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SPECIAL REPORT

LEADING PORTFOLIO MANAGERS

GO-TO STRATEGY:

Embrace volatility While some portfolio managers might fear volatility, Maili Wong sees it as an opportunity to enhance quality by buying companies on sale

COVID-19 HAS unarguably created challenges for the wealth management industry – but not everyone views those challenges the same way. Maili Wong, senior portfolio manager, director and executive vice-president at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, sees the volatility brought on by the pandemic as an opportunity and is using it to upgrade positions in her portfolios. Wong entered the industry in 2000 and became a discretionary portfolio manager in 2012 when her father transitioned his practice to her and it shifted from being transactional to discretionary. “I had grown up with a portfolio management background through schooling in the UBC Portfolio Management Foundation Program,” Wong says. “We were taught by institutional money managers how to manage a portfolio as institutional managers would and were held to those standards. So I started my career learning how to manage on an institutional basis.” In addition to her education, Wong also gained exposure to different techniques while working for a global management firm in New York. After she obtained her CFA, she returned to Vancouver to begin working as a portfolio manager. “I saw an opportunity to merge this global institutional portfolio management style with high-net-worth individuals and families,” she

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says. “The discretionary management style is a win-win and can liberate both investors and advisors to do their best work. Now it is the only way we would look to do what we do.” When constructing portfolios, Wong takes a scientific and disciplined approach that embraces volatility and global diversification. “I call it smart diversification,” she says. “The idea is to include as many different types of investment that behave differently under different scenarios so you are diversi-

managing their clients’ emotions. “When markets dropped, we looked to pick up quality companies on sale or switch to other low prices and upgrade the quality of the portfolio,” she says. “We talk about opportunities like this out of the gate when we set the asset mix and we ask how much risk clients can tolerate. We talk about how, in any given year, the market can pull back 10%. When you set that mindset, it creates calmness because clients remember what

“We talk about how, in any given year, the market can pull back 10%. When you set that mindset, it creates calmness because clients remember what we talked about” fied across asset classes, geographies and different industries.” Given that embracing volatility is one of the pillars of her approach, 2020 has presented many opportunities for Wong. She notes that because this is a key aspect of her philosophy, it’s something her clients understand. The communication and processes Wong and her team had in place prior to the pandemic allowed them to focus on taking advantage of opportunities rather than

we talked about. When it happens, they know we are taking steps on their behalf to upgrade the portfolio quality.” Even before the pandemic, Wong was already positioning portfolios more defensively, focusing on companies with solid cash flow, good balance sheets and low-paying dividends compared to overall profits. During the market selloff in March, Wong targeted quality companies at a discount and those with strong growth prospects.

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