Q&A With Bob Watt of the Business Career College
1) Why did you start the Business Career College as opposed to working in a traditional educational institution?
In 1997, I was going through some health challenges, was on disability, and could not handle sitting at home doing nothing. So I worked with the disability insurance company to allow me to return to work, but I could not go back to doing what I had been doing as an insurance agent or agency owner. I had long-ago recognized that education was vitally important to insurance professionals and financial advisors. The industry has become quite complex and new tax laws, products, societal shifts, financial challenges and ways of doing business require ongoing education to keep up with the changes.
Very early on in this new business venture I dealt with many of the institutions and organizations that were providing education through licensing and designation programs and found them to be too corporate focused and stuck in the old ways of controlling customers through various rules and restrictive procedural practices. They did not seem to be focused on the success of the learner and the value provided through their educational offerings.
I saw a need for a different approach, one that focused on the need to provide learner-centric service to financial services professionals. The people we deal with are adult professionals and should be dealt with as such. After 5 years of building the business quite by accident and after having obtained status as an Life License Qualification Program (LLQP) provider, my wife, Penny, decided to give up her 30 year nursing career and join me in the business to help me become a little better organized. She has become our marketing guru and keeps the business focused and organized and helps to promote the culture of helping people that sets us apart from most of our competitors, taking advantage of the tender, loving, care, (TLC), mentality that is such an important part of the nursing profession.
A couple of years later our son, Jason, left his military career to join us as part owner and took over the product development function and leads advanced education, instructor recruitment and development aspects of our business. His military background brings some well-learned structure to our business. We have expanded into a national organization with offices in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Our customers come from all provinces and territories in Canada.
2) Where does your passion for advisor education and professional development come from?
I struggled early on in my career as a life insurance agent and mutual funds representative and found like most of my peers that I had a hard time staying abreast of all the changes. As indicated before, the business came about as a personal way of struggling to survive and grew accidentally to the level where I needed help and other family members joined in to help. The passion for advisor education comes from seeing the results in our students and watching them develop in their newfound careers and becoming successful. A huge part of our business today is being involved in the provision of continuing education for advisors, now a significant regulatory requirement.
When I get some long-in-the-tooth, financial advisor with 40 plus years of experience, coming to me after a full-day session saying that in all his years he has never enjoyed himself so much and learned so much from an insurance industry course, one can’t help but developing a passion. Or when a group of newbies taking their insurance licensing course clap at the end of a one or three day course because they learned so much and got so much value out of their experience. Beyond helping people learn what they need to know to succeed in the business and to pass the various exams required, our jobs as instructors and educators are really about helping people feel better about the industry that they are in, or have chosen to enter.
3) Why do you think the Business Career College is so successful?
I am not sure that we would use the term “so successful.” We are like any other private, family owned business. We make a decent living and strive toward creating value in the business so that one day the next generation can take it and build it into something else or like a lot of businesses, build value so that we have something to sell. We derive a lot satisfaction from watching people succeed, and that might be defined as being successful. My wife and I currently maintain a residence in both Calgary and Toronto and we get to travel back and forth between those cities. We get to work in most large Canadian cities on a frequent basis, so the lifestyle that our business provides is what most people would think would be an idyllic lifestyle. From the feedback that we get from our customers; we are well known and well respected throughout the financial services industry. To be known and respected across a great country like Canada would be a measure of success in the eyes of most people.
4) What types of need do financial advisors have for professional development?
The financial services industry rapidly changes as financial institutions scramble to be successful and gain market share. The ever evolving products and methods of assisting people in achieving their financial goals put tremendous pressure on advisors just to keep up. For most people, understanding the fundamentals concepts is about as much as they can manage. Learning new products and the myriad of information required to succeed can be very intimidating and frustrating for many advisors. We recognize that and do what we can to structure our delivery to meet the varied needs of our thousands of customers. When you bring in 3,000 to 5,000 new customers every year for over a decade you get to establish a lot of meaningful relationships and you get to identify and develop a wide range of educational offerings.
5) How does this differ from financial advisors in the Exempt Market?
Because advisors in the Exempt Market have chosen to pursue a road less travelled, the pressure is on to be well versed in all options available to clients. The Exempt Market industry is relatively new compared to banking, mutual funds and insurance thus it is still highly misunderstood by the traditional industry and therefore subject to the usual misguided judgment and myths. As human beings we have a tendency to quickly condemn that which we don’t understand. For those reasons, people in the Exempt Market space need to learn as much as they can so that they can guide the industry through its inevitable evolution. If the advisors don’t keep up to speed, the regulators, the financial press, and the academics will control the future.
6) What offerings do you have for financial advisors in the Exempt Market? Why are they a good investment for these dealing representatives?
We entered the Exempt Market space at the request of a long-time insurance industry friend to help a bunch of his advisors deal with the challenges of working through the new registration requirements that came about as a result of NI 31-103. From that experience, we developed a 2 day Exempt Market boot camp to help people meet the challenge, learn about the industry and most importantly achieve success on the Exempt Market registration exam.
7) What prompted you to join WEMA?
We have been involved with another association for a couple of years now and watched WEMA form and evolve into what it is today. From our extensive work in the Western Canadian financial industry space we think that WEMA has done an admirable job of striving to meet the needs of its members. I read the first publication and was highly impressed with the interview done with our good friend and client Riki Roy at Omnus Financial in Edmonton. I liked what I read and thought that if WEMA does that type of job, and aligns itself with that type of person, it deserves a good look and then subsequently decided to become a member. WEMA’s plans for member education and ongoing education fit well with our business goals and philosophy.
8) What is the future role of WEMA?
My hope is that one day there will be one unified voice for the exempt market industry in Canada, and WEMA seems to be well-positioned to take a leading role in providing that voice. It has a grassroots connection to the industry and seems to be well informed about industry challenges, changes and the never ending tide of regulatory involvement in financial services. WEMA can add value to its members and the public by being the source for information that will help people to make intelligent properly informed decisions that will positively impact their financial futures as investors, advisors and dealers. Maintaining that grassroots focus will be crucial if WEMA expects to take a leading role in the exempt market space in Canada.