One day during his 20-year career in the wealth management industry, Éric Lapointe looked around at the brokers from banks, advisors of the industry and private banks, whose staff consisted mainly of employees. Something was missing – including the human aspect and the time to do your job the right way. Driven by this epiphany, he launched CEOS Family Office, «The Family Office of the Future», with a goal to define the next generation of multi-family offices guided by his motto: Fewer clients, more services.
From its base in the Montréal area, CEOS is dusting off the multi-family offices of the past. It is reinventing the wealth management world by allowing its clients to access under one roof the best professionals in the industry – all working as a true team with the same goal in mind for their clients, their families, and the companies they serve or own. With a full range of services, including aggregation of assets, asset management (pooling, fund structuring), bookkeeping and accounting, legal, taxation, estate planning, family governance, concierge services, and medical access, CEOS is changing the world one client, one family at a time.
We had the pleasure of talking with Éric to find out more about CEOS, what the multi-family office of the future looks like and how his company is helping clients thrive with its innovative model.
You call CEOS Family Office "the family office of the future." Why does the multi-family office have to change to succeed in the future?
One of the first books I read about multi-family offices was written in 2004, before the Great Financial Crisis. Every book talked about outsourcing and being «pure» and independent. That’s great, but none talked about being efficient and the fact that there is a huge weakness in the collaboration between external lawyers, accountants, notaries, and so on. No one takes the time needed to come together, life goes faster than ever, and they all go on with their separate duties. If you really want to help your clients and focus on their goals, you must be able to cover and link together all aspects of their specific situation. What is «pure» if you’re not efficient? Actually, our first job is to give back time to people. The last thing you need is to sit with a bunch of different external people who only have a fraction of the information. Our job is to make sure everything and everyone is in one place so that we’re always ahead, instead of repairing things afterwards. In other words, we are proactive instead of reactive. It was not easy to build, we needed to have everything in-house and everyone had to respect every aspect of the various disciplines required to serve our clients. Every profession has its own structure with its own regulation and compliance. We had to build that synergy over many years, and now that it’s all come together it’s simply beautiful to watch.
You have 20 years of experience in the wealth management industry, which includes senior roles with Assante Wealth Management and Stonegate Private Counsel. How did your prior career lead to CEOS?
During my finance career, when I looked at brokers from banks, private banks or even other MFOs, I always felt the human aspect was missing. In 2012, while I was reflecting on what my future would be, I realized it wasn’t about money. It was rather about people – fewer clients, more services. Money would probably be there at the end anyway by doing the right thing. The future is not about how much assets under management you have, it’s about what I call «the return of the professionals». And the advent of COVID has been giving us proof of an obvious fact: working as a team, if you are not an actual team, is simply not possible.
What exactly does CEOS Family Office do?
It would be easier to list what we don’t do than try to list what we do, but in simple terms, we make the life of ultra-high-net-worth individuals ($30-plus million in wealth) as simple as possible. We offer a wide range of services, including expertise in wealth engineering, bookkeeping and accounting, estate planning, Canadian and U.S. taxation, governance and financial education, asset management and aggregation, concierge services, medical access, investigation services, cybersecurity, and data protection. We’ve just merged with Arthur Majordome, which offers other concierge services, and we’re really excited about being able to expand the solutions we provide to our clients.
Your model is probably one of the most novel that I’ve seen. You built entire teams of professionals who all work together in the same place for your clients. Tell me about this.
Yes, we built a full team together with my initial partners Nicolas Yvon, Dave Dion, and Clyde Leonard. We now have 29 people and every person has been selected for their unique strength. If we do a test and look at everyone, it is a perfect fit. I played football in the past, and I know that sometimes it’s not only about talent, it’s also about working together to be successful and win. It is about synergy, and that is what we have, and we work on it all the time. This also gives me the time to create the next divisions of CEOS to keep growing, such as cybersecurity and a health clinic. Another unique aspect is that we have three generations in our office. I’m part of the first generation, then we have a second generation ten years apart, and now a third generation has joined who are the same age as some of our clients’ children and future clients. Clients have to be aligned with team members so that they understand each other. For most multi-family offices, transferring their practice is difficult since you don’t sell relationships when you’ve been with them for so long. You need to prepare your succession 20 years in advance, which is what we’ve done. We have the next generations that will grow with us and understand what they’re doing. With the benefit of our collective knowledge and their new technologies, they will evolve and hopefully be better than us in the future!
Every area of expertise has its own structure and compliance. How do you deal with that?
First, we never build a new division before finding the right person, which is key. We must find people who are right for the spot and have their goals aligned with ours. The rest is just a matter of being compliant at all times.
Your fee model is also unique. Tell me how this works.
Everything is fully transparent and included into a single fee, meaning no hourly rates, no matter how many hours we put into a specific client. This also allows every professional to spend time with each client. What is the model that allows all fees to be included? The model is actually not to have a model. If you look around at multi-family offices, they need assets and investments to be able to work. We don’t. We don’t need anything in fact, and that’s how I wanted it. We sit with someone and try to gather everything about his or her life, and then we target the most important elements that need to be taken care of for that specific person or family. Some clients don’t have liquid investments for example, it’s just a membership fee, and we start working with them when they’re ready. For that we have all the information in-house and we maintain efficient archives. There is no sales pitch. In the end, whatever needs to be done just gets done.
You’re an uncommon leader, Éric, in that you have your hand in every aspect of CEOS, even serving as concierge, if needed. How do you view your role and responsibilities?
As founder and CEO, and since we wanted to develop the next generation of multi-family offices, my primary role is one of strategic planning. My team and I truly dream of a different type of family office, so it’s very important to try and think in ways that others don’t. That being said, I do not restrict myself to some predetermined responsibilities. That would not fit with one of our core missions: doing whatever’s needed to help our clients «have time to enjoy time». That means taking everything we can off their schedules. In essence, my primary duties become whatever needs to be done to get there. One day it could mean assisting a client with a health problem, the next day dealing with an estate planning or discussing with our CIO about our investment strategy in volatile times. In a nutshell, one day I’m the CEO, the next day I’m the concierge! We all are!
You recently got involved with the Institute for Alternative Investments at CAASA, the Canadian Association of Alternative Strategies and Assets. Tell me what you’ll be doing for them.
I will be in charge of bringing CAASA to the francophone community in Canada. Our aim is to organize podcasts to discover and share new ideas on how to analyze and structure various deals in alternative asset classes.
What is the next service area you’ll be building to help your clients? What does the future look like for CEOS?
If asked what the future holds in the middle of this extremely difficult time, I would say I plan on being busy helping people! Looking ahead, knowing that «Open Banking» is coming, I plan on developing a cybersecurity division. This will be very important. Our concierge services have been used in so many ways because they evolved based on the clients and their needs. As our clients change, the business needs to adapt. That’s another strong suit about us: Our company is adaptable; it is never final. Most of it is really human and that’s the future of the industry we’re in. A lot of tasks can be performed by robotics and AI, and human interactions are getting more complex with email, text and social networks being more common. Talking to people and empathizing with them is still the most important and vital aspect to a relationship. Health is also part of the future. We’re building a private clinic, having a direct line to make sure clients can always be safe and secure. We never know what can happen and we need to be able to help, that is the key point for 2021. Right now, we’re looking at acquiring a clinic in Montréal and to adapt it towards the future.
You are very involved with community organizations. Tell me about some of these.
I’m very mindful of giving back to the community, and I’ve been involved with various foundations and associations, including Fondation Source Bleue, Fondation des Carabins de l’Université de Montréal, Fondation des Anciens Alouettes, and others. We also plan on having our own CEOS Foundation, which would focus on the transfer of knowledge. That would mean a lot to me, as I’ve been lucky enough to have access to so much knowledge and learning resources in my life. It is unfortunately not the case for everyone. Our firm has also been sponsoring valuable industry initiatives, including events from STEP Canada, Trust and Estate Planning, as well as CFA Montréal.
I have to end this interview with a personal question, just out of my own curiosity. You were an accomplished football player in University sports. You were inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2012 and received a litany of awards. Can you tell me about some of these?
It’s an odd feeling to list your own awards, so I’ll just mention a few that I’m most proud of. I received the Hec Crighton Trophy for the most outstanding Canadian football player in University sports in 1996 and 1998. I was also twice a Grey Cup winner, with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1999 and the Montréal Alouettes in 2002. I was later voted Best University Player of All Time by the fans in 2005. I will always be proud and very grateful for those, especially the TEAM championships!
Éric holds a Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) license and a Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI) credential, and he is a YPO member. He received his bachelor’s degree, with distinction, from Mount Allison University.
CEO and President – CEOS Family Office
4605-B, boul. Lapinière, bureau 260
Brossard QC J4Z 3T5
Download the Top 100 Canadian Professionals magazine and check out Eric's feature on page 4.