One-Trick Product Ponies

By Mark Barnicutt on April 2, 2012


Over the past twenty-five years, the proliferation of wealth management product has been unprecedented especially across both the investment management and life insurance segments.

The benefit for the end wealth management client is that they truly have a full range of choice from which to design tailored solutions for themselves.  The downside to such a broad range of choice is that too much choice can be confusing & overwhelming — which can often cause indecisiveness and reluctance to move from ‘comfort zones.’  It’s akin to walking into a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store, scanning all 31 flavours, being unable to make a decision, and then choosing the default comfort option of chocolate or vanilla!


In my view, wealth management products, are mere ‘utilities’ to be used by an advisor as ‘building blocks’ to help address & solve an issue that their clients have.  In other words, these advisors are truly CONSULTATIVE in nature in that they:

– FIRST focus on understanding their clients’ broad financial goals, and

– THEN access their ‘product universe’ to address each client’s unique set of financial goals.

The unfortunate reality is that the Canadian Wealth Management landscape is littered with far too many ‘advisors’ (Read: Salespeople) who are exclusively focused on ‘pushing’ a single product group.  I refer to these folks as ‘One-Trick Product Ponies’.

Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a product — we all do it regularly…from TVs, to audio systems, to cell phones — the reality is that the wealth management industry is MATERIALLY different.  In other words, if you buy the wrong cell phone, you throw it away and simply buy another one… contrast, if you buy the wrong wealth management product, my experience, is that clients end-up living with the mistake (usually in the form of financial loss) for a long-period of time.

It’s only the Consultative Advisor who can truly help clients design a tailored combination of wealth management products that meets their various financial goals –> In other words, a Solution instead of Product.  It’s been my experience that Product Pushers can also meet clients’ financial goals but it’s more due to luck than any degree of proper wealth planning.


Wealth Management clients can identify ‘One-Trick Product Ponies‘ (OTPPs) by the following four (4) attributes:

1. A Solution Looking For A Problem:

– As they are selling a product that has a pre-defined purpose, OTPPs are seeking clients who have a problem that they can solve with their product, versus understanding a client’s needs/challenges, and tailoring their product combinations to meet the client need.

2. One-Size Fits All Approach:

– By asking how an OTPP designs solutions for differing client needs, you’ll find that every client gets the same solution, regardless of their need.  It’s the classic ‘off-the rack’ purchase with no/limited tailoring.

3. Sexy Product Descriptors:

All OTPPs attach descriptions to what they sell which makes it feel as if you’re ‘buying a product’ versus ‘buying a service/experience’.  For instance, are you buying a mutual fund OR or you having a portfolio designed for you?

4. ‘Back-Up Your Truck & Take As Much As You Want’:

– As the OTPP typically has one (or a narrow set of products to sell you), they are often open to selling you as much of a product as you can ‘afford’ versus how much you actually ‘need’.


As there are plenty of good wealth management products in the Canadian industry, I’m not saying that clients should not deal with One-Trick Product Ponies, BUT, please recognize them for what they are……Salespeople versus Advisors (despite the titles that they may have on their business cards).

As a result, you need to treat their approach as a Sales Pitch and ensure that you address the following:

1. Know Your Needs:

– Know your financial objectives & goals.

2. Know The Product:

– Reseach the product for features, benefits & risks.

3. Know Your Limits:

– When purchasing wealth management products, more is not better.  Prudence dictates adequate levels of diversification that match your financial goals and your tolerance for risk if your goals are not attained.

By adopting the above approach, I believe that clients will be better informed about the product selections they make in the pursuit of their wealth management goals.



About Mark Barnicutt

As HighView’s President, CEO, and Co-Founder, Mark Barnicutt is knowledgeable in all major functional areas of the family wealth business. He is an expert in wealth management, leading HighView with over 25 years of experience in the industry.
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