A month before the pandemic was official, Conquest Planning Inc. announced that it had raised $3 million from venture capital funds, including from the Power Corp.-backed Portag3 Ventures.
As it turns out, the timing couldn’t have been better for the Winnipeg financial planning software company headed by Mark Evans, a successful industry veteran who had sold off his previous highly successful company in the same space 10 years ago.
A year ago, Conquest was already in conversation with some of Evans’ old firm’s customers, including IG Wealth Management — which became an equity partner in Conquest in June — but the pandemic created an accelerated need for digital financial planning tools that would allow for more collaboration with the clients.
Conquest’s artificial intelligence algorithms allow financial planning advice to be elegantly delivered in an interactive, online manner with the ability to provide limitless options and instantaneous presentations relative to clients’ financial planning goals.
IG Wealth Management started discussions with Conquest 18 months ago and they committed to adopting the technology in May and went live with a small user group of 150 advisers in September. In December, IG Wealth rolled out Conquest’s platform nationally and its 4,300 advisers coast to coast are now starting to use it with their one million clients.
On Thursday, Canada Life, a sister company to IG and part of the Power Financial group of companies, announced it will begin rolling out Conquest’s platform this summer with some of its advisers.
Brent Allen, IG Wealth Management’s senior vice-president and head of its financial services distribution, said the company is proud to be first in the market with a next-generation digital tool.
The company recently commissioned a study that found 87 per cent of people who currently work with financial advisers want their advisers to provide them with cutting-edge digital experiences.
"The future is digital and that is the investment we are making," Allen said. "Adopting the Conquest platform is re-establishing the relationship with our clients for the next chapter of IG Wealth Management. We were happy with the original relationship. We had good software that was reliable, but if we kept doing the same thing over and over we would get the same results."
It could be a big risk for any organization as large as IG Wealth — the largest unit of IGM Financial Inc. — to commit to such a broad sea change.
"We wanted to look at how we could do things different," Allen said. "I think it’s important for an organization to pause. This kind of change is not taken lightly."
It’s also a lot of work. Training included a three-hour long kickoff event with 3,300 in (virtual) attendance. There have been a number of training modules, 50 webinars available on demand and IG advisers can ask questions into an online training tool.
Conquest’s platform uses technology like AI that was not even available when Evan’s previous company EISI (Emerging Information Systems Inc.) was around. As well, it is almost as if Conquest was launched as a tool for just these times.
"From our perspective the pandemic just highlights the benefits of the tool, the whole collaboration aspect… that can be done in a remote environment," Evans said. "If we didn’t have a pandemic it would have eventually been adapted. But given the pandemic… our timing was perfect for the rollout. Adoption is higher."
Conquest’s team has grown from 25 to 50 over the past year. The company will begin marketing to potential clients in the U.K. later this year and is talking to potential clients in Japan and Italy. It is planning for a U.S. market launch in 2022.
Unlike IG, Canada Life’s sales force is mostly made up of independent partner advisers. Hugh Moncrieff, executive vice-president, advisory network and industry affairs for Canada Life, said the company plans to introduce it to "thousands" of them starting this summer.
He said "it is a really big deal" for Canada Life.
Moncrieff said that Canada Life doesn’t choose to partner with a company like Conquest because of some kind of hometown allegiance, but he said the scenario is a good reminder of the world-class technology that is developed here and also the iconic Winnipeg financial services companies like Canada Life and IG Wealth, but also Assante, Wellington West and Wellington-Altus that have started in Winnipeg.
"This to me is yet another chapter in Winnipeg making a big dent in the Canadian, North American and global financial space," Moncrieff said. "It is a boost for Winnipeg and a boost for Mark Evans. This is not just Silicon Valley coming up with this stuff. Winnipeg has some amazing digital thought leadership happening."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.