Sometimes people (usually women, let’s face it) like to think about how their lives would have been different if they had made some different decisions. What would have happened if they’d pursued that relationship? How different would life have become if they’d taken something different in college? We all know that seemingly small decisions can have large impacts, thanks to luck and all that junk.
Although I’m no woman, (checks pants to confirm) I’d like to take you back to the year 2004 and the story about my series of interviews with one of Canada’s largest money managers, Investor’s Group. I promise, the story has a point. It does not, however, contain any gratuitous nudity. The internet is filled with porn, go nuts you horndog.
I was 21 years old, working in a grocery store. I was also a business channel addict. When I wasn’t working, I was watching and learning everything I could about the markets. I was also starting to dabble in buying stocks, basically doing a less refined version of the contrarian investing that I do now. I was single, naturally, because I’m always single. Watching BNN for 5 hours a day probably had something to do with it, but I digress.
One day, I noticed an ad in the paper. Investor’s Group was looking to add a second rep to my town. As you can probably tell from my BNN addiction, I desperately wanted into the business. Naturally, I applied, and got a call back for an interview. I’m sure I celebrated by dancing like some sort of white guy with no rhythm.
Before we continue, a little background for those of you unfamiliar with Investor’s Group. They’re a wealth management company with many billions under management. Reps have their own office space, supplied by the company, and they’re responsible for building up their business. The company offers mutual funds with some of the highest expense fees in Canada, they also offer life insurance products and some (at least last I checked) really horrible mortgage products. Like any financial company, they want all your money. Back to the story.
I go to the first interview and it’s pretty uneventful. The guy interviewing me is nice and we’re joking and laughing a bit. I was there for all of about 15 minutes. I’m assuming the first interview is a way to weed out all the crap, people who would have no chance of selling a thirsty traveler a Coke.
I go to the next interview, like the first it’s conducted in the local rep’s office. This time I’m armed with some questions. Just how much is my base pay? (bupkis) Where would be my territory? (Half my town, half a neighboring town, meaning 3-5 hours of travel per week) Am I forced to only sell the company’s funds? (No, but selling in-house funds paid a much nicer commission)
The guy conducting the interview had definitely drank the company’s Kool-Aid. Yes, he explained, the fees on their mutual funds were much higher than comparable ETFs, but that was because Investor’s Group reps did such a good job educating investors. The difference in fees was more than made up with the terrific service.
In my head, I’m disagreeing with every word he said. Fees kill the average investor’s return, anyone with a grade 6 understanding of math can figure this out. The whole reason for the financial plan wasn’t to educate investors, it was to identify areas where a rep could sell other financial products to someone in need.
As we concluded the interview, I was given a homework assignment for the week until my final interview with buddy’s boss. I was supposed to talk to 50 people and ask them if they’d be willing to commit to doing business with me as an Investor’s Group rep within the next 6 months, and to ask specifically how much money they’d be willing to invest with me.
I was flabbergasted. Firstly, I was trying to keep this whole interview process as quiet as possible, since I didn’t want my employer to find out about it. And secondly, why should I go and do all this work when I was guaranteed nothing? I wasn’t looking forward to doing this but, undaunted, I started to call people.
I got about 8 callers in and promptly declared the whole operation stupid. So I faked it. I made pretend notes for 50 actual people I knew. Armed with my pretend prospective customers, I went up for my final interview.
As soon as I walked into the guy’s office, I knew this wasn’t going to go well. He was the stereotypical finance type, talking brash to his secretary, wearing an expensive suit, and let me to an office with autographed hockey memorabilia all over the place. He begins the interview.
“Why aren’t you wearing a suit?”
I look down at my dress shirt (no tie) and dress pants. I fire back.
“Because you don’t need a suit to sell mutual funds.”
He looks a little surprised, and then proceeds to lecture me for 5 minutes about the importance of impressing your client with your clothes. After he’s finished, he asks where I’d rank my financial knowledge on a scale of 1-10.
I think about it for a minute and say I figure I’m about a 7.
“No you’re not.”
“Oh really. How would you know?”
“Because you’ve never worked in the industry.”
I frown, almost shocked at the lack of logic. He continues.
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“I don’t have a car.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because I’d rather invest the money instead.”
“How do you expect to work for us if you don’t have a car?”
“I have the cash to buy one.”
He looked at the notes I had made about my imaginary prospects.
“How come you didn’t ask them specifically how much they’d invest with you?”
“Because I thought it would annoy them.”
We wrapped up the interview shortly after that. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to get that job. I later met the girl who did. She was not unattractive.
Anyway, what’s the lesson here? There’s 2.
1. Investor’s Group sucks. Although I’m a little conflicted because I bought some of their stock back in 2006 and still own it. Still, Investor’s Group sucks. Balls.
2. I am much more comfortable being a blue collar guy. It would take me a few more years to learn this lesson after a failed attempt at being a mortgage broker starting in 2007, but I’ve learned it now. That’s the important part, right?
You hit back like 5 minutes ago? Yeah, I don’t blame you.