J Zechner Associates
After working for over a decade in the investment industry, John Zechner launched J Zechner Associates in 1993 with a plan to provide clients with consistent investment strategies and solid returns. At the beginning, the firm worked to grow a portfolio of private investor accounts, and – once establishing J Zechner Associates brand name in the investment industry – started acquiring institutional clients as well. The firm landed its first institutional investor in 1995, and has been building the ‘two legs’ of the company – the institutional and the private client segments – ever since.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke to John Zechner and David Cohen about J Zechner Associates’ success. Today, J Zechner Associates manages over $2 billion in assets, serving some 25 institutional clients, about 150 private accounts, and the company also manages investment for NexGen Financial Mutual Fund.
The Investing Business
While the new technologies allow easier access to information, the fundamentals of good investment remain the same — applying logic to market information available. That is why the firm uses various intelligence sources – from companies themselves, to analysts, and industry reporting services – gathering the most intelligence, and using the right intelligence to make profitable investment decisions. John Zechner, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer, says that acquiring the business information is not the difficult part, and while the list of economic data can be endless – from information about the company, product demand, all the way to global industry economic data – a successful investment lies in acquisition and consideration of the right data to make the right investment decision.
With its vast experience, J Zechner Associates offers various investment fund options, each using different investment styles and strategies. Zechner says, “Our investment style and strategies are very different from one fund to another. For example in our institutional investment segment, our Fixed Income Fund offers a more conservative strategy and has a very good institutional following, while our Equity and Balanced Funds are more top-down, economically-driven funds; and we deployed a unique, growth-oriented investment style highly sought after by the institutional investors. On the private side, the investors are more driven by the absolute return rather than a relative return, where clients want to make money, and not to lose money.”
To the question “which of the company funds has been the biggest success?” David Cohen, Partner at J Zechner Associates, explained, “Again, each of our funds has different mandates with different types of investment solutions, so we can’t really say which would be the most successful as they have different criteria for success; however what we can say is that the Fixed Income side is very solution-based with a very good track record, and our Balanced Fund also has a very good long-term track record, and fits well with other, more conservative products. On the other hand, our Small cap Fund, which can be seen as the most volatile, has also been very successful over the long-term.”
While the company’s institutional segment has been more successful in terms of asset growth, the firm plans to balance its portfolio and grow the individual investor segment in the future. The firm’s newest investment products had been built for the high-net-worth individuals; to market these products the firm uses its presence in the Canadian financial markets, its prestige, as well as its presence in media outlets such as Business News Network(BNN).
Keys to Success
While each financial product offered by J Zechner Associates offers a different investing style and has a different goal, the company strength lies in consistently abiding to its investment strategies and not deviating from the investment plan. To this Cohen said, “We stick to our style in every financial category that we manage, not changing with the latest trend or fad that’s out there. Our people had honed their skills throughout their career, and brought these skills to J Zechner Associates, so we offer a great depth of experience and capability.”
J Zechner Associates sticks to the investment fundamentals, but the business rests upon the firm’s ability to build relationships — lasting relationships based on integrity and trust. To create the environment of trust for the clients, the firm strives to retain its employees, and has built a lasting structure of financial professionals within the firm who provide a solid support for clients and their investment goals.
The firm’s largest strength lies in its culture. While the firm only hires experienced financial professionals, the firm provides them with full support, experienced administrative staff and a state-of-the-art back office, so they can focus on money management. Zechner said, “We are truly exceptional in time management and efficiency, letting our people fully focus on investing and money management. I think this culture makes people more comfortable, and that’s why we have such consistency in regard to people, as they continue to enjoy their work and have no plans to make changes.”
While the company’s professionals focus on investment, the firm strives to keep its clients well-informed, updating on what’s happening with their investments. To this Zechner said, “We spend a lot of time informing our clients, providing month-end statements quickly, and provide electronic information to clients when they need it, providing them the numbers and the calculations, on top of which we provide clients with market commentaries, and so on. We believe that the more information clients have the more comfortable they can feel about their investment with J Zechner Associates, as we build up a level of trust.”
While the firm has seven partners, it does not have any outside investors. This independence has been an important feature for the firm, as there is no need to cater the investor base and make money for the investors. The firm has seen many of its competitors being bought out and becoming a segment in larger institutions, where the full focus on delivering results to clients suffers. Zechner said, “This independence is important to us as well as to our clients, and we plan to remain as we are, retaining our partners and continue to work for our clients.”
While businesses usually experience periods of strength along with periods of weaknesses, J Zechner Associates has certainly been experiencing a prolonged period of strength, as the firm received 14 awards in regards to performance of the company financial products. The awards come from such companies such as BarclayHedge, Thomson Reuters, and Brendan Woods International. While the firm reaps the fruits of its labour, Cohen blatantly stated, “We are not that egotistical to think that we do not have a weakness, and there are no awards for weakness in this business. The one thing we take to heart is humility as we are in a very tough business.”