When Charlie Viola was 19, still wet behind the ears and newly launched into the working world, he received a promotion.
He would no longer be working in a customer service role at the front of the Commonwealth Bank, he was told, but instead would have his own desk and work as a junior financial planner in the personal banker investments division.
“And I would be earning $30,000 a year and I remember thinking, ‘How can someone earn that much money?” Viola says. “I was still very young, and I thought things didn’t get much better than that.”
But they did, and Viola rose steadily through the ranks of the bank, and became a fully qualified financial planner at CBA by the time he was in his early 20s.
“All of a sudden, I was qualified to give people much older than me life advice,” he recalls.
He excelled at in-house courses, went to all of the conferences and was always one of the bank’s top 10 writers of business.
But after a couple of years, he wanted more of a challenge.
“I don’t want to sound up myself, but I was finding it easy,” he says. “I had outgrown the role and knew a lot more than the other guys.”
That’s how he ended up at Pitcher Partners Sydney Wealth Management – which was known as Moore Stephens at the time – a company that gave Viola the challenge he wanted.
“I turned up on my first day and I asked them where the business came from,” he says. “They told me that we go out and get it. It was scary because I was used to the customers already being there within the bank. It was like going from the zoo, where the food is thrown to you, to the jungle, where you’re out there on your own.”
In a bid to find clients, Viola, who is now a partner at Pitcher Partners, did some online searching.
“I think I literally put into Google the search term: ‘Who can refer to financial planners?’ ” he says.
“The answer was outplacement agencies, because as I found out, often when people receive redundancies it’s a very good time to seek financial advice.
“So I started cold calling people before I tagged a consultant who did out-placement consultancy, and was keen to refer work to me.”
The business has since grown from one turning over $100,000 a year to a company with 26 people and $1.5 billion in assets under management.
Viola says the key to being a successful financial planner is in the approach, not the figures.
“What we do is not rocket science,” he says. “There are only four possible tax structures in Australia, so no matter how complex the client’s needs, it’s not difficult.
“The best thing I can do for clients is to be there for them whenever they need me. They know they can call me anytime.”
Viola is also keen to ensure the young planners the company hires are well versed in ethics, and believes the industry as a whole has to “raise the bar”.
“It needs to become more of a profession and less of a job and that way more of the right people will aspire to these roles,” he says.
“We need a strong national body: one that has real integrity and a strong market presence. And we need to stop this vertical integration. You cannot say that you’re independent if you go into, say, NAB and you know you’re going to get an MLC product.”
Name of firm: Pitcher Partners Sydney Wealth Management
Time in the industry: 19 years; worked at CBA in a junior advisory role from 1998 to 2000; financial planner at CBA from 2000 to 2003; joined current firm in April 2003 Academic qualifications: ADFP
Accreditations: CFP and affiliate member of ICAA. Completed Harvard Business School leading professional services firms executive education course.
Other memberships: FPA