Garat Financial Group is a family affair with (clockwise from front) Darlene

The road to success with Garat Financial Group

Garat Financial Group has been serving the Campbell River area – and beyond – since 1997.

Company founder, Peter Garat, was previously commuting back and forth between his new home in Campbell River and his job running a service business in Vancouver.

During those trips on the ferry, Peter started reading books on investing. It piqued his interest, and his wife, Darlene, was eager to have him cut out the stress of commuting and settle down in Campbell River with his own business.

“I was trying to get Peter into a business that was less stressful for him and into something that he was interested in,” Darlene says.

Darlene says he was reading a lot of books and “talking on and on about the investment world and industry and he was watching the stock returns and really getting into it.”

With three children, it was a struggle for Peter to keep going back and forth between Campbell River and the Lower Mainland.

So, with some encouragement from his wife, Peter obtained his licence in Life Insurance, then later added mutual funds and became an insurance brokerage.

Peter became a Certified Financial Planner in 2005 and then a Chartered Life Underwriter.

The business started out on the second floor of an office building on Pier Street, but Garat Financial soon outgrew the space.

The Garats moved to their current location in 2002 in the plaza on 12th Avenue – a more convenient location for their clients with ample parking space and no stairs to climb.

Business was good but Peter started experiencing a series of health problems in late 2009.

Then, about a year and a half ago, Peter suffered a serious stroke that prompted him to step away from the business. Darlene, a licensed life and mutual funds advisor for nearly 10 years, made the decision to take on her husband’s workload herself.

“I’ve been involved with the business since day one, but he was always the face of the business and I was in the background running the operations side,” Darlene says.

But after Peter’s stroke, she took over the entire business.

“I went from three-quarters of the clients to all,” she says. “So I was kind of thrust into this but I really enjoy it.”

And with nearly 700 clients, from across the Island, the Lower Mainland, northern B.C., and even Alberta, Darlene says the business is booming.

“We seem to be getting a lot of new clients,” she says. “It’s busier than ever.”

But she’s not completely alone. She has the help of Jacki McIvor, who is insurance licensed and is also the office manager, and Karen Spier, who is educated in investments administration and is an advisor assistant.

“These ladies are just gold,” Darlene says of her small staff. “They’re absolutely indispensable.”

Garat Financial provides financial advice and assistance to help clients meet their financial goals, whether that’s growing your savings, saving to buy a house, saving for post-secondary eduction, or building up your retirement savings.

Garat also offers estate planning, investing, critical illness insurance and disability insurance but what makes them unique is that they are considered holistic financial advisors.

“We do segregated funds, we do investment planning,” Darlene says. “We deal with a multitude of companies so we can put together a comprehensive plan to suit everyone’s needs. There aren’t many holistic advisors in town and there’s not a lot of women doing it.”

And as if Darlene isn’t busy enough, she’s also the continuing education chair on the Vancouver Island chapter of the Advocis board which oversees the voluntary professional membership association of financial advisors and planners in the country.

She also volunteers her time for the Junior Achievement program at local schools.

She speaks to the Grade 10 classes on topics such as what jobs will be available in the future, budgeting, cash flow, and mortgages.

“I really like it,” Darlene says. “I’m often shocked by the number of Grade 10’s that have their own jobs and are paying their own cell phone bills. I find it very encouraging.”

As a mom to three kids, who are now all grown up, Darlene realizes the importance of teaching kids young and giving back to the community.

She volunteered with Scouts and Brownies and loves being a part of the community.

“I look for ways that I can help improve things,” she says, “when I can help someone improve their financial situation or help clients who have had a loved one pass, it’s nice to know you’ve helped someone.”

And there’s good news on the horizon for Garat Financial. Darlene says Peter is on the road to recovery and is doing well.

“The plan is for him to come back at the end of the year part-time.”