Greg Cook

Two AZ NGA financial advice businesses – Eureka Whittaker Macnaught and Blue Harbour Financial Partners – will merge in a move designed to create a “super firm”.

EWM chief executive Greg Cook says being a super firm means having multiple capabilities clients can rely on in house.

“It means scale,” Cook tells Professional Planner.

“We want to take a lot of separate businesses and bring them together to improve the value proposition to our clients and also to make sure we’re utilising the benefits of scale.”

Whittaker Macnaught, founded in 1982 by advice industry veterans Noel Whittaker and Cheryl Macnaught, was acquired by Eureka in 2013.

“Eureka purchased the largest chunk of the old Whittaker Macnaught business including the name,” Cook says. “We’ve done a number of [other] tuck-ins along the way.”

Eureka was founded as Phegan Cook in 1993 by Cook and his father-in-law Mike Phegan. The firm rebranded when Phegan retired in 2005.

“The Whittaker Macnaught brand and the Eureka brand go back a couple of decades,” Cook says.

“We still have a relationship with Noel, so the Whittaker name and trademark will be around long term. We’re just working out the best way to bring the delivery together. I just had coffee with him in Brisbane the other day actually. He’s still playing golf at age 84 and going strong.”

EWM has offices in Sydney, Central Coast, Newcastle and Brisbane, and recently expanded to include finance and mortgage broking in addition to offering holistic advice.

Blue Harbour was established in 2002 and is based in the Brisbane suburb of Cleveland. It specialises in superannuation, retirement and estate planning.

Both practices are part of the AZ NGA group, led by CEO Paul Barrett who has longed pushed the “super firm” concept in the sector.

Blue Harbour will continue to use its own branding in the short term, while Cook says a consultant will be sourced to work out the best way forward and there will be a plan to expand Blue Harbour’s offering.

“Mortgage lending is a real growth area for the EWM business in recent months,” Cook says, and Whittaker Macnaught has an older than average clientele which has led to them doing a lot of aged care financial advice over the last decade.

“We’re going to extend that capability to Blue Harbour,” Cook says.

“We’ve each got some capability on the risk writing front as well. There’s also a couple of advisers including Andrew Jones who’s a highly regarded self-managed superannuation specialist.”

The combined firm will have 14 advisers with 32 staff in total, including its fifth professional year candidate.

“I’m a big advocate for the way PY has been rolled out since January 2019 when we actually had the first one in Australia,” Cook says.

“I’m still a practicing planner, I spend at least half of my time in front of clients, and I find it really efficient to have a seasoned planner like myself with a younger PY candidate that bring different skills to the client and are able to deliver the advice efficiently. We’ve got a good age and experience mix across the business. We’ve got [PY adviser] number six ready to go too.”

Cook says the advice profession remains in “exciting times” and there has been a step change over the last five years with key regulatory changes post Hayne-royal commission.

“We used to pretend we were a profession 10 to 15 years ago, but now we can say that with confidence and deliver value to client and charge appropriately for it,” Cook says.

“As we know there’s a growing number of Australians who need great advice and unfortunately fewer capable people to provide it. Hopefully we’re in a small way part of the solution bringing new advisers through the PY.”