Perera Crowther Financial Services principal Sam Perera explains how a conversation in a southern Sydney pub put him on the path to establishing a risk advice business
Opening his doors in October 2005, Mr Perera is always looking at ways to expand and grow, having acquired two more businesses since starting and now eyeing a third.
I sat down with Mr Perera to find out what attracted him to the risk advice industry and what prompted him to start his own business.
“I was studying accounting and managing a bar,” Mr Perera says, recalling his time before risk advice. “I finished the [course] and I had another year and a half to turn it into a degree at university.”
“[I then] went and worked in a mate’s accounting practice for a week and a half [but soon realised] this is not for me.”
In the brief time it took Mr Perera to realise a career in accounting isn’t what he wanted, a chance encounter would spark a great interest in professional advice.
While managing the bar at St George Sailing Club in Sans Souci he met risk adviser and business owner Anthony Mason-Cox, whom he recalls saying that Mr Perera would be “perfect” for risk advice.
“Tony used to frequent the bar [and] he said, ‘come have a crack’,” he recounts.
“He said ‘I think it will be perfect because you have personality and if you can obviously get through three-and-a-half years of accounting studies, you’ve got some brains, so come have a go’.”
“I worked with him, he mentored me, and I had no education in the planning industry so I did my education with him,” Mr Perera says.
But six months in, just as Mr Perera was learning the ins and outs of risk advice, his time with Mr Mason-Cox was cut short.
“I worked for him for six months and then he let me go because he was having some other business issues,” Mr Perera says.
Despite his short time with Mr Mason-Cox, Mr Perera was instantly drawn to how he could interact and help people with protecting their financial future and he knew he wanted to build a career doing it.
“I could see in terms of the strategies [Tony] was putting together and the clients that he was helping with the claims and I thought, this is a great industry to be in, in terms of what you’re doing for people,” Mr Perera says.
“It’s awesome being able to help people in that way, and help structure things and help structure plans. And it is sort of an untapped market.
“Equally, you could design a good lifestyle and business around it.”
It was then, in October 2005, that he reached out and partnered up with an old friend, Josh Crowther – who deals with the lending side of the business – and set it up.
The risks of risk
While immersing himself in the industry, Mr Perera also found learning the technical side of insurance really appealing.
“You get to learn a lot [about policies] and you get to be a sort of expert,” he says. “I love the law, contract law and trying – and I’m not saying I am a lawyer – to decipher contracts and looking for words that could have certain benefits at claim time. I enjoy that.”
By understanding the technical side of insurance, Mr Perera adds that it better helps him face an insurer should they decide to decline a client’s claim.
“Really, one of our value propositions is yes, we will arrange things – but we will be there, and we will be there to the death to see it through, if we feel it is a legitimate claim for our clients,” he says.
“I think that gives our clients added peace of mind.”
Aside from all the appealing qualities that attracted Mr Perera to risk advice, he admits the industry does have its challenges with the rise of the direct insurers, the constant debates around remuneration and even the risk of litigation.
“Litigious risk is a massive one due to society sort of moving towards the Americanised path of if something goes wrong to look for someone to blame,” he says.
In the face of these risks, Mr Perera adds that they are part and parcel of working in the advice industry and do not deter him from wanting to grow his business.
“I think as a business owner, for me to continue to stay in this industry, I have to be comfortable with the potential litigious risk that’s out there,” he explains.
“Otherwise you might as well take your money out and invest it in property, shares or something where you don’t have that additional risk.”
A strategy for the future
Ten years on from his decision to start his own business, Mr Perera has his mind set on wanting to continue to grow it – relying on a strong network of groups and individuals for referrals and the acquisition of like-minded businesses.
But Mr Perera also has his eyes set on the corporate world, hoping one day to join the boards of companies in the industry to bring a new style of thinking into the space.
“Ultimately my aim is to get on to a couple of corporate boards,” Mr Perera says.
“I guess I am just not afraid to say what I think. In the corporate world in general, people make decisions with a ‘we win, they lose’ approach. I think there’s room for people looking for ways for it to be win-win.”
“Generally what I think happens is people are just promoted through the system. I don’t think there is independent thinking.”
For the time being, Mr Perera is focused on growing his business, growing as an adviser and continuing to ensure his clients are well protected.
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