Creating the most honest financial planning business in Australia was the goal when I formed my business. To my surprise, I soon learned that, legally, I wasn’t allowed to say that we were honest or independent when I started to advertise my business.
Therein lies one of the greatest problems with financial planning – honesty has run a long second to creating a profitable business model for far too long. As a media educator for over 22 years and a former academic economist before that, when I decided to branch into financial planning I needed two things to make it work: a “purple cow” to make our operation stand out from the crowd and to ensure that the brand, Switzer, was not sullied by unsavoury practices.
The purple cow concept comes from US marketing guru Seth Godin, who said that business marketing can’t be like brown and white cows, which become boring and ignorable after a lengthy drive in the country. Like a purple cow, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.
I decided to look at the general practices of financial planners and do the opposite. Operating under our own independent license, we rebate commissions on investments, we don’t charge percentage-based fees and we recommend, where appropriate, industry funds.
Inspired by the writings of superannuation expert Robert Brown, Switzer Financial Services was designed not to be a product flogger, just simply sell advice. As an hourly rate business, like other professionals such as accountants, we charge a flat fee for our statement of advice and a flat fee for our ongoing service packages. Because we have no commitment to selling products for commissions, we are freer to select the best products possible for our clients. Our product is our advice.
I am not sitting in judgement of other planners who have chosen to pursue their business goals in line with the majority in the industry. I have selected a road less travelled because I think it is right for me and my clients. I understand the costs of doing business this way and, after two years, the amount of trailing commission I don’t have could be a cause for disappointment. However, that has to be measured against the word-of-mouth referrals that have come to us from doing it our way.
Certainly the road we have taken isn’t easy, which explains one reason the financial planning industry has evolved, trying to minimise the charges for the initial, non-tax deductible plan by picking up the lifetime value of a customer paying one percent on their nest egg through the ongoing service. This has provided opportunities for my business, as someone paying $10,000 a year on their $1 million invested can instantly see the value of our service, especially when we tip them into an industry superfund.
Against this, you do have to professionalise your selling skills to overcome what I call the tightwad objection where someone thinks $3,500 coming out of their wallet represents bad value compared to the $20,000 they spend on a European holiday!
You also need to diversify; I have accountants and business coaches working in my business. Our goal is to attract clients who require all three of our services which means carefully targeting our lead generation and marketing efforts.
Because of the industry’s dominant pricing model, not enough has been done to extol the true value of financial planners. We should be the first port of call for all Australians when they start work and we should be trusted advisers throughout their life. Unfortunately, poor behaviour which led to excessive regulation has meant our services are extremely time-consuming to perform, making them expensive to the end-user.
That said, one interesting irony has emerged. My goal was to make financial planning as good as possible so all Australians could access financial planning at a fair price. However, it turns out that it is the wealthy who most appreciate the idea of not paying one or even two percent on their investments.
Peter Switzer is the founder of Switzer Financial Services, a financial planning, accounting and coaching business.