Nov 01 2022
Part of the team
By Matt Pais
Mark Neufeld, CFP, CIM, has spent the morning carrying 18-square-foot sheets of glass on his shoulder, loading them onto machines while wearing a metal vest to protect him from the broken shards that frequently fall from above his head. It’s 1999, and the recent economics graduate — now a 13-year MDRT member from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and the 2023 Top of the Table Global Council Member — can’t get someone in the finance world to take a chance on a guy with no experience.
During lunch on this day, though, the foreman of the crew said that he knew someone who was doing electrical work at a company then called Rogers Group Financial (now known as RGF Integrated Wealth Management). So, Neufeld’s superior, who knew his employee didn’t want to do manual labor for the rest of his life, suggested he submit a resume.
Neufeld neither knew what the firm was nor even what area of the financial world he wanted to be involved in. He began in the most entry-level role possible, as an administrative assistant. Nine years later, in 2008, Neufeld purchased his first part of the business and became a partner in the firm. A year later he qualified for Court of the Table, and every year after that he’s been part of Top of the Table.
It wasn’t my team; we were the team.
How did he do it? It certainly helps to take over for a veteran advisor with a thriving practice — 37-year MDRT member Ken M. Hawley, CLU, CFP, who transitioned part of his business to Neufeld, whom by then was Hawley’s second in command, after being diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. (Hawley died two years later.) Except Neufeld, who now handles wealth management for 200 households of retirees and pre-retirees, set the purchase price before the 2008 financial crash and closed the deal after it, meaning that the assets shrunk by 25%, but the price didn’t.
“My wife was kind of like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” Neufeld remembered. “At that point, I had nearly 10 years of relationships with a lot of these clients, so I felt quite confident they would stick with me.”
Most of them did due to Neufeld’s tireless commitment to building and maintaining trust and losing two large, long-term clients taught him nothing can be taken for granted. He found any excuse to connect with clients and “over-over-overserve them,” he said, wanting to make sure clients didn’t doubt the abilities of an advisor 30 years younger than them. Years earlier, he’d seen Hawley hug a widowed client and realized that it’s not about your brilliance or even what you say as much as your actions that drive the heart of relationships with clients.
As head of one of 17 business units at RGF Integrated Wealth Management, Neufeld ensures that his junior advisor and two support staff make active listening and detailed notes top priorities. This practice results in extensive preparation for every meeting and personal follow-up for important life events like custom-ordering an engraved wood cutting board for clients’ 50th anniversaries and sending it as a surprise to arrive just before the celebration date. “It’s not an expensive thing, and it can spawn from a conversation I had six months ago,” Neufeld said.
When it comes to leading Top of the Table, he is likewise attentive to the existing strategic plan (see sidebar), which he has seen develop and change through nine years of volunteer work, beginning with being named Volunteer Person of the Day at the 2014 MDRT Annual Meeting, then volunteering at the Top of the Table Annual Meeting in 2015.
“I definitely don’t come in with, ‘This is the direction I want to take Top of the Table,’ because that direction already has been set,” he said, noting his skill for establishing defined procedures and wanting to help in that area if possible. “MDRT Immediate Past President Randy L. Scritchfield, CFP, LUTCF, said, ‘Leadership is easy when you don’t have an agenda,’ and that really resonated for me.”
That humility comes from both his humble, middle-class upbringing and his athletic experience. While Neufeld was the captain of many lacrosse and hockey teams, he never sought the spotlight. Instead, he simply led by exemplifying hard work and support.
“It wasn’t my team; we were the team,” he said. “I’m somebody that’s never had an ego. I am proud to be involved in Top of the Table. I feel fortunate to be in the position I’m in and never could have imagined I’d be where I am today.”
He laughs, then, remembering a seemingly less-selfless goal he mentioned when interviewed for a profile after being named Player of the Week in lacrosse: “To be a top dog in a big company. I still don’t think I’m there,” he said. “That wasn’t an ego thing. It was just about continuing to grow.”
Top of the Table’s focus for 2023
New initiatives will celebrate members’ achievements and work to create connections and community among them. The focus remains on delivering value outside of the Table of the Table Annual Meeting — whether members attend the meeting or not. While initiatives from the strategic planning process have focused on the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia, MDRT staff recently conducted focus groups with Top of the Table members in Asia to determine offerings that will resonate with members in that region.
Other planned developments include:
- Utilizing benchmarking surveys — including a recently added section on workplace culture, staffing and benefits — to find ways to drive member engagement and help them improve their practices.
- Developing and implementing a plan for how MDRT can connect members who are focused on acquiring business or being acquired by others.
- Continuing the eight-month pilot program of Top of the Table-moderated Court of the Table Peer Groups, overseen by the Court of the Table committee. Six groups met monthly through September.
- Creating more connections at the Top of the Table Annual Meeting between members with similar practices.
- Offering two in-language sessions (one in Japanese, one in Mandarin) presented by members at the Top of the Table Annual Meeting to explore offering in-language content that is reverse-translated into English and potentially other languages for Top of the Table members.