After almost three decades of trading, advising and managing, Peter Lee now finds himself on the front lines of an industry wrestling with change on many fronts, from stiff new competition to quantum leaps in technology.

Lee, a veteran of the financial services sector who already was in charge of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's (CIBC) private wealth-management businesses, took on additional responsibility for retail brokerage CIBC Wood Gundy, a division of CIBC World Markets Inc., last year.

This is the first time that the two, traditionally distinct executive roles have been combined, and the move sends a clear message that CIBC is sharpening its focus on serving its most affluent clients - and that it plans to use all the banking resources at its disposal to deepen its presence in the high net-worth (HNW) market.

"Particularly as you start dealing with high net-worth individuals, they want things to be integrated," says Lee, managing director of the bank's wealth-management divisions. "In other words, they want some connection between what they're doing on the estate side, what they're doing on the trust side, what they're doing with tax planning, what they're doing with regards to investments."

Beginning in April of last year, CIBC began to bring it's retail investment arm, CIBC Wood Gundy, under the umbrella of CIBC Private Wealth Management, which includes CIBC private banking, CIBC trust services and CIBC private investment counsel. Part of the new approach is an increasing physical integration among advisors who work in each of these four units. Although each type of advisor - banking, trust or brokerage - remains under a separate division, clients are able to experience the full menu of wealth-management services as an integrated unit.

As of the end of July, 14 Wood Gundy branches had added new wealth-management advisory teams consisting of private banking and estate specialists who handle services such as day-to-day banking needs and estate management. The bank is aiming for 15 such locations by the end of its fiscal year.

"We're doing a cross pollination of putting [wealth advisors] in [Wood Gundy branches], in a way where we can get closer to the client," says Lee. "By being in a co-worker environment, it just makes it a lot easier and more comfortable and you can deliver the services a lot more seamlessly."

Of a total of about $185 billion in assets under management for CIBC's Private Wealth Management, about $160 billion is accounted for by Wood Gundy.

CIBC, like some of the other big banks, is flexing its muscle in the HNW market (generally defined as those with at least $1 million in investible assets) by drawing on a traditional strength: the size and range of the services provided by the full bank, which independent investment firms generally cannot match.

"This is a broadening of a necessary tool kit that we need to have," says Lee. "And, certainly, because we are a full-service bank, it makes it pretty comfortable to produce, so long as we have the expertise [at CIBC]. That's why this alignment is really helpful."

To that end, Lee says, he is less concerned about increasing Wood Gundy's advisor force of more than 1,000 (including securities-licensed associate advisors) as he is about creating an integrated experience where clients can have all of their wealth-management needs taken care of under one roof.

Perhaps as a nod to the importance of the private wealth group, CIBC has located the heart of the venture in the historic, soaring banking hall in its original main building at King and Yonge streets in Toronto. Lee, who has deep roots in the brokerage business, has his office there, surrounded by estate and private-banking advisors.

Lee has also kept up many of the work habits he developed as an investment advisor, including stints with Merrill Lynch Canada Inc., where he got his start in 1988 after graduating with a degree in commerce from McGill University. He quickly moved on to Dean Witter Reynolds Canada Inc., Midland Walwyn Capital Inc., then TD Evergreen Investment Services Inc.

Clearly still enamoured of the client-facing role, Lee continues to meet every quarter with 25 top clients.

"It keeps me very, very attuned to [clients], which I think helps you lead the place in a way that aligns with those needs and going in the right direction," says Lee. "So, I find it to be really invaluable."

Besides garnering a better understanding of the services HNW clients expect, these meetings are also an opportunity for Lee to roll up his sleeves. For example, in cases where a client identifies a specific issue or problem at one of these meetings, Lee will take steps to introduce that client to the specialists that can best help them.

Lee established his credentials in management as a senior vice president and assistant branch manager with Midland Walwyn. From there, he continued in management roles when he joined TD Evergreen in 1996 as senior vice president and branch manager.

Eventually, Lee moved on to regional and national sales manager roles before taking the lead of TD Waterhouse Investment Advice in 2000 as president and chief operating officer.

Lee recalls that the business at that time was very different from today: he recalls an environment that was more narrowly focused on accumulating large numbers of advisors and individual accounts. "[That was a] very linear view, as opposed to a broader holistic view," he says.

Lee joined CIBC in 2007 as managing director, national product and sales, with Wood Gundy, then became managing director and head of CIBC Private Wealth-Management Canada, in 2013.

He added the leadership of Wood Gundy to his responsibilities in July 2016, following the retirement of Monique Gravel, the longtime head of Wood Gundy. From the outset of taking on that new role, Lee began working on the integration of the retail brokerage division into CIBC's private wealth-management businesses.

Part of that integration includes a realignment of management at CIBC's wealth division. Regional managers now cover all lines of the private wealth-management business, including Wood Gundy.

As well, a national team has been created at the head office level that will support the new wealth-management umbrella brand. "[The integration] puts [management] way more in tune with the client and breaks down all those barriers," says Lee. "The way I look at it, it's super-complementary, in terms of making it easier to get things done."

With the new integration now well underway, it appears that Lee is committed to continuing to work on both sides of the desk, ensuring that what he learns from his clients is heard - loud and clear - at the highest levels of CIBC.

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