Remembering Wayne Strandlund: a MIC Pioneer Who Bet on Integrity

A year ago, we lost Wayne Strandlund, an alternative mortgage innovator and one of the finest men I've met over my 17 years in the mortgage business. MLN doesn't do many remembrance stories, but Wayne deserves remembering because of what his life teaches. Here is his story.

It doesn't do Wayne Strandlund justice to call him a shrewd businessman and trailblazer in Canada's mortgage industry. His business methods reflected a commitment to his customers and investors that went well beyond the norm.

Wayne's journey began humbly as a farm boy in Saskatchewan. His path led him to Victoria, B.C., where he established himself as a realtor in 1968 and a mortgage broker in the 1970s, long before these professions reached their heydeys.

As a mortgage broker, he saw the need for alternative lending, so he founded a tiny boutique lender. That modest private financing venture would later become one of Canada's most respected mortgage investment corporations (MICs), Victoria-based Fisgard Asset Management.

Through his 50 years of stewardship, Fisgard grew to become a $272 million MIC. Wayne ensured it never lost money for its investors, even in the hard times of 2010/11 when more than 1 in 10 of its mortgages were in arrears. He refused to take management fees for three years after the financial crisis to ensure his investors got sufficient returns.

"He just said, 'You know what? We wrote these mortgages, and our investors shouldn’t suffer',” recalls his daughter Hali Noble, a managing director at Fisgard and former Mortgage Professionals Canada Chair.

For a man like Wayne, it was more important that investors retain their trust in Fisgard than to make more money. Reputation superseded everything else, he felt, because you could never get it back if you lost it.

His dedication to the business was almost mythical. “He always put the investors first, ahead of himself and sometimes even ahead of family,” Hali recalls. And Wayne didn’t rest on his accomplishments, preferring to work hard until the end and protect what he built for the next generation.

“The business was ours to lose,” he often said, and service was a passion. "He wanted us three deep in every position at the company,” Hali explains. The reason was simple: Wayne felt turnaround times were core to customer satisfaction.

Approval and closing efficiency were vital to him for two reasons. One, over 90% of Fisgard's loans were—and are—sourced through mortgage brokers, who need prompt solutions to maintain their reputations with clients. And two, as a former broker, he understood what quick response times mean to end borrowers nervous about the financing process.

Wayne's lending philosophy was simple. Lend against high-quality, marketable real estate with a big enough equity buffer to protect the fund. “He would say, ‘Hali, would you be happy to own this place nine months from now?" she remembers. "What about our investors? Would they want to own it?’”

He thought about every deal from that perspective first. It was “always about the real estate.”

Wayne’s bigger-picture view was that real estate can’t lose long term. “I don't care what you do; just be part of the dirt,” he told his kids. "Everyone needs a place to live, and as long as your fingers are in the dirt, you'll always have opportunity.”

In 1981, Hali—then 11—recalls her father building a hotel in Fort St. John. The project flopped, and Wayne lost almost everything. He owed $1.8 million to investors and had no way to repay it. Instead of declaring bankruptcy like many other lenders during this era of 20%+ rates, the family moved into his mother’s basement. He lived there for six years until he could pay back every cent of that loss to investors. 

That was the code of honour Wayne lived by, and “Some of those investors are still with us to this day,” Hali notes. 

Over almost half a century, Wayne ensured his company never defaulted on a single distribution to shareholders. Nor did he ever decline a routine redemption request from investors, even when the market bottom was falling out.

Wayne and family

Wayne was an enthusiastic mentor who loved to write and share knowledge—case in point: this checklist I've referred to over the years which helps would-be investors size up a MIC.

He also wasted no opportunity to educate people on the business, and this author owes much of his MIC knowledge to him and our discussions over the years.

Another example of Wayne's education focus was starting the “Supersaver” program. It was created to help kids understand compound interest. They'd receive a 5-year investment in Fisgard and could log in and watch their investment grow over time.

And then came Wayne's legendary community involvement, which is far too great to list here (see this list). It ranged from Chancellor of Royal Roads University to supporting the Victoria Symphony, fighting for indigenous groups, and establishing scholarships for Matis students. Wayne supported arts and culture and countless sports teams in Victoria. A notorious benefactor, Wayne donated millions, reportedly departing this world with only $60,000 in his bank accounts. Everything else he invested in his family or donated. 

Wayne was a man who believed in keeping his word, and not just 99% of the time. 100% of the time. He felt that being someone you could always count on and living life above board would always pay off in the end.

Today, Fisgard is still a family business run by his three kids, Hali, Jason, and Rafer. To know them is to know that their dad's straight-shooting approach to life and business rubbed off.

Wayne Strandlund devoted his energy and resources to improving the lives of borrowers, investors, partners, family and people who never even knew him. In the process, he elevated Canada’s non-institutional mortgage sector to a new level. As Hali put it, “He believed that good karma all comes back to you in life.” And he wanted to end on the positive side of that ledger.


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