When James Gerrard first started as a financial adviser, it’s fair to say he thought about building a referral network somewhat differently.
It was 2009, and digital content and marketing were only just starting to come into their own. Gerrard instinctively knew at the time that getting noticed online would be crucial to his success, so he found someone even cannier than him – a guy who had bought ‘financialadvisor.com.au’ and ‘financialadviser.com.au’ in the 1980s – and offered to buy the domain names to kick off his business.
Gerrard had set aside $50,000 to start his own business and he poured $35,000 of his startup budget into buying both of the domain names from the guy who had paid $1 for them in the 1980s.
He started receiving enquiries on his website almost immediately – and they kept coming. Gerrard’s financial planning business was born.
Gerrard is now one of three full-time advisers with the business and his firm – financialadviser.com.au – has $100 million in funds under management.
Search engine optimisation (SEO), algorithmic discovery, digital branding – all of these new-millennium tools were fundamental to Gerrard’s approach to starting up and building a business.
“One of the things with the Google algorithm is that it rewards businesses that have been around for a while, so you continue to rank quite highly,” Gerrard notes, talking about how the power of his shrewdly purchased domain names continues to grow. “Getting into the online game earlier than a lot of planning businesses made a difference.”
Online game has evolved
While you might imagine Gerrard would be an online evangelist, encouraging other planners to use digital marketing to get ahead, he says the game has moved on and there are now other ways advice businesses should be thinking about building their referral networks.
“Most planners are now marketing their services online and using SEO but it’s really a crowded space,” he says. “You definitely need an online presence, but it can’t be the only way you reach customers.”
Partnering with an accounting practice for client referrals is where Gerrard’s head is at the moment; client referrals are the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to finding new business growth, he says.
“I think one of the best things advisers can do is establish a joint venture with accountancy practices,” Gerrard says. “I have relationships with a couple of accountants – people I found via Google – and it can be a very beneficial arrangement. Accountants, especially the younger ones, no longer see advisers as glorified [salespeople], which is a positive.”
Gerrard became self-licensed in 2015. His business specifically caters its services to time-poor professionals in their mid-to-late 30s.
“Our clients like the fact that they can walk to our office in the CBD, because they don’t have a lot of time,” he says.
Because Gerrard’s clients tend to be younger than at most advice practices, they aren’t fans of commissions; however, he points out that they are pragmatic when remuneration models are explained in simple language.
“We spoke to our clients [since the advice industry hearings at the Hayne royal commission] and they felt they would prefer the insurance company pay us a commission, rather than them being thousands of dollars out of pocket,” he says.
He concedes that his firm does accept commissions on life-insurance products.
“I get around that conflict by staying ignorant of the commission on each life insurance product, so I don’t know which product provider is offering more. I am also up-front with each client as to how I am paid for life insurance advice. Other than that, we don’t accept insurance commissions.”
Gerrard is wholly supportive of BT Financial’s recent decision to scrap trailing commissions to advisers. He is not as keen, however, on the trend towards managed discretionary account structures, which he says result in many advisers applying a one-size-fits-all approach to investing clients’ money.
“Some of my clients have ethical preferences and would like to be consulted before I sell and buy,” he explains. “Others work for a multi-national and are unable to invest in certain shares.
“If you bucket people’s money, then with the rise of trends such as robo-advice, there is nothing to distinguish you from that blanket advice and you’re competing on fees and doing yourself a disservice.
“Whereas, I have found that there are always people who are willing to pay for individual advice that is tailored to them, because it’s that relationship they’re paying for.”
Name of firm: FinancialAdvisor.com.au
Name of licensee: Australian Financial Advisory Group
Time in the industry (previous jobs?): 16 years
Academic qualifications: MBA, bachelor’s degree in applied finance, advanced diploma of financial planning.
Accreditations: Certified Financial Planner
Professional association memberships: Financial Planning Association
TOPICS: commissions, James Gerrard, networking