The Value of an Inquiring Mind

One of the qualities common to many top advisers is their humility. They accept they don’t know everything and are always willing to seek help from coaches or mentors. Jenny Brown has worked with a number of mentors and tells Peter Sobels why she’s now the first person her clients contact when things go wrong.


This CPD quiz is based on an interview conducted by Riskinfo with Jenny Brown, the founder and CEO of JBS Financial Strategies. Scroll down for the full transcript.

Peter Sobels
We’re joined today by JBS Financial Strategies’ CEO Jenny Brown. Can you tell us a little bit about JBS Financial Strategies and how you got started?

Jenny Brown
So back in that recession we had to have – under Paul Keating – I was made redundant from advertising and couldn’t get a job. So I answered an advert to sell insurance and would you believe that was back in 1992 – and back then it really was tied agencies and selling insurance, so I fell into it.

Who did you start off with?

I was a tied agent through what was Norwich Union, which became Aviva, then MLC, so it’s had many iterations. Along the journey I met the Bongiorno group. And I then moved from being a tied agent with Norwich to then being licenced through Bongiorno, and that’s when I learned all about how to run a business, financial planning, and about making sure that you have the right sort of structure with your insurance premiums.

Okay, so you are no longer a tied agent in a system that no longer exists. But you also have a very much broader advice proposition. Can you tell me a little bit about the transition from selling insurance to what it is that JBS Financial Strategies does today?

I guess the transition was very much a time for learning. So it was up to me to take up the opportunities as they were presented. So when I joined the Bongiorno group I was running my own practice, I wasn’t employed by them. I learned about financial planning, I did my DFP back then, which was eight subjects.

I did my CFP, and then a friend told me in 2000 that self-managed super funds are the way of the future. So we went off and studied self-managed super funds and RBL compressions.

We had to go back and do the course twice because it was so complicated. But again, it was just taking all those opportunities, and then becoming a lot more holistic, rather than just risk focused.

Okay, so you’ve done a few courses, the names of which I don’t understand, but that’s terrific. So you’ve educated yourself in tandem with the evolution of the advice sector. But that’s not enough to build a successful business. So looking back, what is it about your journey that you believe has been the critical ingredients to the success of your company?

I guess I’ve always had very much an inquiring mind. So I’ve always wanted to learn. And that’s come about by, as you say, doing various courses. I did the CFP and through the Self-Managed Association I did my self-managed super fund specialist adviser course.

I’ve done an AICD course through the Institute of Company Directors, so I’m a graduate there. So it’s very much a case of saying, ‘well, what do I actually need to do to learn to grow as a person?’.

So courses are one thing and education is another… I’m a serial junkie when it comes to conferences. I’m involved in the MDRT as its Oceania Chair and my first annual meeting was back in 2000, when Tiny and Jo Bongiorno first introduced me to the organisation. And it’s through taking part in those sort of events that you meet people, you connect with mentors, you pick up tips from coaches, there are some amazing speakers, and then you can then take and implement want you learn into the business.

So there’s been lots of dedicated learning, lots of willpower in terms of continuing to update yourself on what’s needed to be able to deliver appropriate financial advice solutions. But what about the client link? What is it that clients have seen that have enabled you to build and maintain such a successful advice business?

I think it’s very much listening to the client and being able to deliver what they want. So it’s not just about – if I go back to the my origins selling a product – it’s actually working out what the strategy is to help the client get from where they are today to where they want to be.

And I know that sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it really is all about them. So one of the key questions I ask anyone that walks into my office is ‘what’s important to you in life?’.

And that can be, as they start getting older, to do some volunteer work, it can be giving back to the community, it can be education, spending time with the family…but it’s actually understanding all of that side of things, not just the number crunching along the way.

We build really great relationships with our clients so that they do become friends. We are generally the first port of call when something goes wrong, the text messages that we get and things like that. And that’s what I think makes a difference and that attracts great quality clients to JBS.

Can you tell us a little bit about your client demographic, is there a particular element…?

Our sweet spot are clients who are 45-plus. We love talking to the pre-retirees and retirees. So it’s those clients who are really wanting to start seriously planning for their retirement, to work out what they’re going to do. So they don’t end up in a situation whereby one day they’ll just stop work, and never walk into the office again.

Because, if they haven’t started to really think about what they’re going to do, once they do stop work, that’s when a lot of clients really become bored.
My mother used to always say to my father: “I married you for better or worse, and not for lunch. So go away and do something”.

There’s only so many games of golf you can play, you know, there’s all that sort of stuff.

I love talking to clients in that phase of their life when their kids are older – they’re usually teenagers or have left school – their mortgages are mostly paid off… That’s when you can really do some great strategy planning with them. Yes, we do deal with our clients’ children as well, but really, our sweet spot is the 45-pluses.

And just generally speaking, then, if we call it the 45-pluses – or the transition to retirement advice proposition – has honing in on that particular part of the advice spectrum helped you build your business?

I think it has, and it’s really interesting. It took us quite a while to realize that it was very much the sweet spot for JBS. And since we’ve done that, that’s really where the business has taken off. And our clients talk to their friends, and so therefore, our referrals come from clients, not necessarily as a result of our advertising and marketing.

Yes, we are on social media. Yes, we do have an active presence in the market, but it’s really to hone-in on that proof of what we’re doing, rather than to necessarily attract new clients cold off the street.

So it’s clearly been a successful advice proposition. But what are the other elements in terms of building a successful and profitable advisory business that you’ve learned along the journey?

Having a great team and a really engaged team. Warren Hanna bought into JBS [March 2018], to become a partner, which has been fantastic.
So when he joined us his proposition to me was, ‘if this works out, I’d love the opportunity to be able to buy in’.

We both have very aligned views, but we needed to work closely together to know that we could be in business together.

And I think a lot of businesses make a mistake by not trialing that over a period of time. So the team is really important, having a great team around you, and not having all the burden yourself. I think it can be really lonely running a business, so to have a business partner has been awesome from that point of view.

I’ve had mentors along the way, and business coaches. I highly recommend advisers seek out the right coach for them, and go to events and conferences, and talk to people to find out who is the right person to get advice from.

And through different stages of life, you’re going to meet different people who are relevant to you at that point in time. So someone who was relevant to me 20 years ago, may not be as relevant today. They still had a place though and took me on the journey along the way.

Okay, so it sounds like you learned a very long time ago that you don’t know everything, and you never will and you’re very open to the mentor side of building your business.

But is there a deeper message for all your colleagues out there who own their business 100% and are perhaps looking to advance to the next level? What is it about bringing in a partner that’s been great for your business?

I guess the message is, you can build a business to a point by yourself, and you can have your mentors and have your coaches along the way. But what I’ve learned is…obviously, I’m getting older, I’m nowhere near wanting to retire yet, but I need to have that succession plan.

And so to have somebody who is really keen, and wanting to work with me to grow the business – and I’m seriously wanting to grow this business further from where it is today – [is good].

But having someone with me…the multiple of two is much more than the sum of two. So the two of us working together, we’re going to get a much higher multiple and a much higher trajectory in the future, than if we’re both just working in our own stream, side by side.

So I think that’s really key, and making sure that you do have the right person, because you don’t want a bad divorce. You don’t want to have to unwind it.

Were there any stress points in your business that led you to bringing in a partner?

Not really, I think that it’s great to have somebody to bounce ideas off. I don’t think there was any real sort of warning bells that said, ‘bring somebody in’, except that when I hired Warren, that was his plan. So I agreed that if it worked out, then that would be a really good plan. So we just made it happen.

Well, it sounds like it’s working out brilliantly. Looking back over your time, Jenny, you’ve been an adviser and a business owner for quite some years now. Is there anything you’d do differently, based on your experience, that would change what you have done?

Always ask for help early, and as you said earlier, you don’t know everything. I certainly don’t know everything. So I would say get a mentor, get a great business coach, invest in yourself.

So many advisers that I see don’t necessarily want to spend, or are prepared to spend, the money to invest in themselves. Perhaps to head over to the US to attend a conference, or go to an AFA conference, or an FPA conference. I really encourage advisers to spend the money and invest in themselves because it will pay dividends, it really will.

Well, these are some fantastic learnings, some great recommendations about what it might take for your peers to achieve the level of success that you have. And we look forward to staying in touch and talking to you again sometime. But in the meantime, Jenny Brown JBS financial strategies, thank you for your time.

Thanks very much, Peter. It’s been a pleasure.

Jenny Brown is the founder and CEO of JBS Financial Strategies and has close to 30 years’ experience in financial planning.


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