When looking to grow our network, we have been careful to ensure we haven't done so at the expense of our culture.
Some years ago the directors of Synchron sought advice on growing our business. We were told that if we wanted to grow, we would need to become more corporate. It’s the kind of advice that is handed out quite regularly to businesses looking for growth, but before taking it on board we wanted to understand what it actually meant.
If it meant introducing, maintaining and updating systems and processes that would make our business more efficient and therefore more productive, then great.
If it was about introducing policies and procedures to support the smooth operation of the business, that's also great. But if that’s what it meant, then these were things that Synchron was already embracing – finding better ways to do business is just good business sense.
What we suspected 'becoming more corporate' really meant was to take on the features of larger commercial enterprises. It’s a definition that is, of course, open to interpretation. But, to our way of thinking, it involved distancing ourselves. For example, instead of making ourselves, as directors, easily accessible and personally available to our authorised representatives, we might introduce a level of middle management to interact at the grass roots with our authorised representatives while we worked at a more removed, ‘big picture’ corporate level.
So we did some navel gazing. Being so personally involved in the operation of Synchron certainly has its challenges – challenges that are compounded by the fact that all Synchron directors are also financial advisers. But it also has its rewards, not the least of which is a family-type culture – and that family extends past our authorised representatives and staff to sales executives, product providers and external suppliers.
Ultimately what we decided was that we did not want to become more corporate if it meant sacrificing our culture. The question is, did our growth suffer as a result? Only numbers can provide the answer:
In 2015 we started the year with 350 advisers calling Synchron home. We ended the year with 400, making us the largest, non-institutionally owned licensee in Australia and placing us firmly in the top 10 licensees overall in Australia by adviser numbers.
In 2014, we had $48 million worth of turnover, in 2015 we added $10 million to that figure – $58 million. We had $20 million worth of new business in the 2015 calendar year. According to NMG, Synchron ranks third in Australia for risk new business – a year ago we were number six.
Clearly, we didn’t need to become more corporate in order to grow – but we didn’t sit on our hands either. We grew because we listened to our authorised representatives, were responsive to their needs and actively did something about meeting those needs. Here are just a few recent examples:
When financial advice reform appeared on our horizon, we actively engaged with politicians to inform them about the way advisers work and about the valuable work advisers do. It is work we will continue throughout 2016.
When reform looked absolutely certain to change the advice landscape, we went to the UK to look at how it had dealt with regulatory change. We came back from that trip with a product design and shape, took it to market and found a life insurance company that is prepared to run with it.
We have just introduced a major software package that links directly with the accounting package Xero. The package will help our advisers maintain revenue management including handling fee disclosure statements and opt-in notices.
We have also formed an arrangement with a finance broking organisation through which our authorised representatives can offer clients access to mortgages.
Despite our growth, as an organisation we have never lost sight of the fact that Synchron is a family and we have never sacrificed our culture on the altar of growth. And we believe we have proven that it’s absolutely unnecessary.
Don Trapnell is a director of Synchron
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