You know the adage: family and business don’t mix. Odds are you also know this one: for every rule, there’s an exception.
The exception, in this case, is David Burns & Associates (DBA), a fourth-generation wealth management firm. DBA’s core business is domestic and international group benefits products, though it also offers life insurance and investment services. In all cases, its primary focus is the client, not the carrier—a founding philosophy that has remained unchanged over DBA’s 45-year prosperity.
“We’re not a 1-800 number,” explains, with palpable pride, Jennifer Burns, the eldest of three siblings currently at the helm. “Our names are on the door. When you walk in to our offices”—at 105 Fourth Avenue—“you’re going to get the same person you talked to on the phone.”
Jennifer, a former grade school math teacher, joined the family business in 2011, along with her brother Matt. Ian, had been the first to step into their father’s shoes (in 2005), trading an international career for the perpetuation of the personal touch that has built DBA’s reputation.
“Our father was a good boss but not an easy boss,” Ian qualifies. “He taught us to work hard and to fight for our clients”—an edict the paterfamilias, David, learned in turn from his father, who left a major insurance company mid-career to offer the citizens of Ottawa more fitting financial choices. Though he retired in 2015, David remains a valued consultant. Adds Ian, “We call on him all the time.”
And why wouldn’t they? The man has seen it all, from the insurance industry consolidation craze of the past few decades to today’s COVID-spawned emphasis on mental health benefits. David’s mission, and his children’s, is to ensure that whatever comes next, the firm’s investigative, individualized approach to benefit and investment solutions remains uncorrupted. At DBA, “fully independent” is not just boilerplate language.
DBA works in close collaboration with its clients, often soliciting a company’s employees and their families to determine the organization’s most pressing financial concerns. The firm then goes mano a mano with a number of reputable insurance carriers, to provide its clients with a customized plan that’s easy on administration fees and structured to provide access to surplus refunds. DBA also reviews this coverage as the subscriber company scales, and helps to handle employee claim inquiries. Says Ian, “Benefits comprise 25% of a company’s payroll. So, we’re always asking,
‘Where is that money going? What are you getting for it?’”
It’s a question more relevant today than it’s ever been, thanks to our inflationary times. Companies, when they do spend, are doing it cautiously. That’s to DBA’s benefit, given their longstanding reputation for providing more bang for the buck. A healthy portion of DBA’s clientele, in fact, is penny-wise companies switching over from big sticker, one-size-fits-all carriers. Plus, by going with DBA, they’re privy to an informal, big-picture tutorial on modern economics. “What’s going on today is cyclical,” explains Matt, who takes care of the wealth management side of the business. “Everyone’s trying to save but there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. We always advise people not to take their money out of the market, not to bury their heads in the sand.” In other words, whether you’re a company or an individual, trust that you’re in hands with a genuine, holistic interest in your financial well-being. And up to snuff. Boutique brokers like DBA know more today than ever before. That’s because there’s a generation at large with a healthy interest in personal long-term wealth and scads of internet-based information at their disposal. “The modern client is very well educated,” Ian affirms. “Today, the seller needs to understand the buyer, not the other way around.”
No problem there, as DBA’s online testimonials attest. Words like “streamline,” “savings,” and of course, “personal” show up almost as often as Jennifer, courteously checking up on the satisfaction level of a client, might. Expect more such reviews as DBA continues to grow—a growth, it’s important to note, that will not include appropriation by a bigger interest. “Medium-sized players like us get purchased all the time,” says Ian, “and sure, we’ve had offers. But we’ve always said no. Our culture and degree of service would be lost.”
Nor might DBA implode, the fate of too many family-owned businesses. Just a few years ago, it hired a business coach to help navigate the work-family dynamic. “We spend a lot of time together,” Jennifer explains, “so we try to be respectful of one another.”
Treat your loved ones, in other words, with the same vested care with which you treat your clients.
By Dan Lalande
Photography by Sean Sisk