Michael van Lierop is the President and Founder of New Outlook Wealth Inc., a Winnipeg-based independent wealth & advisory firm. With over 18 years of experience in a multitude of roles in the insurance industry, Michael has gained important knowledge and insights that he has routinely shared through coaching and training advisors. Today, as the head of New Outlook Wealth, Michael is committed to breaking barriers by offering wealth management services and products to clients at an affordable price while bringing the highest level of investment management and financial planning to Canadian families.
In this edition of “Advisory Spotlight” we had the pleasure of learning more about Michael and New Outlook Wealth, gaining in the process some valuable perspective on his outlook on the current and future state of the industry.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Quebec City. As a child, we moved across the country to Kelowna, BC and back to Quebec when I was 10 to take over my Opa’s farm in the Eastern Townships, near Sherbrooke. I grew up on the farm with my two older brothers. We raised beef and sheep mostly and worked about 500 acres of land – tiny by prairie comparisons, but decent for that part of the country. Today, my family calls Winnipeg home. It’s the ideal representation of the underdog city – underappreciated by many who’ve never been here or called it home. For my wife and kids, it’s offered a great quality of life, and easy access to wonderful arts, culture and entertainment, in addition to an amazing food scene!
As a child, what profession did you want to get into?
Definitely not financial services! I think I spent most of my youth dreaming of becoming an architect. No joke – I did a lot of drawing of houses and floor plans when I was a kid. In my later teen years I decided my academic interests were in the social sciences and pursued a college and university degree in Political Science. To this day, I maintain it’s more important to pursue higher education with a subject you’re passionate about (for me it was and remains politics) than to pursue something just for the sake of a job. Although I never formally studied financial services, I believe that having well-rounded perspectives help you avoid tunnel vision.
What inspired you to become an advisor?
I was already an entrepreneur running a web marketing and IT company, when I was recruited into the insurance industry. I realized that to grow as a person and professionally, I needed to get out of my comfort zone. Prospecting and selling the most difficult of financial products (complex insurance and investment planning) – and learning I was actually good at it – was exhilarating. I found something I really enjoy and that serves a higher-purpose of helping families.
What do you feel is New Outlook’s greatest competitive advantage?
New Outlook Wealth’s greatest competitive advantage is that we’ve brought a wealth management service and product offering to mainstream Canadians that is normally reserved for the wealthiest, at a cost far below. We like to say our clients are getting the 4-course filet mignon dinner at the price of a combo meal at McDonald’s. The mutual fund industry is to investors what the fast food business is to restaurants — one size fits all, fast, quick and dirty! Yes, we all like McD’s fries but today a customer can have the steak dinner at a cost lower than the fast food meal. We want all Canadians to have this same level of experience, no matter their net worth.
For advisors looking to join us, our competitive advantages are many – but the biggest relate to the separation of asset management from financial planning, thus drastically reducing the burden of compliance and shifting that from the back of the advisor and onto the professional portfolio manager instead. In addition, our advisors benefit from a very high payout grid, no sales grid to try and climb or fall down on, and tremendous product choice – on the wealth, insurance, and lending side. Lastly, we are partnered with leading technology providers to power our firm.
How do you think the insurance industry has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like many industries, it’s had to adapt quickly. If you’d asked how many insurers were willing to accept digital signatures through DocuSign most would have said “what’s DocuSign”? The proliferation of electronic applications is something that was lagging in the industry in Canada. We are not known for being innovators in the insurance space. Canada is in need of innovation. I see what Specialty Life insurance is trying to accomplish with Jenie, the first client-facing AI-driven underwriting engine in Canada to my knowledge. The expansion of non-face-to-face coverage limits and coverage amounts not requiring fluids was something that the industry has been quietly trying to pursue but as usual, with baby steps. It’s sad that it took a pandemic to be the catalyst of change needed for innovation to happen in our industry.
Life insurance remains something that is sold not bought. So in other words, if advisors are not actively working their client base or bringing on new clients and updating their financial plans, and revealing needs in their needs analyses, then insurance remains at the bottom of the pile. Engagement, especially digitally, will matter more now than ever and we need companies to help the industry with that problem.
How have the ways you do business and interact with your clients changed since the pandemic?
If we go back to late 2019 not many clients would have even known what Zoom was. Fast forward to early 2021 and it would seem weird to conduct meetings any other way! Yes, we’d all like things to “go back to normal” but, to borrow the overused cliche, the “new normal” is all about keeping people safe while still getting business done. It’s been very challenging from a new client acquisition perspective, because some of the most effective ways of marketing has traditionally been offline and in the real world (the usual suspects, like seminars, lunch and learns, golf tournaments) and as good as webinars and virtual meetups can be, it’s just not the same. The other obvious impact has been the effect of going digital, for real. Those who do not adapt and wake up to the new realities will be left behind, and that can include behemoths in the industry. Kodak was a behemoth at one point, too, and we all know what happened there.
What have you done to adapt your workflow to working from home?
The biggest adaptation is realizing when you’re working from home there is no such thing as a workflow. Unless you’re a Kaizen specialist, trying to fine tune how an automobile is assembled, the truth is everyone is just trying to keep their heads on straight and getting through the day without dropping the proverbial ball too many times. Working from home means it’s not just your kids, laundry and dishes that creep into your “workflow”, it means the dogs going berserk at the postal worker or Amazon delivery guy have become a feature of your otherwise professional meetings with clients, partners and suppliers. It’s a gong show for most people these days!
What do you think the insurance industry will look like in 10 years?
If I look into my insurance crystal ball I see a few things – one is consolidation, and the others are a proliferation of consumer-friendly insurance products which are easier to understand, that are better geared towards mass-market consumption, and much lower pricing. The consolidation piece is interesting in my view. If we look at what Power Corp did to bring London Life, Great-West Life, and Canada Life together it’s widely seen as a net positive. By merging three big, slow, low-tech companies together you don’t suddenly get a nimble, innovative market leader. That lack of innovation is hurting Canadians in my view.
Advisors will probably always be critical to getting the right insurance into the right hands. Robo-advice barely works in the investment space it sure as hell isn’t going to turn your average consumer into an insurance expert, so advisors have a role to play in the future – I absolutely believe that.
The biggest target in my mind is the large case market – it remains the holy grail of most advisors due to the huge compensation opportunities, but at the end of the day, is the work-load really all that different between a $100,000 premium and a $1,000,000 premium case? Yes, there’s a difference, but not 10x worth. There is also ample room to make the process easier through technology, which I am excited for!
If you were writing a book about your career, what would be the Title?
Probably “Burn your bridges”. Having a plan B means you have a way out if things go wrong. If you want to move forward, you can’t make going backwards an easy out. It’s quite literally an ancient military tactic whereby soldiers would be told to burn the bridges they crossed behind them to prevent retreat.
What do you like the most and the least about being an insurance advisor?
My most recent role was as an Insurance Planning Specialist with a large mutual fund firm. I started my career 18+ years ago as an Advisor. To this day, I love the thrill of helping a client understand insurance properly. If someone is open-minded and willing to learn, it’s a lot of fun. Helping them make the right choice for themselves, their budget and financial priorities, and their families is rewarding in almost magical ways. This may sound corny but I think most insurance advisors who’ve been doing this for this long would understand.
What I like least? The need to defend the profession. The perception of insurance advisors is only marginally better than it was when I started. I think product-driven advisors who sell outside of the context of financial planning are asking for it — absolutely leaving themselves wide open to that perception that all they’re in this for is to sell a product. If this is the be-all-and-end-all of the industry we’d see a very different level of engagement between consumers and the advice industry. We need help to bridge the digital divide.
What personality traits do you think helps a person be a good advisor?
Someone who listens more and speaks less. The old adage that we were given two ears and one mouth means we’re supposed to listen twice as much as talk is as relevant today as it was when life insurance became a thing a century ago. To be honest, most advisors I’ve known are extremely passionate about what they do and so it’s kind of natural to want to share that passion.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone entering the advisory business today?
Find a mentor who’s had demonstrated success and hitch yourself to that wagon. That mentor should share your values – maybe not your vision, but certainly your values. Like any relationship, shared values can overcome almost anything and you can be sure there will be conflict, so navigating those choppy waters is that much easier if you’re both rowing the same sort of boat and ideally, rowing in the same general direction.
Mike is a great example of an advisor who has a deep passion for financial services and a true vision for how to build a winning formula to create a successful wealth management firm of the future.