Home Month and Year December 2023 Redefining Investment Management

Redefining Investment Management

Mac Van Wielingen, chairman of Viewpoint Group. Photo by Riverwood Photography

Building wealth is one thing, but sustaining and managing it is quite another. Entrepreneurs by nature are risk takers adept at capitalizing on opportunities to transform the unknowns into tangible rewards. While this skillset is critical for success in business, it takes something very different to manage the wealth that results from it.

Mac Van Wielingen, chairman of Viewpoint Group, understands this dichotomy well. He spent decades at the helm of ARC Financial Corporation and ARC Resources Ltd., building these entities into leading forces in the finance and energy industries, and he recognized that managing private wealth requires a long-term approach that favoured using diversification to reduce concentration risk.

“There’s an understandable tendency for successful businesspeople and investors to think they built wealth because of their own prowess, initiative and intelligence – ‘I’m really smart therefore whatever I do will work out.’ The advice I give them is you’ve got to diversify – not just financially, but also diversify away from yourself as a decision maker,” says Mac.

He followed his own advice when it came to his personal financial affairs, establishing the Viewpoint Family Office in 1998 to manage the financial, investment and administrative needs of the Van Wielingen family. The family brought two part-time employees on board and as the family’s assets grew and their needs changed, the office evolved and grew as well. Spearheaded by Mac’s wife, Susan, philanthropy took centre stage and the office adapted, introducing the Viewpoint Foundation in 2001 to manage the family’s transformative philanthropic initiatives. All the while, the professionals managing the Van Wielingen’s capital were redefining their approach to investment. This spurred Mac, joined by his son Rob Van Wielingen, president and CEO of Viewpoint Investment Partners Corp. (VIP), to open their systematic investment strategies to other high net-worth families, family offices, small institutions and investment advisors with the creation of VIP in 2016. Today, Viewpoint Group and its talented staff of 25 oversee these three entities operating beneath it: the family office, the charitable foundation and the public-facing investment business.

For almost 25 years, the Viewpoint Foundation has offered incredible support to causes that meaningfully improve the lives and wellness of people in the community. Over the years, the Foundation and the family have committed approximately $25 million to more than 100 organizations, with much of that support focusing on innovative local initiatives in the arts, education, advanced leadership, entrepreneurship and, more recently, filling some of the gaps in mental health services.

“When the family has an interest in a particular area or cause, we leverage experts in the community. We look to the organizations who are doing really great work, and we support them and fund initiatives that are in line with what we’re interested in,” says Karen Macdonald, executive director of the Viewpoint Foundation.

The Van Wielingen family sits on the board and leans toward partnerships with causes that resonate with them. An organization close to Rob’s heart and of which he is the chair is the Calgary Public Library Foundation (CPLF). CPLF raises and manages the capital that funds much of the Calgary Public Library system’s innovative programming and outreach, promoting libraries as the heartbeat of a community.

“In our 21 libraries across the city, the reach and the impact that they have on all these communities, in particular for new Canadians, as community centres is incredible,” says Rob.

Mac’s passions are well represented at the Foundation as well. After the financial crash in 2008, he identified the need for a higher level of leadership in business that focused on both ethics and effectiveness, so he and his partners created the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership (CCAL). As part of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, CCAL aims to build leadership capacity in students today to make stronger, more ethical business leaders tomorrow. The Viewpoint Circle for Dialogue in U of C’s Mathison Hall is a striking room where students gathering at the circular space are encouraged to incorporate ideas from diverse backgrounds and positions into their decision making.

Mac’s visionary leadership in ethical governance and corporate responsibility, along with his transformative advocacy of collaborative philanthropy, earned him the prestigious Order of Canada in 2022.

This commitment to effective leadership coupled with being good stewards of capital led Viewpoint Group to evolve from a family office into an investment management company whose strategies now reach a wider audience. After many years of intense research on risk management and investment philosophy, Rob soon realized that Viewpoint’s innovative risk-oriented approach was something that would appeal to other investors as well. Technology, research and data science are at the forefront of this unique approach, and this is what makes VIP stand alone in the market.

“We began studying diversification, portfolio modelling and quantitative techniques in financial markets. Through that process, we identified a type of portfolio construction methodology and a type of investment strategy that we wanted to use for our own family in liquid markets,” says Rob. “Technology and data science are the ‘how’ and ‘why’ underneath these principles.”

With the overwhelming stream of data available for consideration when making investment decisions, VIP has had the infrastructure in place from the start to separate the important data from the noise and use that data to design the best investment products for its clients.

“Technology doesn’t just help us navigate financial markets and drive our investment strategies, but it’s also key in helping us deliver that product to market,” says Ben Reeves, senior vice-president of data science & engineering.

VIP has built software solutions for operations and reporting that allow the team to create lower-cost, scalable investment products while using interactive digital media to communicate information and investment philosophies to investors. The resulting framework is something missing from Canada and is why VIP is a breath of fresh air in the market.

Through the launch of public alternative mutual funds, VIP now delivers investment strategies to the retail investment community that are typically only available to large institutional investors.

“We create portfolios with an institutional framework, focusing on managing risk and providing diversification. This is a space in Canada where there aren’t many options for retail investors or family offices,” says Scott Smith, chief investment officer and portfolio manager.

There is also uncommon alignment between the firm and its investors, given that the investment manager is also the anchoring investor in the company’s products. VIP applies the same principles to the Van Wielingens’ capital as it does to its clients’ accounts, whether that’s a $100-million pension fund or a first-time investor. VIP is transparent, ethical and strives to make the Canadian landscape a better place.

“Beyond the strong performance Viewpoint has generated, this alignment with investors has been a critical component in the growing interest from other institutional allocators and family offices across Canada,” says Keith McLean, executive vice-president and portfolio manager.

No matter the branch of Viewpoint Group, the same principles and philosophies apply. Across the entire organization, the approach is one of managing risk by being strategic in everything the team does and building for the long term. The theme of stewardship is woven throughout the organization, and whether it’s the family’s assets, capital earmarked for the community or the capital of private wealth owners, Viewpoint Group takes its duty to safeguard it very seriously.

“It’s a deeper principle that ultimately we’re managing people’s savings. We’re playing a role in society to manage financial surpluses, and we have a deep respect for that. Other businesses don’t describe it this way, but I think it’s helpful because it makes everything feel a bit more real versus the abstraction of institutional capital. When I think about people working hard to create savings, I feel there is an enormous responsibility to manage that prudently,” Mac says.

To achieve that goal takes the right people, and Viewpoint Group has built a stellar group of like-minded professionals that are drawn to its mission and culture of respect, support and positive experiences. Egos are checked at the door and every employee is an important part of the team whose opinions and contributions are valued. The principles and values permeate from the top down, and the staff embraces Mac’s example of integrity and excellence as they grow the firm in the market. One need only consider the breadth of capabilities at Viewpoint to see how different its approach is to wealth management.

“When we look at our team, it looks a lot different than other firms. We have investment professionals who understand the economic significance of the things that we’re looking at, we have data scientists that are focused on the correct treatment of data and pulling the signal from the noise in financial markets, and then we have software engineers that can build the infrastructure that allows us to run quantitative strategies and implement them efficiently,” says Amin Haji, senior vice-president of investment research and portfolio manager.

Amalgamating these skillsets has created something entirely different and welcome in an ever-changing financial landscape, and VIP’s innovative and deeply principled approach backed by technology, data science and investment experience is ushering in the next generation of Canadian investment management.

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