For many years, Paul Zobonos couldn’t quite put his finger on what he wanted to do with his life. His strong suits were economics and statistics, and yet he was unmoved by the academic theories that underpinned them.
After graduating from university, he took on a few administration-type roles while he tried to nut out the problem.
“At the time there’s all this torment because you’re trying to work out what you should do,” he says. “And it doesn’t make sense at the time. But looking back, once you’ve gotten to where you’re supposed to be, the road makes much more sense.
“But that’s only in hindsight.”
A real change came when he moved to Canberra, where he took up a role in the methodology department of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. He was good at it and his maths brain was being put to good use, but he still couldn’t extract any real meaning from what he was doing.
He came to realise he was searching for a job that offered real-world application and a tangible impact on those around him – ideally for the better.
“I couldn’t see the results of what I was doing so I had very little job satisfaction,” he says. “And it was then that the penny dropped. I had a light bulb moment and thought, ‘Hang on, why don’t I use my quantitative and investing knowledge and skills to help people’.”
Which is how he ended up in planning, a job that felt right from day one.
“I took a role as the financial planner in an accountancy firm and straightaway I felt like this was what I’d been waiting for my whole life,” he says.
He stayed at the firm for 12 years but towards the end became unhappy with the culture. He loved the actual work with clients, but the accountants dominated the firm and he had limited control.
Then his father died, throwing his life into sharp relief.
“It was 2014 when Dad died and it was another one of those trigger moments,” he says. “I realised how short life was and that I wanted to work for myself.”
So he quit his job and started his own firm, Manifest Financial Wealth, which he has steadily built up over the past couple of years.
“I couldn’t take any clients with me,” he says. “I had to start from scratch.
“It’s been the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. I don’t earn what I used to, but I have full control and can run the kind of hands-on business that I want.”
Most of his clients are retirees or pre-retirees, but he says he would love to see more millennials come through his door.
“There’s a misconception that financial advice is just for the super wealthy, but what I’m interested in is helping the average Joe,” he says.
“Millennials can be less engaged with their super or retirement because it just seems so far off and many of them are trying to save for a home. There’s also a lot of things competing for their dollar.
“But they have many years of compounding interest in front of them and even if they just put a little bit aside, it would make a big difference down the track.”
Zobonos says he is frustrated by the amount of complicated changes to superannuation that have been introduced in the past couple of years.
“I feel that in some ways we’ve regressed to the old complicated super system,” he says. “And I think one of the big problems is that it pushes super into the too-hard basket for many people.
“They think, ‘Well, I’d rather buy property instead’.”
Name of firm: Manifest Financial Wealth
Name of licensee: HNW Planning Pty Ltd
Years in the industry: 16 years. Previously worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the methodology division as a researcher in survey design and sampling methods
Academic qualifications: Bachelor of Arts, major in mathematical statistics and economics, Advanced Diploma of financial services
Accreditations: CFP, Senior Associate FINSIA
Professional association memberships: Financial Planning Association of Australia, FINSIA, Self-Managed Super Fund Association (Associate)
Other memberships: Adviser Ratings