total wealth planning for an individual?

Dave is someone who loves what he does. But beyond enjoying working with the numbers, he has the mindset for helping his clients. Beyond just making money, it’s about achieving a more comfortable, and well planned life.

“It’s not just about selecting some investments and hoping for the best,” says Dave. “A lot of people literally lie awake at night wondering if they’re going to be OK, and worrying about whether they’re doing all the things that they should be doing. Once they have a well-crafted, professionally designed and carefully considered plan that reflects their concerns and realities, there is a tremendous amount of relief that clients experience, and they are able to make higher quality decisions with greater confidence because they finally have the exact analysis and knowledge they need to make those decisions.” 

Any good books or apps Dave recommends?

“Two timeless classics: The original 1989 version of The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton and Jack Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.”   Both of these classics can be found on Dave’s favorite app Audible.

How can you get in contact with Dave? 

You can contact Dave directly through his website

You can also connect with him via LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This is for information purposes only. It is recommended that individuals consult with their financial advisor before acting on any information contained in this article. The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of Scotia Capital Inc. or The Bank of Nova Scotia. ScotiaMcLeod is a division of Scotia Capital Inc. Scotia Capital Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.

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