Young, driven and with no university degree, he’s helping self-made entrepreneurs live the ‘Canadian dream’ and find a seat at the table
Author of the article:
Marjo Johne • Canadian Family Offices
Published Feb 16, 2023 • 7 minute read
Victor Godinho is something of an oddity in Canada’s wealth management and family office industry. At 31 years old, the founder of Toronto-based Kismet Wealth Group is years younger than his clients, who range in age from 37 to 45. Catch him on a warm day when he’s wearing short sleeves and you’ll see arms covered in tattoos.
“I’ve always done them in a way so they stop four inches before my watch cuff,” says Godinho, who moved his company’s offices recently from a leased space in downtown Toronto and into a building he bought just west of the city centre. “I have 42 tattoos, not just on my arms but also on my chest. When I travel I don’t buy anything, I get a tattoo.”
Since its launch almost six years ago, Kismet has grown its client roster to 30 (in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.), with about $125 million of assets under advisement. Godinho took time recently to talk about the company he founded when he was only 25 years old, and the niche clientele he serves.
How would you describe your firm?
What we are is a truly integrated wealth management firm, with a concierge side, that provides family office services that include in-house tax, accounting and wealth management services. Beyond that we offer real estate brokerage and development services including securing mortgages and financing. We’re all licensed insurance brokers as well.
Who are your clients?
Our clients are “young money” ranging in age from mid-30s to early 40s, with between $3 million to $10 in wealth. A lot of our clients are Asian or south Asian. They’re all self-made – we work with the “Canadian dream story” clients who are either first-generation Canadians or who were raised by immigrant parents. They’re either in C-suite roles in the corporate world or they’re successful entrepreneurs.
We don’t have any inheritors or windfall clients per se. Most of our clients have really grinding stories, and we saw many of them starting from scratch, when they were trying to scrape together $800,000 to build something. It’s been amazing to see them reach the level of success they’re at today, and it’s so gratifying to know we helped them get there.
Family office websites generally tend to convey a sense of quiet, established wealth. Yours suggests opulence — you even have an image of a Rolls-Royce parked alongside a private jet. Is this reflective of your clients’ lifestyles?
Our images hit more on the aspirational side, where we’re saying “you can have this life of comfortable wealth.” The reality is, our clients are more investment-driven. They’re realizing they’re in a position their families have never been in before, so they want to maximize their opportunities as much as possible. We have clients who have the house and cottage but it’s not the luxury property in Muskoka. One client, who is really well off, spares no expense when he goes on a golf vacation with his buddies, but he drives a 12-year-old car and lives in T-shirts and jeans. There’s this strong mentality of saving and maybe also this fear of losing it all because their families have never before attained this level of wealth.
How do you help your clients become more comfortable with their wealth?
I like to do a lot of work getting my clients to focus less on what they didn’t have in the past and instead think about what they and their kids can have in the future. I think it’s important to build a mindset of “this isn’t the peak – I’m just getting started.”
Also, as immigrants in this country we often don’t understand the concept of having that seat at the table, of position and status within society. We’re not having conversations about whether we’re networking in the right circles, connecting with the right people in politics and in legal circles. These types of connections are pedigreed into old money. It’s something immigrants need to think about as they accumulate wealth.
I was going after clients who were trying to make it big, and maybe they recognized themselves in this young, aggressive, hungry kid who was also looking to make his way.
Tell us about the concierge side of your business. What are examples of concierge services you provide?
Our role is kind of like Tom in The Godfather – the consiglieri who gets stuff done. You want a particular watch, we’ll get that watch. If you need an event arranged, we’ll connect you with the right people. I arranged for a tailor to go to the house of a client who was going to the Cannes Film Festival. It’s not a formal service that we bill for – it’s the relationship, fun side of the business that most of the time doesn’t get discussed.
You didn’t go to university or college. How did you get to where you are today?
My dad is a business owner, and we come from a line of entrepreneurs in Goa, India. He’s very much a self-taught person who believes that if you have a passion for something you’ll learn deeply about it and you’ll be the best at it. While he never really pushed me toward a particular pathway, he used to take me to investment seminars – like Rich Dad, Poor Dad – when I was about four or five years old. So from a young age I became very interested in investing and was researching things like tax liens in the United States.
I got my real estate licence at age 18 but never worked as an agent. Then, at 20 years old, after being an insurance broker, I realized clients don’t just need insurance, they need financial advice. So after I got my Chartered Life Underwriter designation I pursued a Certified Financial Planner designation.
At age 21, I launched a boutique financial planning firm called VTAG Financial Group. I decided to focus on young professionals. I rented an office and lived in it instead of getting an apartment. I showered at a GoodLife Fitness next door.
It couldn’t have been easy persuading prospective clients to entrust a 21-year-old with building their financial plan. How did you get clients?
I had a ton of issues with credibility in the beginning. But I just kind of told people that, sure, they could hire a guy with an MBA to manage their financial affairs or they could go with the CFP without the MBA. I was confident that I knew what I was doing – for me this journey started when I was four years old. I was going after clients who were trying to make it big, and maybe they recognized themselves in this young, aggressive, hungry kid who was also looking to make his way. So it was like, “Okay, let’s give it a shot. I won’t let you manage all my money, but I’ll try you out with some of my money.”
They took a risk on me and it paid off. So I grew VTAG for about three years before deciding to transition into wealth management with Kismet.
Your goal is to grow your client roster to 100. How are you progressing toward this target?
I’m not in a rush to hit that target. We don’t advertise – we’ve grown exclusively through word-of-mouth. And as much as clients vet us, we also vet them. I don’t want clients who are transactional, who just want investments. I want clients who are interested in building a relationship, who care about doing something for their community and for the world.
I’ve been there for most of my clients’ important milestones – their kids being born, the purchase of their first house. Forty per cent of my clients were at my wedding and my baby shower. The way I see it, we’re going on a journey together that I hope will last 30 to 40 years, so we have to be a good fit for each other, to have shared values.
Beyond growing your client roster and assets under advisement, how will Kismet evolve over the next few years?
We are 100 per cent evolving into a family office. I like to think I put the right irons in the fire over the last 10 years and that will allow me to build my own private equity firm and family office while Kismet remains my operating entity.
You recently became the father of a baby girl. Will you be bringing her to investment seminars someday?
I’m hoping she’ll get bit by the finance and investment bug and that I can build something she can work in someday. I want Kismet to last beyond me and into the next generation and the ones after that.