Olivia Maragna

Fee-for-service advice practices are now the norm but building a business with that model 20 years ago was a gamble for Aspire Retire.

Olivia Maragna co-founded the business with her husband Stephen Degiovanni.

“We didn’t like what was going on the industry at the time,” she tells Professional Planner.

“We were going to go fee-for-service from day one. We’re just going to take on really good quality clients, we’re going to treat them well and we’ll build the business based on a word-of-mouth referral.”

The firm currently has clients in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Alice Springs, North Queensland and Darwin. “We’ve got clients everywhere across the country, overseas as well,” she says.

“Everyone thought we were completely mad charging a fixed fee, that it wasn’t going to work, it wasn’t going to be sustainable, but it was,” she says with laughter, looking back.

“It was such a refreshing way to work with clients that, for us, it just really took off. Lots of colleagues thought we were a bit crazy to go down that path, but it’s served [us] well.”

The key step that set the business up for success with this model was showing the value of the advice and services to the client, so they felt the fee being charged was justified.

“You’ve got to be confident in the value that you add, but show it to the client,” Maragna says.

“All of our fees from day one have been  transparent and clients see it come out of their bank account every single time they pay it.”

Maragna says the practice specialises in “complexity” – dealing with complex family dynamics, family wealth, divorces, inheritances and estates.

“Because we’re dealing with high-net-worth clients we’re dealing with legacy assets,” Maragna says.

“These are assets or investments that are going to be around for not only our clients’ generations, but their children’s, grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s generations.”

Degiovanni is managing director and an adviser, and the firm employs three other advisers, with a total staff of 19.

“We both come from family business backgrounds so starting a family business together wasn’t something that worried us ,” Maragna says.

She expects they’ll add one or two staff a year, but also hopes technology will help continue to scale the business.

“There was five of us in the early days and while that was comfortable,

it wasn’t sustainable so we have  grown it to a size that makes sense it terms of future growth with investment in technology to help with efficiencies,” Maragna says.

“The firm’s always growing. We’re in one of those blessed situations where we don’t have to worry about new clients as the phones constantly ring with enquiries.”

Maragna estimates they have multiple generations of referrals.

“Someone’s referred someone, that person referred someone, then you just have this continuation of lots of clients. We’ve got friends’ groups that are all clients that go fishing or lunching together.”

But Maragna estimates the practice only takes on roughly 10 per cent of inbound enquiries.

“In terms of who contacts us, it’s really identifying those complex situations that we know we can add enormous amounts of value to,” Maragna says.

“We generally find that clients say within the first or second meeting ‘gosh I wish I would have met you five or 10 years ago’ so they can already see the value in the advice.”

Maragna says the practice follows a “nice and simple” philosophy: treat the client well and treat them like you would yourself or your own parents.

“Add a lot of value and all of sudden they start telling their friends about you,” Maragna says.

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