Working With an Accountant Adds up

Poole Group’s specialist risk adviser Hayden White talks with Riskinfo’s Peter Sobels about some of the lessons he’s learned as a financial adviser working with accountants…

 

This CPD quiz is based on a 2018 interview conducted by Riskinfo with Hayden White, Poole Group’s specialist risk adviser.  Scroll down for the full transcript.

 

Peter Sobels
Hello Hayden, can you give us a brief description of the Poole Group and how it has evolved?

Hayden White
The Poole Group comprises of a number of different divisions, but it’s primarily an accounting-based firm.

Over the years it has developed other divisions that consists of a self-managed Superfund division, General Insurance, and bookkeeping. I manage the personal risk side, and we have a direct equity side.

We have a big presence on the Sunshine Coast. When a client comes to the firm the majority of financial services are available to them, and so it really gives them the ability to sort out different independent services within one place.

The Poole Group has been operating on the Sunshine Coast for over 35 years, and was started by Keith Poole, who worked right up until the early 80s. He passed away a number of years ago, but his son Don Poole is a partner and shareholder [Note – correct as of 31 March 2021]. And he still looks after some of our key clients.

There has been a long tradition within the firm of making sure that clients remain with us. And a lot of that, the culture and the service, comes back to case legacy. It is that old school business model of doing what you say you will do in regard to helping clients.

It’s also a benefit to the clients to make sure that when they come in for advice, whether it’s accounting or investment, they know that it’s independent.

And Keith has installed this methodology to always do the best thing for the client. So, at certain times, that might mean that you don’t go ahead with certain things because it is in the best interest of the client not to do so. And that’s been installed throughout all the processes within the Poole Group.

Peter
Poole Group has obviously grown and become a very successful business. Has the nature of the services evolved along with the development of the Sunshine Coast?

Hayden
Yes, it has. There’s been a greater need for our services and you wouldn’t survive in a place like the Sunshine Coast, which is like a country town at its heart, if you do something wrong. To stay in business this long you have to do the right thing.

The Pool Group has been able to grow its client base quite significantly over the last 10 to 15 years, especially in regard to the investment and risk side of things. And those other business divisions have come along due to client demand, so we could make sure clients are looked after in other areas, not just tax.

But yes, the development of the Sunshine Coast has definitely grown demographic wise. And in regard to that we have a large ageing population here. So, we’ve recently introduced an aged care services for Centrelink, going into retirement homes. So, there’s all those aspects which have forced our clients to ask: “Do you guys do this? Do you do that?”.

And accountants by trade are very good at giving advice in their areas of the financial side of things, but obviously, they’re not specialists in all areas of financial services. So that’s how the business developed over the years, along with the ageing population and the growth that we’ve had.

Peter
So, the Sunshine Coast has a reasonably small community feel but nonetheless the needs of the community, and prospective clients, have become more sophisticated over that 30-year period…?

Hayden
I think in any sort of demographic these days there is a lot more education available, so people are becoming more astute in regard to what they can access financial-wise in regard to services, and that’s definitely played a key role in regard to what we offer a Poole Group.

Obviously with baby boomers we have a lot of people that come to the Sunshine Coast from down south – they like to come up and retire to warmer weather. A lot of them are astute former business people themselves and a lot of the people are normally small to medium sized business owners – that’s just how the coast has grown.

But a lot of the people that also come to the coast are self-funded retirees, so they’ve come from those business environments where they are seeking additional services, and they’re pretty well educated as well.

Peter
How does the relationship work for the accounting client to become a financial advice client?

Hayden
We do have a good structure and it’s driven good processes. Nine times out of 10 if it’s a new client coming to the firm, they’ll be coming for accountancy services. That’s normally what they come in for initially. And then off the back of that, over the years, we’ve trained the accountants to ask additional questions.

It’s really about educating the client rather than trying to sell the clients something. A lot of the time we discover that clients coming here haven’t had a review of their insurance policies for a number of years, or their superannuation has been left with no review for years.

So, we do have set processes where the accountants will engage those clients. Now some accountants are better at it than others for referring that side of things, some like to take a more established approach and get the tax return done to develop a bond with the client first, before they start asking those additional questions. Whereas we’ve got a number of other accounts within the firm that are quite comfortable with asking questions first.

Our process is to take a very softly softly approach, in that we normally ask clients to sign a third-party authority – and that will sometimes be before their appointment. So that by the time the client comes in we’ve already got access to their superannuation, insurance, and maybe investments outside of super.

So, we are prepared for the accounting side of things, but we can also prompt them from the financial services side of things. And then I will normally be involved in the process, and sometimes it will be at the first appointment or it might be 12 months down the track, depending on how that relationship develops with the accountant.

Peter
Accountants are accounts for a reason, as opposed to financial advisers who are the ones that are more naturally disposed to asking those questions. How do you encourage accountants to ask those right questions, that will lead to other services or advice services?

Hayden
We normally run a lunch or seminar once every couple of months with the key accountants. We have a number of partners in the firm and under each one there is normally an account manager, and then behind the account manager you’ll have support staff including bookkeeping and junior accountants and those sorts of people.

The ones that actually hold the relationship with the client are normally the partner or the account manager, they’re the ones who will see them face-to-face, so we normally do a fair bit of work to make them aware of what’s going on as far as any possible legislation changes and new product updates.

We normally give them monthly updates on our claim statistics within the firm, and that seems to be a key driver for them to understand the importance of referring clients.
When I first came to this firm it was a bit of ‘accountants are accountants’ and it was very much a case of them working in six-minute blocks. And it took time because they weren’t used to going outside the realms of accountancy services to the risk side of things.

The biggest benefit that I’ve seen due to accountants putting questions to clients from an education point of view, is more around the claim side of things. We’ve had a number of staff within the firm that have claimed through insurance policies. And they’ve really seen the value of the service and the advice that we’ve provided.

And so, they realize that insurance is important. And once that kicks in, it becomes second nature to them.

Peter
What could you point to as the main reason Poole Group has been successful?

Hayden
One of the things is passion, whether it’s insurance, being a teacher, whatever the job might be. I think if you’ve got passion for what you do, then nine times out of 10, you’re going to succeed, whether that takes five minutes or five years.

Peter
You’re talking about a collective passion for everyone who works within the business…

Hayden
Yes, because we have had a number of claims, that have really reflected how passionate we are about protecting clients, and because colleagues have seen the benefits of clients being protected.

I am very passionate about protecting clients. And sometimes I annoy (colleagues) with how much I talk about insurance. But a lot of the time it’s just coming back to being passionate about that service and making sure they’re aware that it’s not just the accounting side of things that need to be taken care of.

So that’s the key thing I see within creating that relationship with the accountants. Because I think a lot of accountants have been burned in the past with financial services.
And for someone to come on board to help them realise that “hey, this isn’t just another sell, this is actually important for the client from a protection point of view”, and to bring that passion on board. To make sure they see that we’re not just here for five minutes, we’re here for the long term to make sure that everyone’s protected.

Another key thing for us that I’ve noticed has been making sure that we have set processes and that we’re very efficient. And that seems to have been a real key with the accountants because a lot of their work is process driven.

The work they do needs to be efficient, and trying to make sure, from a timing point of view that they don’t have too much WIP [work in progress] on the books, for example, and that they’re billing the clients correctly. So, for us, it’s making sure that when a client gets referred to us, we are looking after them in an efficient way. And it’s done from a processing point of view, not just in an ad hoc sort of way.

Peter
About processing efficiency… Lots of advice business advisers will agree with you, but how do you adopt and implement it?

Hayden
Within each of the client consultation rooms, especially during tax time, which is obviously very busy, all the accountants are aware of the process in regard to things such as third-party authorities.

So, they are aware that they can say to the client “this is a free service, there’s no obligation, and we will review everything”. And that process is done essentially that day. That form is then given to myself or the administration team, it’s processed, and then we all have time limits in regard to turnaround times to get that information back to the client.

Then we report that information back to the accountants so they’re actually aware of what’s going on. That’s important for us. And because accountants like that sort of process, that fits in well with the referral side of things.

The same thing applies at any time a client wants to come in and look at setting up a self-managed Superfund. It’s not just the partner or the county manager, but it flows all the way down to the admin person in that team, so they know from a compliance point of view that the first process is to review what they’ve got in their existing Superfund.

We’re not going down the track of doing SOA for a self-managed Superfund, we need to know what’s actually in their Superfund, because we’ve had a number of issues in the past where clients have tried to change Superfunds, and then we find out they’ve got a health issue, so we advise them to stay put.

Peter
What would you do differently if you had your time over again in terms of developing the risk side of the business?

Hayden
I don’t think I would do things differently; I certainly don’t have any regrets. I have been very fortunate. I do count myself very fortunate to work in this firm. And it is an amazing firm on the Sunshine Coast, and one of the biggest accounting firms north of Brisbane.

As far as doing things differently, you can always look back and say “yeah, there’s different processes or different things that I would have done differently”
I suppose the only thing that I may have changed in the past is probably getting more admin support at an earlier stage because there has been a number of times where we’ve just been run off our feet.

And work-life balance can sometimes take a backward step. So, I think, for me, my advice would be in a larger firm is trying to get young people in at an earlier stage so that they can be trained up and assist with the advice process, rather than it just being all on my shoulders, so to speak.

Peter
Do you have any final thoughts for advisers?

Hayden
The thing I have found, and this is from past relationships with other accountants that didn’t work well, is that you need to be in the office with them.

That is the one thing that drives the referrals, because accountants are so time poor. The majority of referrals that we pick up during the lunch breaks or walking down the hall and seeing each other and someone says “Oh, I just saw so and so, I want you to give them a call…”.

So, I think for anyone trying to develop a relationship with an accountant, I think it is key that you’re actually within the firm otherwise you are out of sight, out of mind.

Poole Group’s Hayden White has more than 10 years’ experience in the financial industry and have spent the last eight years specialising in personal and business insurance.

 

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