Melbourne-based Avant-Garde Financial Group is run by business partners Chris Guy and David Moloney. While already experiencing success, Chris and David are continuing to build a multi-disciplinary advice business that combines financial planning and mortgage advice, together with their life and general insurance advice services.
Here, Chris and David reflect on what their key learnings have been in the development of their advice business, and how they’re positioning for further success.
This CPD quiz is based on a 2018 interview conducted by Riskinfo with Chris Guy and David Moloney of Avant-Garde Financial Group, Melbourne. Scroll down for the full transcript.
We’re talking today with Chris Guy and David Moloney, Directors of Avant-Garde Financial Group in Melbourne. Can you give us a brief description of your business and who your clients are?
The Avant-Garde Financial Group consists of three key services: financial planning, mortgage broking, and general insurance.
For the first two, financial planning and mortgage broking, the clients we aim to work with are barristers, medical specialists, and allied health professionals such as podiatrists and chiropractors.
The overarching theme there is that they’re all self-employed, and they all tend to be quite goal driven.
General insurance is probably its own beast, and Chris runs that side of the business.
The general insurance business has a lot of consistencies with the financial planning and mortgage broking business, a lot of those clients are also general insurance clients looking for professional indemnity business insurance. We also have a range of manufacturing and property-related clients who have more of your traditional commercial insurance type needs.
How did the business evolve to offer key advice planks, such as financial advice, mortgage broking, and general insurance?
I left a large dealer group at the end of 2007. And although the legislation will tell you otherwise, I’ve never really seen the distinction between financial planning and mortgage broking. I’ve always seen it as one and the same.
So from an early start, probably 2005, we started offering debt advice. We found that first-time home-buyers really needed advice in relation to obtaining their first home. They wanted to how to save the deposit, and what was involved in buying a home.
We’ve never really seen the distinction between those two, so they are one and the same. My father was in financial services, he was an insurance broker, and retired at the end of 2014, so that’s where the commercial insurance aspect comes into it.
Chris, what did you learn from working in a large financial advice business up until 2007?
I learned a lot of what not to do, and that was probably the primary reason why I left at that time in 2007. I saw a lot of the issues at play that were identified by the Royal Commission.
I saw a lot of structural issues and a lot of conflicts that I wasn’t happy or comfortable with. So I took the opportunity to step outside the large dealer group and set up my business.
David, you were talking about the predominant occupations of the clients that you serve, but their characteristic was that they’re all small professional businesses such as lawyers and doctors, how did that come about?
I was fortunate that one of my best mates was a barrister and he was the head of the young Barristers’ Association and referred new barristers to our business.
Over time we established really strong relationships with them and now anyone that’s new to the bar are referred to us, and existing barristers are referred to us also.
I guess they’re the traditional centres of influence in that industry, and they can direct quality clients to our business.
Chris established a fantastic network with the Osteotherapy Association. We’re probably one of the more prominent brands in the Osteotherapy community. Identifying quality services has really helped our business grow organically.
You both would appear to be in your 30s….Does the age of your client base reflect your respective ages?
I think our client base is generally around our age, they are in the 30 to 45-years-of-age bracket, that would be a fair representation of our clients.
So it’d be reasonable to suggest that you will be continuing on this advice journey with your clients as they continue to evolve in their own careers and occupations.
It’s linked to their hierarchy of needs. First it was getting the home, and then it starts becoming about protecting the family. And we envision estate planning will also feature going forward.
It sounds like a pretty reasonable plan in terms of long-term business development. You’ve experienced business growth over recent years, what do you put it down to? Is it the fact that you specialize in a couple of particular areas or some other factor?
I think there’s a number of factors that have contributed to that growth, including our multiple service offering in terms of the different disciplines that we provide our clients.
I think the intimate understanding of our client’s personal and financial circumstances helps. So whether it’s their professional or personal circumstances, it has allowed us to identify needs and become their trusted adviser.
We have a lot of clients who will come to us and ask our opinions on certain things, which invariably may or may not lead to additional services that we provide to them.
And being able to develop an intimate understanding and knowledge of particular occupations, and the lifestyle that they will experience within that career, has allowed us grow.
So I’ve been talking about this multi-level approach in terms of the services that you deliver to clients and one of them is retirement planning. Chris, I was wondering if you could reflect on that because it seems to me that a lot of your clients would be a fair way off retirement.
That is by and large, correct. However, touching back to my father being in the financial services industry before I was, we do have a number of clients who were clients of my father’s and they are now clients of ours, and they tend to be a little bit older.
I do provide the retirement planning, and the transition from working across into retirement. So the structuring of income streams, entitlements, and providing the advice required about that going forward.
David, what’s your background?
Chris and I actually met each other in 2007. We were working in a shared office, but I had just finished university and was looking to build a book business straight away.
Chris and I got along really well, we knew we had different personalities and they were complimentary. And then in 2011 we decided to merge. We were doing the same thing, targeting similar demographics, and we thought it made a lot of sense.
David, is there any message for your peers, your colleagues, about working with a business partner?
I think anyone today, if they’ve got clients who have been in business, will have some war stories of businesses partnerships that have gone bad.
So the only advice I would suggest, and I’ve been banging on about it a lot with our clients, is that before you enter into any sort of arrangement you should assume the worst and map out your exit plan, decide what that looks like and how that works.
We spent a lot of time before we actually officially merged doing just that, putting in place partnership agreements, buy and sell agreements, all that sort of stuff.
If you talk about these things, and you identify these issues and how that looks, you minimize the risk of misunderstanding in the likelihood of any issues arising.
My advice would be to go into a business relationship with your eyes open and don’t think it’s all going to be rosy. Make sure the structures are in place.
You raise a critically important point about exit plans in any partnership business. Have you also been looking at succession planning in your business, or is it a little bit early for that?
It’s a little bit early. But having said that, we’re always trying to improve the business and have the business ready to extract the most value out of it. However, succession planning hasn’t been a major focus or a concern for us.
So we’ve talked about some of the critical elements in your business, the notion of specialization, the various advice planks that form the foundation of your advice business, but are there any other critical elements that have led to the obvious success of a growing practice.
We’re always talking about advice, the value of advice, and delivering advice. But I think the implementation side is something that we really pride ourselves on. And I think we do that really well, our clients really value that we take that off their plate.
I think you can provide all the best advice in the world, but unless you implement it correctly, it’s meaningless and almost devalues that advice. So we take a really proactive approach, take everything off the plate of the client and see it through to the end. It’s a bit of a mantra with us, we make sure that we’re not going to leave clients high and dry.
So in finishing up, a question to both of you. What learnings do you take from your experiences so far and if you had your time again, would you do anything you’d do differently?
No. Everything that we’ve done and failed at has led us to where we are today. Having said that though, I would ideally like to think that I would learn to say ‘no’ a lot sooner, and identify those things that I really do enjoy, and that I’m passionate about, rather than trying to provide a blanket service to everybody.
So that ‘no’ relates to certain clients?
Yes, absolutely. Certain clients, certain types of clients, certain personalities. People who are looking for a particular type of advice.
You can spend a lot of time trying to satisfy those people, and you never will, in some cases. We’ve learnt that on a number of occasions. So just being able to identify that, and you have to be able to identify internally what you’re passionate about, and where you really want to focus, and then being true to that.
I think touching on what Chris said, we would have started a lot earlier in identifying the ideal client, something we do really well now – but if we do go back to the start – we were just a jack of all trades in a sense. But we’re passionate about the democratic we target, and we really enjoy that as well.
And it sounds like that’s a great, strong message for other advisers out there about the value of focusing on the ideal client.
It’s hard to let go sometimes, and I think we’re getting better at letting go. But it’s something that I think we’re working towards for the long term.
The phrase ‘ideal client’ gets thrown around a lot. But it’s about being able to identify your ideal client in the person, or the people you want to work with. People you get along with and can build a rapport with.
Chris and I probably appeal to different people as well, so we play off each other a bit as well.
Thank you both for your time, I’m sure we will catch up soon to see how your firm is growing.
The two partners at Avant-Garde Financial Planning are Chris Guy and David Moloney. Chris is a Certified Financial Planner, Mortgage Broker & General Insurance Broker. He started the company in 2007 as its founding Director.
David is a Certified Financial Planner & Mortgage Broker who became a Director at the firm in 2011 after integrating his financial advisory business into Chris’ company.
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Avant-Garde Financial Group has built its business by focusing on a particular type of client that are:CorrectIncorrect
David Moloney of Avant-Garde Financial Group says the firm’s clients value:CorrectIncorrect
Building a company based on a business partnership can involve some risk, so David advises like-minded clients to:CorrectIncorrect
Chris Guy of Avant-Garde Financial Group says offering the best advice in the world is meaningless, unless it is:CorrectIncorrect
Chris also says his firm carefully chooses which people to work with based on:CorrectIncorrect