Throughout his 20-year career in the industry, Justin Brand has always tried to work for people who have inspired him in some way.

“My criteria for taking a job has always been based on who I would be working with,” he says.

“I ask myself whether I look up to them and what I can learn from them.”

Brand says once that admiration for a leader is dashed — or he simply stops learning — then he sees no point in continuing in the role.

“I would never stay in a job where I didn’t like my manager,” he says.

“If a job is not making you happy, and there is no solution, then you move on.”

Brand’s philosophy has been indelibly shaped by a series of inspirational line managers who showed him what it meant to inspire excellence in staff.

His first job after graduating with a business degree from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, was as a marketing analyst for a transport company.

He took the job to save money for travel, but ended up learning a lot about business and management.

“My boss wanted me to learn how to write succinctly,” he reflects.

“He sent me out to buy a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. This was a document that was something like 160 words but it had a profound impact.”

After he returned from his overseas travels, Brand picked up work in Sydney as a paraplanner with AMP.

“I didn’t know what a paraplanner did, but I thought I may as well learn about financial planning,” he says.

AMP trained him up and soon he was writing the financial plans for the other planners.

Looking for something ‘a bit disruptive’

Over the next decade, a series of roles followed that allowed Brand to hone his skills: he was a business development manager with ING, an operations manager with Commonwealth Bank and worked for Colonial First State in a professional standards role.

However, as time went on, Brand found he was enjoying the corporate environment “less and less”.
“I grew tired of being around people who would play politics to further their careers at the expense of the customers,” he says.

Brand began to take a step back from the corporate world, spending most of his time consulting and devising business plans.

“I was actively looking for ideas in financial services and I wanted a business that was interesting, that has some meaning for the client,” he says.

“I was also looking for something that was a bit disruptive in my own way, I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing.”

Then he received an email that became the trigger for his next venture.

“A family friend had written to me and asked me for a referral to a financial planner and I honestly couldn’t think of anyone,” he says.

The family friend was a divorced receptionist, and unlikely to be sinking tonnes of money into complicated investments.

Catering to low-middle income earners

Brand saw there was a need to cater to people like her — low to medium-income earners who were often overlooked by the corporates because their investment needs were not sophisticated.

So five years ago he set up Brand Financial in Brisbane, and the family friend became his first client.

Brand was determined to offer independent advice, free from commissions and hence conflict.

“I am able to sit down with someone and say, ‘These are the fees upfront and for the next 12 months and that is it’,” he says.

Even so, some people struggle with the upfront fees because they are used to paying for advice through commissions.

“People will call me and they will absolutely be hemorrhaging money in the form of fees and they still have a lot of trouble with the direct fee-based structure,” he says.

“Not all of them can see the hidden fees.”

Johanna Roberts is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist with more than 15 years' experience in news, features, lifestyle, property, finance, books and arts journalism, across both digital and print platforms. She has worked at both Fairfax and News Corp publications in Australia, as well as in digital roles in London with The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
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