By TIM KILADZE, JACQUELINE NELSON
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Bank of Nova Scotia is selling its HollisWealth network of financial advisers to a growing Canadian insurer, parting ways with a business it acquired five years ago.
Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. is buying HollisWealth, adding $34billion in assets under administration for an undisclosed price.
To help fund the purchase, Industrial Alliance announced a $139-million equity financing.
HollisWealth has 800 licensed advisers and became part of Scotiabank when the bank acquired DundeeWealth in 2011. The investment advisory business is in a period of rapid change, owing to a mix of regulatory initiatives, the proliferation of lowcost fund providers and the emergence of digital financial products such as robo-advisers, which offer inexpensive guidance to investors. Canada's banks own the country's largest full-service adviser networks, but in the past few years they have started reforming them, largely to focus on high-net-worth clients.
Clients with less than $500,000 in investable assets are now often referred to bank branches for investment advice.
The Globe and Mail was the first to report on the sale talks between the two firms. Following the reports, Scotiabank chief financial officer Sean McGuckin was asked about a potential HollisWealth sale on a conference call. The CFO declined to comment, but added that in wealth management, "a lot of the value comes through our branch distribution," suggesting an independent adviser network is less desirable to the bank.
Industrial Alliance has been steadily growing its wealth management business, making 25 acquisitions since 2000, and the HollisWealth purchase would give it $75-billion in assets under administration.
Wealth management has become a more attractive business for life insurance companies as they grapple with modest growth and low interest rates that hamper their ability to generate low-risk returns on investments. Wealth management units also require minimal capital, because their revenues are mostly fee-based.
Based in Quebec City, Industrial Alliance has said in the past that it wants to build scale in asset management because it sees a large transfer of wealth in the coming years from people over the age of 50. At a recent investor day, the company added that it wants to grow its distribution network, while acknowledging the need to "stay current" with the growth of robo-advisers and the next generation of investors looking to digital channels.
"We see a lot of value" in independent advisers, despite the digital trends, chief executive officer Yvon Charest said in an interview Monday. "Some organizations that developed the robo-adviser software were dreaming customers would go direct to them; within a year, you have seen a change."
What's happening now, he added, is that some robo-advisers are calling advisers and suggesting they use the robo-software.
Scotiabank first invested in DundeeWealth, the firm that owned HollisWealth, in 2007 by buying an 18-per-cent stake. In 2011, Scotiabank acquired the remaining shares for about $2.3billion.
In late 2013, the adviser network was renamed HollisWealth after the street in Halifax where the bank's historic head office is located: Hollis Street. The rebranding was prompted by an expiring trademark agreement.