Mining finance legend takes leave from Howe Street
by Greg Klein
When the street convenes this week for his official send-off, the object of admiration won’t be a financier, broker, mine-finder or entrepreneur. Jake Fiddick made his mark as a banker, and one who provided services, not money. But as an innovative trailblazer he leaves a legacy that guarantees his place in Howe Street’s storied history.
His August 16 retirement ended 58 years with the Bank of Montreal, 33 of them at Vancouver’s downtown main office. It was there that he started the Public Company Banking Group, distinguishing himself from the rest of his industry with new approaches that quickly attracted appreciative clients.
That was a time when his colleagues tended to regard juniors with almost as much trepidation as a stick-up note. “Most of the banks did not look favourably on that kind of business—not at all,” recalls Frances Petryshen. Now corporate secretary with Balmoral Resources TSX:BAR and a veteran of several companies, she started working with Fiddick soon after he arrived downtown.
“Because of the up-and-down nature of these companies, we were pretty well the bane of the banking system,” Petryshen says. “And then along comes Jake, knocking on doors, looking at the potential and setting up the appropriate banking for exploration and mining companies. He saw a market. He saw a future.”
It started with Robert Friedland’s Galactic Resources. “The CFO, Bert Cook, gave me his wish list of services,” Fiddick says. “I was new to downtown and these weren’t normal services for regular companies, so it took me a couple of weeks to get things set up. But when I did he seemed happy.
“After about three months he phoned and told me it was working really well and he wanted to move another company over to me. In the meantime I’d been to quite a few downtown office buildings and saw all these public company names. So I thought there’s big potential that might be a sleeper of an industry as it relates to banking.”
He set his sights high. “I called on Murray Pezim and he didn’t want to talk to me. He referred me to his CFO and she didn’t want to talk to me. She referred me to Naren Majithia, one of the controllers.” After three Elephant and Castle lunches, Fiddick gave him a written proposal.
The big call came just half an hour later. “Naren phoned me and said, ‘We’re going to move everything over to you—65 public companies and 23 private companies.’ So that was the start of our Public Company Banking Group.
“The next guy I chased was Bruce McDonald and then I just started cold-calling a lot of companies. As I was doing this I learned a lot about public companies. With the exception of Pezim and Galactic, a lot of my new companies were very small, which is the nature of the beast.
“I learned what their needs were, like most of them had trouble getting a company credit card because they didn’t have any cash flow. So we provided a cash-secured credit card.”
Fiddick also helped companies gain interest on their treasuries without tying up money in term deposits. “I came up with a system that would pay the term deposit rate on current account balances. That attracted a lot of business…. The word was on the street that we were providing good service, providing services that weren’t available in the past.”
As the Medallion Guy, Fiddick’s reputation grew further. “A big part of what the companies needed came when shareholders wanted to re-register their shares,” he explains. Requests came in to transfer shares from one relative to another, one control group to another, one country to another. Fiddick devised the Medallion Guarantee, a system of vouching that the correct person signed the share certificate. “It was such a humungous benefit for a lot of these public companies. So I was quite flexible and innovative to accommodate our customers’ needs.”
That flexibility sometimes met opposition, for example in providing the guarantee to a shareholder not deemed to be a bank customer. “I interpreted the bank’s guideline to mean that shareholders in effect own the public company, so if the company is our client then indirectly the shareholder’s our client,” Fiddick says.
Not all his colleagues agreed. Eventually, however, “we got a ruling from the head office that my interpretation was correct. For me that was about learning about the industry and coaxing the bank to be flexible.”
If you’re not excited about working in the venture capital market, you’re the wrong person for it. I was a service provider, and I was excited.—Jake Fiddick
His own reward came mainly from “the satisfaction that I would get by helping people.” After all these years he still considers the endeavour “an amazing business. If you’re not excited about working in the venture capital market, you’re the wrong person for it. I was a service provider, and I was excited. I really loved going to work every single day. Every day was totally different because I didn’t know what was going to happen and I met so many great people who were trying to do things. It’s great to be a service provider for this industry.”
That enthusiasm aside, he doesn’t invest in the juniors. “I’m not a good investor because I never sell,” he points out. “The only investing I’ve done is buying bank shares through my employer on the payroll plan. That’s worked out amazingly well.”
Given his contribution to BMO, that would be an especially appropriate reward. As Petryshen says, “I think he built the group from him and Marj Ross to seven or eight account managers. He was always looking for ways to accommodate public companies’ needs. Nobody else was even considering that. Over the years he built that book of business for BMO quite tremendously. He was always pleasant to deal with and I really enjoyed working with him over the years.
“What are we going to do without him now?”
Jake Fiddick’s retirement send-off takes place August 24 at the Butcher and Bullock, 911 West Pender Street, Vancouver. Doors open at 1:00, formalities begin at 2:00. To RSVP and receive digital mobile drink tickets, e-mail Christina Rao (rao at ascensionir.com) or text 604.723.7480.