Tina Zekants and Greg Batterham graduated from the AMP Horizons financial planning academy on the same day, but their business paths have turned out to be very different. Simon Hoyle reports.

Greg Batterham

A career in financial planning ticked all the boxes for Greg Batterham: Working in the finance industry; owning his own business; making a sea change, and working closely with people. “I started my career back in 1987,” Batterham says. “I’ve spent the last 22 or 23 years in the financial services sector, mostly working for banks. “I decided it was time for a change of career. I have a real passion for the financial services sector, and the real love of that role is working with people.

It didn’t take me long to work out that being able to bring those two things together meant financial planning was where it was going to end up.” But it wasn’t as simple as that. Batterham not only decided it was time to leave the big smoke, but also decided it was time to cease being just an employee in a large organisation and own the business he worked in, too.

{sidebar id=28} “I did not want to become an employee; that was a deal-breaker for me,” he says. Once it was clear financial planning was the way forward, the next step was to leave banking altogether. “For the two years leading up, I had realised that my days in banking were coming to an end,” he says. “Just from a personal point of view, I needed a change. And the only way I could do that was to resign.”

“I spent the next 18 months investigating all the financial planning options and advice options in the financial services sector.” That included a detailed analysis of private banking, an option he eventually rejected. “There’s nothing wrong with their models – their models are fine,” he says. “But it came down to a fundamental question: Had my time as an employee working for the major banks come to an end? “It had. I had the desire to go out and run my own business.”

But before he embarked on a career as a planner, Batterham committed to training himself up. “I am a very big believer in training,” he says. “I know my way around the banking world, but I wasn’t so confident about dealing with mums and dads at a grassroots level.” As a partner in Pye Financial Services in Newcastle, NSW, Batterham has achieved everything on his career-change wishlist – and more. Part of the Horizons program is the chance to complete a two-week internship in an existing AMP practice.

Batterham spent the fortnight scouting the area around Newcastle to find out who the key financial planners were. “I began to get introduced to planners all over the Central Coast and Hunter region,” he says. Through that process he met David Pye, who was running an AMP financial planning business in Newcastle. Batterham bought into the business. “That, for me, was a pretty major financial decision,” he says. There is no fixed timetable for when Pye will depart.

For the time being, it suits them both to work together. “He’s been running this business one way or another since 1979, all that time with AMP,” Batterham says. “He has some client relationships where they were becoming quite concerned that they had grown up with David, and he’s getting older – not that he’s old – so he needed someone who would come in and not only pick the business up and run with it, but have a model that was more relationship- focused.

“This business is big enough to comfortably support the two of us, and our staff. “From my point of view, I am getting a massive, massive benefit from David staying on.” Batterham says it was of great advantage to him to come into the industry free from any preconceptions of how the industry operates. Working through Horizons gave him the client servicing and technical grounding necessary to get out there and start working – but he also “left the academy with one very firm thing in mind”.

“This business was going to run as a fee-forservice model, if only because I felt a bit more comfortable with what I am doing with clients,” he says. “I can articulate my value proposition to them: This is what I am going to do, and this is what it’s going to cost you. “From the clients’ point of view, I think that while they are very, very clear about what it costs them at the moment, through the Statement of Advice process, I think they now understand a little bit more about the value they are getting. “I think the industry may have fallen short articulating each planner’s value proposition or service offering to each individual client.”

Tina Zekants

Tina Zekants faced every new business owner’s nightmare. Sitting in a new office, having just graduated from the AMP Horizons financial planning academy, and with big plans for a new career, Zekants’ new business, Latitude Wealth Management, lacked only one thing. Clients. Zekants’ plan was to start a new business from scratch, just off King Street in Newtown, an innerwest suburb of Sydney, and targeting same-sex couples.

She had drive, ambition, and a background in finance that she believed had prepared her for a career as a financial planner. The AMP academy had impressed upon Zekants the importance of having a properly thoughtout, properly structured business plan. It was a plan Zekants trusted. Zekants had taken advantage of AMP’s practice start-up offer (PSO), under which new planners effectively lease a book of clients from the financial services group.

{sidebar id=29 align=left} But having a book of clients and having them walk through the door were proving to be two separate things. “I remember sitting in here thinking, ‘How am I going to get new clients?’,” Zekants says. “I had new signage, new everything. The phone wasn’t ringing. I thought, ‘No, just stick to my business plan’. I went back to that, and did every activity that I had in there, and just by doing every activity that I had in my business plan, I am now on target to meet my 12-month budget.”

Zekants says that in the space of four months, things have picked up quickly enough that she plans to buy her book of clients from AMP at the end of 12 months (the PSO arrangement gives her up to four years), is thinking about taking on another planner, and has thought about expanding the business into Melbourne and Brisbane.

“I’m very ambitious with where I want to take the business,” she says. Eight years ago, Zekants was forging a career in commercial finance, specialising in lending for prestige motor vehicles. After starting up her own business, and contracting her services to Audi dealerships, she got to the point where there were only three or four finance products she could offer to clients. “Mainly they were commercial clients, so I had to converse with them about the tax effectiveness of leasing; I’d look at their P&L to see if they could afford to service the finance, and structure the finance so they could afford it,” she says.

“The bit I didn’t like about the business was that I had to deal with car dealers. The profit I could make was to do with how much more I charged the client over a certain rate. I was feeling that I wasn’t getting any respect from my clients because of that. I wanted to give my clients advice, but I wanted not to overcharge them for it. “I was working too hard, and there was no nobility in what I was doing.

“One of my clients was a financial planner. He said, ‘do yourself a favour, get your DFP and get into financial planning’. “He was doing well – he was buying a BMW convertible from me – so [I thought] there’s got to be a career in this financial planning thing.” Zekants says she’s been able to tap into the local community first by securing a book of clients who live nearby, and secondly by targeted advertising and marketing.

The clients that Zekants has leased from AMP were already AMP customers and lived near where Zekants set up her financial planning practice. They may have bought a product from the company at some point in the past, but they had no existing relationship with an AMP financial planner. Zekants had a running start, in the sense that she had a list of names and numbers she could begin to call. Even so, they could be classified as cold calls, and there was no guarantee that a call would even lead to a meeting, let alone an individual becoming a client.

“I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have only had positive feedback from the clients that I talk to,” she says. “Mainly that’s [because] there’s been no one in this geographical area – there’s been no one for them to talk to. “I myself am gay, so they are not going to be judged when they start talking about their relationships.

There’s nobody who has really filled that space. “One of the things that Horizons taught me is that it’s very important to know who your target market is. Ninety-five per cent of the new business that has walked through the door has been from that target market.

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