Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wealth manager scores big coup

His firm is 'personal CFO' to hockey pros

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NHL general managers aren't the only people in the hockey business who have been wheeling and dealing lately.

Grant Skinner, president and CEO of Pro Ice Management Group, has swung a blockbuster deal of his own, buying the 50 per cent stake of his wealth-management business that belonged to National Bank.

No purchase price has been released on the shares, which Montreal-based National Bank acquired last spring when it purchased Wellington West Capital.

Skinner said his firm, a specialized niche, didn't fit into National Bank's big plans to grow its wealth-management operations outside Quebec.

"National Bank isn't active in the U.S., where most of our players play, so it was precluded from doing work for those players," he said.

Pro Ice provides "personal CFO" services to about 40 hockey players throughout the NHL and tax services to about 100 current and retired players. A couple of newcomers to his tax roster ply their trade at the MTS Centre.

"We presently have players on the Winnipeg Jets who are clients. We're doing things in this city," Skinner said.

The plan is to provide superior service to the players on the tax side and persuade them to switch to the CFO program, which oversees complex issues such as estate planning, monitoring banking and investment accounts, providing quarterly reports and evaluating endorsement opportunities.

"When I started building the wealth-management practice in the mid-'90s, the base of my clients came from my tax practice. I had the relationships, I was their tax guy," he said.

Pro Ice's clients include Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, his teammate, Patrick Sharp, Rene Bourque of the Montreal Canadiens and retired players Valeri Bure, formerly of the Calgary Flames, and Doug Gilmour, former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The return of the NHL to Winnipeg has been a boon to Pro Ice. Skinner and his son, Tyler, who is the company's vice-president, are spending less and less time in airports and more time meeting clients and potential clients when they come through town to play the Jets.

Luc Paiement, executive vice-president of wealth management with National Bank, said he respects Pro Ice's independent business model, where it sources financial products from a wide variety of providers, and thought it would be best if the bank divested its shares.

"If he wants to be able to brand himself as independent and he's within the bank, it's going to be difficult," he said.

However, National Bank will still provide Pro Ice with products and services when needed, he said.

Skinner said owning all of his company gives him plenty of options to drive its future growth.

Skinner, an accountant, started off doing tax returns for members of the old Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s.

Eventually, their financial needs became more complex, so he expanded his offering and launched Pro Ice in 1996.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2012 B8

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