Former Flight Centre manager soars as adviser with client-centric style

Johanna Roberts


January 30, 2017

Principal wealth adviser Stephen Kostarelas was a commercial manager at Flight Centre in Sydney, well on his way to the role of chief financial officer, when opportunity of another kind beckoned.

The chief recruiter was his brother-in-law, who was convinced Kostarelas should play an important role in his new financial planning firm, The Wealth Designers.

“It was a big decision to make as I had just gotten married and it involved moving from Sydney to Perth,” Kostarelas says. “It was about seven years ago and I decided to go for it, although it was scary at the time.

“I was also a chartered accountant and Troy, my brother-in-law, thought my skills would be a good fit. He saw that I would bring advice that was not product-focused and that I could bring some ultra high net worth clients.

“Our firm has a couple of lawyers and we have always been about other professions bringing in their own unique skill set, about staff being multi-disciplined.”

Kostarelas admits that when he first became a planner he had to fight to prove his credibility.

“It was the time of a few advice scandals and I was used to having immediate credibility as a chartered accountant,” he notes. “I found that as an adviser I had to prove my credibility.”

It was a hurdle he overcame easily, however, once clients realised he was in it for the right reasons.

“We (the firm) was one of the pioneers of the new world finance advice, where we take a holistic approach to a client’s affairs,” he says. “Gone are the days when you would set up funds under management and sit back and relax.”

Underpinning his approach to clients is a considerable amount of face time each week.

“Of course, every client’s needs are different and we bill them differently. So if we have a client that needs to see us for half a day every month, then we will bill them accordingly, as there are other clients who may only need to see us once every quarter.”

Kostarelas is positive about the impact of technology on the profession, which he views as a heartening disruptor.

“If you can use technology to do the things that you would normally charge a client for then you can make your service solely based around your advice,” he says.

He is not concerned about the advent of robo-advice either.

“I think there will be a core group of clients, say 10 to 20 per cent, who will need non-robo advice,” he says. “[That will include] clients who are ultra high net worth individuals, or even people at very specific stages of their life, such as when they’re starting a business.

“So in many ways, I see it as a huge opportunity.”

Kostarelas sees the next generation of planners coming through as ideal flag bearers for a more rigorous and scrupulous industry.

“The new generation, those in their 20s and 30s, they are really well qualified, much more so than many guys in their 50s and 60s,” he says.

“The old salesman adviser is well and truly a thing of the past.”



Name of firm: The Wealth Designers.

Time in the industry: Seven years. Switched over from working at PWC as a charted accountant, and in the listed company world as a financial controller and commercial manager.

Academic qualifications: Double degree in accounting and finance, diploma of financial planning, SMSF specialist.

Accreditations: Chartered accountant.
Professional association memberships: SMSF Association.

Other memberships: Most Trusted Adviser network.


TOPICS:   Stephen Kostarelas,  TECHNOLOGY,  The Wealth Designers

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