Certified Financial Planner Fred Zhou, BBA ’09 and MBA ’11, has built a career on what he values most: people, community and saying yes to new opportunities.
Fred Zhou is not worried that ChatGPT will make his work obsolete. The AI software has generated plenty of conversation in recent weeks about jobs it stands to impact, even eliminate entirely. While financial advising may have elements that can be automated, it is, first and foremost, personal. And human.
“At the root of it, what are the markets but a function of human behaviour?” Zhou says. “When we talk to clients, emotions are difficult to articulate, it’s never just about the return on investment. They want to know deeper things: will I be OK, can I retire, will my kids be OK? So often our job is more than just finance; it’s more like coaching. As a human in the human business, we have to know our clients really well.”
Zhou has always thrived when working with people. In his days as a Bachelor of Business Administration student, he loved group work and projects. While the BBA has a finance major, Zhou graduated with a major in human resource management (“I thought it would be the best option to work closely with people,” he says) in 2009, and with his TRU MBA in 2011.
A casual lunchroom conversation with a co-worker at the TD Bank persuaded him to look at the certified financial planner designation, which would allow him to work one-on-one with people on their financial goals: saving for retirement, saving for their children’s education, leaving a legacy for their grandchildren. He officially received his designation in 2018, becoming one of 17,000 professionals in Canada to do so, and works for TD Wealth in Kamloops.
Giving back where you’re born
“This is a great profession where you can build a practice within any city,” Zhou says. “I was born and raised in Kamloops; I was a student in SD73 and at TRU, and to give back to the community you’re born and raised in is really rewarding and was important to me.”
Zhou had other options. Many MBA grads go on to pursue a certified financial analyst designation; with his human resource management background, he could have pursued a certified human resource professional designation. But he also had a more personal reason to respect the work of financial planners and the impact they can have on people’s lives on the ground level.
As an eight-year-old, he recalls going to the bank to serve as a translator for his mom. That day, he met Rosemary, a financial advisor who explained their options using terms an eight-year-old could understand, and ultimately helped his mom decide to invest in a Registered Education Savings Plan that would pay for Zhou’s first two years of university.
While financial planning has proved to be a good fit for his goals — to work with people and to build a career in his hometown — he approaches his own life plan much as he does his conversations with clients: goals and priorities may change, and your plan should accommodate that.
“I still don’t know what I do!” he laughs. “I’ve worked in many different roles in finance and leadership. Before the pandemic, my wife and I lived on a hobby farm in a tiny home for four years, and that was great for us at the time. But during COVID, we decided it was time to come back to the city. What you want for your life may change, and I would never say that I will do one thing forever.”
When Zhou returns to TRU to speak to students at job fair and other events, he shares this advice with those who may be wondering what to do with their degrees and careers — advice that is both life-proof and AI-proof.
“I believe in the law of inertia,” he says. “Keep moving, and as one door opens, you’ll get to a fork. Keep saying yes, have a good attitude and you have a better chance at reaching the outcome you want than if you focus on the outcome itself.”