Case Study – Building Successful Referral Partnerships: The One-on-One Relationship


This practice management case study looks at one practice’s approach to developing successful accountant-adviser referral relationships, the ‘One-on-One Relationship’ model. This approach involves building referral partnerships by engaging with individuals.


At a Glance

Submitted by: Jo Brassett and Cathrine Baker
Business: Insurance Advisory Services (IAS)
Referral approach: One-on-one relationships


In detail

Advisers, Jo Brassett and Cathrine Baker, from Insurance Advisory Services (IAS), a holistic financial planning company in Sydney, have what many in the industry would consider a traditional referral model; the advice practice has set up strategic alliance partnerships with a small number of accounting firms to work with their clients in building and protecting their clients’ financial wellbeing. Referrals flow both ways between the parties.

Sourcing the right partners was hard, admits Brassett, recalling how the business used to host a stand at national accounting conferences to attract potential referral partners.

“During the conferences we would stand at the back of the room and listen to these speakers essentially bashing financial planners. It was almost like ‘financial planning’ was a dirty word.

“Then, when they came to our stand in the break, we had to work hard to position ourselves as providing genuine value despite the fact many of them believed that advisers don’t know what they’re talking about. They were a difficult crowd!”

Jo’s sister and business partner, Cathrine, agrees: “We’re a little bit on the back foot because a lot of the accounting industry bodies are not giving financial advisers their due consideration.”

IAS decided to focus on younger generation accountants, with ‘like-minded’ and client focused businesses. “Often it’s about helping our partners to build their business and through this effort the opportunities naturally arise,” Baker says.

According to IAS, while finding the right accountants to partner with can be challenging, it is the ongoing relationship which takes the most work.

it is the ongoing relationship which takes the most work.

“I think this is usually where most referral arrangements fall down, because advisers don’t spend enough time on the relationship and just expect the referrals to flow,” says Baker.

She admits to trying a ‘target setting’ process with accountants in the past, but believes a more effective way to generate leads is to keep yourself ‘top of mind’.

“It takes quite a bit of effort and time to do. Even someone we’ve had on board for quite a long time, one of our better accountants, still forgets to talk about financial planning opportunities with his clients.  We constantly have to be asking: ‘What’s going on?’ because they’re just so busy, and they have their own businesses to focus on.”

According to Baker, of the ten strategic alliance partners working with IAS, only three are extremely active.  “We speak to those three active accountants on a weekly or fortnightly basis. And generally we’re turning over a decent amount of clients. We really only get the odd case from the remainder.  But the good thing about those referrals (the ad-hoc leads) is that they’re generally good ones. We might speak to those accountants once every three months over a cup of coffee and all of a sudden they’ll say: ‘Oh, I was thinking about this one person…’, which is why you need to be proactive in keeping the relationship alive.”

IAS is currently increasing its focus on providing growth and business protection advice to small business owners, an area that relies heavily on professional partnerships.

 accountants are reactive history takers, rather than proactive history makers.

“Our goal is to be the ‘project manager’ in those situations,” says Brassett, “Because you project manage the whole financial story for the client from start to finish. We have a strong relationship with a solicitor, so we can facilitate those conversations, and for the accountant it means more billable hours while they review the plan and the business’ financials.  But they need to be the ones recognising the opportunity and talking to their clients about it.”

In the end, success comes down to trust, says Baker: “I think sometimes you just need to have a few wins with the accountant. And then they trust you.”