Tackling client engagement

Centric Wealth’s chief executive, Phil Kearns, tells ifa he wants to be known as more than just “that rugby bloke”


WITH 67 RUGBY test caps to his name, including 10 as Wallabies captain, Phil Kearns confines his leadership largely to the boardroom these days.

Having taken the reins at Centric Wealth in 2011, Kearns heads a financial services organisation that makes 60 per cent of its revenue from financial planning.

Given the pivotal role of Centric’s advice practice for the company’s bottom line, it is unsurprising that Kearns has strong views on the industry.

Above all, he values client engagement. Centric recently established a client advisory group, which meets to provide feedback to management on a range of issues.

Group meetings are not chaired by the CEO but by an independent professor of ethics (a field Kearns describes as “very important in our industry”). The feedback Centric has received so far suggests clients want three things: security, value and honesty.

Providing these three is made much easier with an independent business structure, according to Kearns: “Non-alignment is an incredibly positive thing for our clients,” he says.

But while he is convinced of the value of non-alignment, Kearns worries about the long-term viability of the smaller non-aligned market players. “The cost of compliance is a significant issue,” he says. “We are lucky to have benefit of scale; we have $4 billion in funds under advice, and we are large enough to bear the brunt of it.”

As a former front-rower, he is well experienced in bearing the brunt but despite his achievements at rugby union’s highest level, the financial services industry was no afterthought.

Long before he ran onto the pitch in a Rugby World Cup final, Phil Kearns was studying economics at the University of New South Wales and contemplating a career as a corporate high-flyer.

His first foray into professional finance came when he landed a job as a graduate insurance salesman for AMP.

“It was the worst job and the best job of my life,” he says. “Worst because it’s really, really hard and I wasn’t especially good at it; best because it taught me resilience and persistence and opened the door to a career in finance.”

Following his rugby career, Kearns expanded his finance experience in the insto space, with various roles in the corporate advisory and capital markets teams at Investec Bank, before joining Centric and re-focusing on retail advice.

While his interest and experience in financial services are significant, there is little doubt his public persona – as a Wallabies captain – is hard to shake off.

There are, undoubtedly, pros and cons to being a chief executive whose fame stems largely from a former career, Kearns admits. “It can raise our [Centric’s] profile and can be a talking point for consumers and potential clients who have heard about the company where ‘that rugby bloke’ is CEO,” he says.

The other side of the coin is that it can sometimes be frustrating and take the focus away from Centric’s core service proposition. “I shouldn’t be the focus of the whole organisation – we have more than 200 terrific people here and they all deserve credit,” he says.

Rugby fans, of course, could be forgiven for wondering whether that is really the case. Kearns appears regularly on Fox Sports as a commentator.

He is also a committed philanthropist and is well known in Sydney as the founder and face of the Balmoral Burn, an annual charity run that raises funds for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation.

Asked how he finds the time for his various commitments on top of running Centric, Kearns is nonchalant. “I come in once a week and make a coffee and have a few conversations,” he jokes.

“No, it’s a full-time job – I’m here from early in the morning until the evening every day and rugby and charity don’t impinge on my work here,” he says.

“Having said that, I have a wonderful management team in place that I rely on. We have come leaps and bounds in the last 18 months.”  «

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