Breaking Free

Breaking Free

Visis Private Wealth practice principal Chris Smith says leaving an institutional environment was his best career move
STORY/ Miranda Brownlee

For Chris Smith, the desire to deliver his own style of advice was the driving force behind his decision to establish a business.

For two years previously, he had worked for an independently-owned practice that was subsequently sold to what he describes as a “less than scrupulous organisation” – one that was more focused on selling product under quotas than providing good outcomes for clients.

“When that company took over I didn’t want to stay,” says Mr Smith. “I really had a career choice to make: with a couple of years of experience under my belt and confidence in my own ability, I decided to start my own practice rather than go work for another institution.”

Mr Smith says he has never understood how the industry allows advice to be influenced by product owners.

“I just can’t reconcile how we ever got to a point where financial advisers represent a company that manufactures or distributes products,” he says.

“Financial advice should always be delivered from an independent basis from the interests of the client. I just can’t understand how our industry is any other way.”

Staff culture
The two other reasons for Mr Smith's decision to establish his own business were to have the freedom to enjoy a good balance between work and personal life and to be rewarded for his efforts and abilities.

He also believes it’s important that his staff enjoy a pleasant and supportive working environment.

“We see our team of advisers as part of a larger family and we want to give them every opportunity and the support to achieve what they want to achieve,” he says.

The level of mentoring and support Visis gives its team of young advisers reflects this focus on staff development.
Mr Smith says young advisers gain firsthand experience at Visis by assisting senior financial advisers and partners of the business.

“One of our strategies was to develop our business model in a way that we could build advice teams and bring associate advisers through the ranks without them needing all the qualifications and all the knowledge,” he says.

Having one of his financial advisers win ‘Rookie Adviser of the Year’ at the ifa Excellence Awards has validated his approach, he says.

The younger advisers in the business have attracted younger clients, which has prompted Visis to develop a scaled advice model.

“We’ve tried to provide a scalable model [so] that we can provide service and advice to all manners of people, not just the wealthiest,” Mr Smith says.

Independent scale
Several factors in addition to this positive staff culture have led to Visis’ success, according to Mr Smith.

Acquiring an AFSL for the business and employing Brad Phelps as a general manager saw considerable improvements in the firm, he says.

“The introduction of Brad to our business about two years ago took us from an underperforming boutique practice to being a well-organised firm,” he says.

“Being a financial planner as a practitioner just doesn’t qualify you to be able to run a good business.”

Mr Smith says that employing the sorts of strategies and knowledge that Brad brings to the business allows Visis to be more efficient in delivering high-quality service and maintaining relationships.

“You just can’t achieve scale and growth without having the sorts of systems we’ve got in place, now that [we have] a general manager,” he says.

For his part, Mr Phelps believes the scale achieved by Visis is relatively unique for an independently-licensed organisation.

“Scale enables us to have dedicated para-planning and administration roles in addition to our advisers and associate ranks,” he says.

Mr Smith says joining forces with like-minded partners who share the same vision has also built the foundations of a good business.

Looking ahead, Mr Phelps says the firm aims to triple its size by 2020.

“In the next 12 months, we’re looking to acquire a business and possibly geographically diversify,” he says.

“An acquisition would give us scale in the context of an office manager level, a layer around an office manager role, a dedicated compliance manager [and] more dedicated para-planning resources.”

Breaking Free
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