I was walking down the beach with my children in Dunsborough WA last month enjoying school holidays at our favourite holiday spot when I unexpectedly bumped into my latest challenge as we build a great brand in financial advice.
But to put this into perspective, it’s important to understand the background.
Last year, my company won AFA Practice of the Year Award for 2018 over a number of very successful and quality firms that I had the pleasure of meeting just weeks prior to the announcement.
For the team at TWD it was the best endorsement from our peers of the hard work and focus we apply to our firm.
Building something different and unique in today’s financial advice marketplace is not easy. Readers of this magazine don’t need reminding about the uncertainty caused by legislative changes affecting our firms, the difficult task of getting a whole team of people delivering and pricing a solid advice proposition, attracting great advice clients. Building this in a post-GFC environment where consumers are more aware of the former product-focus of many old advice firms, and unfortunately some still today, who continue to hinder the path for us all towards greater professional recognition.
I was forced to totally re-build my own firm in 2009 after a partnership disagreement. Thanks to that challenge, I took the strong view that despite the re-build cost I had to build the firm that I believed Australians needed to have greater financial certainty in their lives. Left with a few clients, two loyal support staff, we re-built the firm still convinced that my proposition was the only way to go.
My first challenge was ensuring clients would understand the value my smaller firm could provide for them whilst ensuring I could fund the future I aspired to. Without reliance on any product or any commission or trail, without any concept of up-front or on-going fees, just clients accepting our fees every twelve months for the value we provide every year we slowly grew our loyal clients and team.
My second challenge was building the right people around me.
I perceived my firm as different to most. Most of the people we interviewed to join our firm were used to ‘front-office’ and ‘back-office’ roles. We didn’t believe in that – we believe that everyone in the firm, regardless of position needs to understand why our clients were engaging us and why they continued to pay our fees. We didn’t want people happiest staring at screens, we wanted people that had a great day because they spent most of their time working with clients.
The toughest challenges, for me, are always decisions that affect my team – especially when it becomes obvious that well-natured, hard working members just don’t get it or are not adding sufficient value for our clients. Whilst convinced that quality firms grow on quality people, this has always been my greatest challenge.
The next challenge was learning to ‘let go’.
Coming from a strong belief in my own ability, learning to let the business go to let it grow has been very difficult. No one is ever ready for the next breakthrough in their lives, no matter how prepared they might be. To achieve our objective to give more Australians better financial lives, every one on our team accepts and focuses on the business and personal breakthroughs in their own lives.
Once we started to grow into a much larger firm, I realised that my breakthroughs were letting go of clients, alliances, networks, which previously, I guarded with my life. Coming from small business origins, this was a hard conversation followed by months of anxiety caused by worrying whether those clients felt betrayed because initially they engaged me, not these new people I was introducing them to. I often still feel today like a parent sitting up late waiting for the teenage daughter to return home, wondering if my team are engaging, pricing, delivering to clients who trust us with their financial lives.
Whilst all former challenges are still very much alive, I am experiencing new ones.
The latest is from the media and turned up on that Dunsborough beach last month.
Having won last year’s coveted practice award after being awarded the AFA Adviser of the Year, Telstra Business Award winner and Australian Best Financial Planning Practice previously, we unexpectedly became a target.
On one particular Saturday, I made the front page of the Weekend Financial Review all for the wrong reasons. Apparently 1 or 2 peers in our profession accused me of flogging SMSF products. A quick telephone conversation with an unknown journalist late in the day before the story deadline whilst walking the beach with family gave no inclining of the front-page news two days later.
Several years ago I was asked to do a 5 part series of voluntary informational videos for Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper. One of them focused on how to potentially use SMSF’s to buy property. It’s clear that taking specific sections of that old video, a montage could be built that excluded all the cautions and focused on the product. It has never been our intent and never will be to focus on product as the front page of the Fin Review alleged. Our clients pay us on the quality of our advice and not on the quantity of product provided, if any product is in fact required at all.
Brand building isn’t easy. We will always be confronted by new challenges from expected and sometimes unexpected sources. We are convinced however, despite the challenges, the opportunity to building great advice brands has never been better. Our clients acknowledgment of our personal care of them in a specialised way is testament to that. To them I say Thank you.