Advise better, live better
16 September 2016
Brett Davidson's top tips for progressive advisers
For Brett Davidson, working a 70-hour week isn’t the route to success. The founder of FP Advance has ‘been through the pain and celebrated the gain’ – and has learned lessons that he now applies to the financial planning firms he counts as clients.
“There was a two year period in my Australian business where it all just came together,” says Brett, who has dual British/Australian nationality and moved to London in April 2004. “We went from about AU$600,000 of annual revenue to over AU$1 million in those two years.
“It was really exciting and a testament to the model we’d put together. At that time we were leaders in the developing Australian profession. We had absolute clarity on who we worked with, what we did for them and how to make it all happen. It was brilliant.
“Prior to that period of rapid growth and payback we’d just worked really hard. There was a two year period where I was in work at 7.30am every morning, not leaving until 8pm at night and working Saturdays too.
“I look back on that now and realise we achieved absolutely nothing. It was only when I married Deb [his English wife] and had to put some limits on my time at work that my brain started to work harder than my body.
“That was when the growth came – when we solved some of the challenges within our business,” adds the 49-year-old, who says he still has ambition, but is less goal-driven than in the past.
Brett established FP Advance in early 2005 and has since worked with hundreds growing and aspiring financial planning firms, helping them to ‘advise better, live better’.
He describes himself as focused and direct – characteristics that enable him to “get to core of the issue very, very quickly”.
“For anyone wanting to make real progress you’ve got to identify the real issue and then get it sorted; that requires some courage and great honesty,” he says. “My personal style helps those who are ready to do that quickly.”
Good advisers make a life-changing difference to the clients they work with, yet many of them work far too hard and their families suffer as a result, according to Brett.
“It’s my job to help them get their businesses working better to unleash the same lifestyle and financial wins they generate for their clients.”
It is a feat that he seems to have achieved: he spends one month per quarter in the UK, meeting face-to-face with clients and running his course, Uncover Your Business Potential.
For the other eight months of the year, he and his wife live in different parts of the world, with Brett keeping in touch with clients via email and Skype. The couple rent out their home in Hampstead, North London, and use Airbnb to source overseas rental accommodation. They have lived in places as diverse as Amsterdam, Saas-Fee in the Swiss Alps, Seville, Park City Utah, Fernie in British Columbia, Ibiza and Antibes in the South of France.
At its core, the UK is no different to the Australian market or other markets around the world that Brett has observed.
“Business is business wherever you go,” he says. “Know who you serve, put those clients at the centre of your business, get a great team around you and then deliver the best possible service consistently.”
The greatest challenge he sees after 12 years in the UK, however, is one of leadership.
“The biggest challenge is accepting that you need to be a great businessperson if you run your own show, not just a great adviser. That’s a massive issue for lots of firms. As business owners grow as people and as leaders, the business grows too.”
Brett quit his job as a consumer electronics store manager to enter the financial services industry in January 1991 as a commission-only adviser with AMP.
“It was during a recession and the first Gulf war was in full swing,” he says. “I was recruited via another business, Profile Financial Services in Sydney, which asked me become a partner three-and-a-half years later.
“I worked there for ten years after that and we transformed the business from an old school insurance and pensions business into a leading financial planning business.”
A desire to travel and live abroad – something he regrets not doing when he was younger – prompted the move to London.
“I’ve been having a ball ever since,” he says. “By that stage of my career I really enjoyed the challenge of putting a business together and making it work better, still do.
“So when I arrived here I did some research and discovered that what I’d just been doing for the last 10 years in my own business – converting from a sales to a client-centric planning model – was only just beginning in the UK. That sealed the move to set up as a consultant. Good luck not good planning.”
The biggest change for the better that Brett has seen over the past 25 years is “certainly RDR”.
“It took forever to be brought in and lots of advisers came along kicking and screaming, but now I believe we have a much more professional industry,” he says. “There’s still work to be done, but overall it was a giant leap forward and forced many firms to adopt a client-focused financial planning model.”
What about the latest development in the financial services industry – robo-advice?
“I love disruption because of the opportunities it creates,” he replies. “D2C needs to exist and I support it, although I suspect the D2C and robo-advice investors are discovering what life insurers worked out 300 years ago – that the product needs to be sold.
“Consumers are too busy focused on short-term pressures to be seeking out investment services online. Maybe that will change as artificial intelligence allows for genuine financial planning online. I think we’ll see growth in this space, but perhaps not the growth necessary to support the original business models of the robos.”
Brett has invested personally in a robo, Advice Front, which believes the best route to market is via advisers, not D2C.
“It seems its approach is now being validated as many robos identify that their cost of client acquisition is too high,” adds Brett. “I think the slick technology and much nicer client interfaces on some of the robo stuff will eventually help advisers be more customer-friendly in how they work with their own clients.”
If Brett could change one thing about the financial services sector today it would be the cost of fund management.
“It’s too high and is only perpetuated because there isn’t total disclosure of fees and the average punter can’t actually work out how much they pay,” says the poker player.
“It’s a high cost industry that doesn’t add value overall. Professional, client focused advisers have a key role to play in supporting fund managers who can deliver in a way that works for clients.
“This is not a rant against active managers. If active management was cheaper and the client could share in the upside then it would be a great service. However, at present, as a rule, that’s not the case.”
Despite that, the future is bright for professional advisers with well-run businesses.
“The future of this emerging profession is still amazing and largely untapped,” says Brett. “In 20 years’ time the winners will be the large firms and smaller boutique businesses that are doing client-focused financial planning work well.
“The middle ground might be harder to occupy and those not offering a financial planning model will look second rate.”
BRETT’S TOP TIPS FOR ADVISERS TODAY
1. Know who you serve – get rid of everyone and everything else to focus on just them
2. Build an amazing team around you so that you can be the surgeon (doing surgery and nothing else)
3. Keep growing and developing personally; your personal growth determines your business growth
QUICK FIRE Q&A
I’d describe myself in five words as…
Free, focused, creative, a thinker
My primary business objective is…
To change the world, one business at a time
I get out of bed in the morning because…
I’m excited about living my life to the full
My ideal job, other than this one, is…
A Wallaby (Australian Rugby Union team player)
My first pay packet was...
I worked as a busboy scraping plates at Pancakes on the Rocks in Sydney. Can’t remember how much I earned. I’m sure it wasn’t much, but it felt like a lot back then
I broke the law when…
I don’t think I’ll commit this one to print
My favourite holiday destination is…
The Alps in winter
My Fitness Pal
I keep fit by…
Going to the gym, skiing and a little bit of boxing
The historical or fictional character I most identify with is…
Big from Sex and the City. He was flawed, but interesting
Jennifer Hill is a former deputy Money editor of The Sunday Times, personal finance correspondent of Reuters and personal finance editor of The Scotsman