FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Ian Morrison
July 25, 2017
From the outside, some of his athletic outdoorsy good looks of youth remain – but he is weathered, weary (think Marlboro man without the horse) and hobbling (a sports injury) physically – but he’s sharp on his stuff, and if you are living/working in one country while investing/filing tax returns and seeking advice in another, you need somebody who knows, understands and thrives on the cross-border nature of rules, regulations and confusion; enter: Ian Morrison
Usually my hunt for a good interview starts with a referral from a friend, colleague or from someone I’ve interviewed – or someone I know about, the ‘good get’ I’m always after. Not so in this case. I’d never heard of Ian. I was googling around – looking for an expert on taxes for ex-pats, or maybe better said: tax services for ex-pats – because it was tax season and I thought that would make a good interview for a Calgary-centric (lots of Americans here) readership. I’m still looking for one of those …
What I found however is someone who works/walks on both sides of the barbed wire – he’s a stock broker (seems they all go by some variation of ‘Financial Advisor’ these days) with a difference. Sure, he’s the ‘go to guy for people who know him, like him, trust him’ already – he’s been at this quite a while and had a substantial book of business before he joined Raymond James where he’s been building-out a growing and important niche. He’s not the only one in the game, but there aren’t many specialists in his niche, so kudos!
I found, not an accounting type (though he might have been if he’d gone into the family business) but rather an interesting guy with his own niche-business – providing services and advice on investments for Americans living/working in Canada and for Canadians living/working in the U.S. … As it turns out, there are complexities for those individuals which are compounded by the rules (i.e., do they operate in both countries?) for the investment advisory firms they work with. Who knew?
So, let the story begin …
Ian was born in Toronto – Etobicoke to be exact, and has enjoyed dual citizenship. Mom was a nursing type from Chicago; dad, an accountant from Toronto – they met in San Francisco and married six weeks later. Second-born of five siblings, he did K-grade 11 in Toronto, grade 12 in Connecticut (a hockey school), then back to Toronto for grade 13 (played for St. Mikes – not good enough to turn pro). He ‘liked the outdoors’, so rather than following in the family business he enrolled in Lakehead University where he obtained a B.Sc. with dreams of being a forester. But that’s not the route he took. Job (International Trade work with Dominion Sure Seal – an internship in Korea), further education (one year at Capilano College – business program aimed at employment in Asia, studying Japanese), a job at James Richardson International in Vancouver trading grain (might have had something to do with his Toronto girlfriend relocating to Vancouver), then managing grain shipments and logistics (‘grain movements’ is the term) for western Canada. Then the story becomes a blur: Bruderheim, Edgarton, trading desk in Winnipeg, job offer in Calgary, trading grain for Palliser Grain, then to CIBC Wood Gundy in 1999. “I’d found my place”.
He built his business on people who knew, ‘ag clients’ and bank referrals. Investment advisor, writing articles for the Western Producer – and, with itchy feet, “looking at options”. Along the way – marriage. He met his wife Csilla (pronounced Chilla) Kiss-Morrison while on vacation, in a bar in Budapest (she’s from Hungary, was working in the U.K.). Now, getting back to those options he was looking at. He found a lot of his clients were migrating and in need of services they couldn’t get in their new homes – or if they could, they were dealing with strangers. Enter Raymond James who were setting up a U.S. department – Raymond James USA Limited (Ian moved there in 2012) – and his practice grew as IRA’s and 401K’s became part of his life for Americans moving here while, on the flip side, his Canadian clients moving to the U.S. often couldn’t find investment advisors there who were licensed to do trades in Canada … and the practice grew, his book got bigger. His clients aren’t all high net worth individuals – but most of them have a strong advocate on their side who knows and understands the nuances of a growing niche of service needs.
Csilla, a budding yoga instructor, is working on her number one client Ian – he’s hobbling from a running injury and I hope he’s done hobbling soon. He sits at his multi-screened height-adjustable standup trading desk; perched atop one of those balls you use for posture (he says his posture is a lot better). Seemed strange, sitting opposite, as I was on a chair, looking upward to a guy on top of a ball. Or, perhaps, on top of the world. In any case, his journey has been a crooked interesting path – far removed from what could have been an easy career in accounting if he’d followed dad’s footsteps …
Why are you successful? “Because I’m driven. I like to set goals for myself – and I set a course to deal with those objectives. I see an opportunity – it’s a huge opportunity – to meet the under-served cross-border client needs.”
What has held you back? “Earlier on, not having a defined career path – but not having had one got me where I am, so I suppose that hasn’t held me back as much as it has helped me.”
How do you see your business – managing cross-border investments and retail investment advisory – going forward over the next quarter?
… lots of traction. Lots of referral work on the U.S. side, and lots of northbound work as well. Business is good …
And over the next five years?
… always looking for opportunities to grow and diversify my practice. As more people with this need see the value-add we provide, as relocation and tax-immigrants grow there will be a burgeoning need for compliance concerns. I, and we, can help with that.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m fairly frugal and reserved – I seek out quality in goods, services and people. In terms of people, I like personalities – and talent, and work with collaborators my clients can trust, because I trust them.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Ian Morrison, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because of my expertise and enthusiasm – because I’m resourceful, I’m good at developing rapport and trust.
… YES. I have a ‘reducing stress strategy’ … I have a home office.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the state of the market! Otherwise, I’m worry-free.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – his example, he accomplished a lot notwithstanding a humble disposition, very fair – and he made a great martini! My racing coach Janice McCaffrey got me motivated to run in 2009.
… I used to run marathons – but I’ve developed some chronic hamstring problems and a pinched nerve. We travel a lot. U.K. and Holland a lot, visiting my wife’s family. We are heading out on a trip to Vietnam for two weeks.
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