Advancing the financial advice industry

With Matthew Rowe, Managing Director of CountPlus

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About the Podcast

Hear about what the future model of advice could look like from Matthew Rowe, CEO and Managing Director of CountPlus. Matthew also shares some of the important lessons in leadership he's learnt during a career that has included starting his own business, chairing the FPA, attending Harvard Business School and now helping advice and accounting firms with their long-term success.


Matt Heine: Hi Matthew, and welcome to the show.

Matthew Rowe: Matt, it's great to be here. Thanks very much for the invitation.

MH: I really appreciate you coming on today, because I know, that like everyone you've had a hectic couple of months, but I think yours has been more hectic than most. Whereabouts are you today and where would you prefer to be?

MR: So look, I'm in the Sydney office. I'd prefer to be working from home, which is actually in Adelaide. So Matt, I commute for work. So look, it's a weird world at the moment, isn't it? So everybody's just having to deal with working through something without a playbook in front of them. So you just have to roll with the punches.

MH: Absolutely. Now I've got, as usual, lots of questions that I'd like to ask you today, but before we start, I think your path to your current role is intriguing and interesting. And you've held a number of different roles and I'd love it if you could just step us through some of the milestones in your career that have led to where you are today.

MR: Sure. Thanks. So look, I've spent most of my life in professional practise. And Matt, I'm not really a corporate guy. I mean, saying that now, I've been the CEO of an ASX listed company for three years. So I am a corporate guy, but it's not how I see myself. Like a lot of people, you study uni, you look to get a graduate job. I ended up working for a couple of banks and then I went out into my own practise. And I can still remember that. That was January, 1999. I went and set up Matthew Rowe and associates.

I can remember I earned $35000 in fees, in my first year in practise. And it wasn't even enough to cover my rent. I was very lucky that I married well and my wife, Leslie, was able to support us as we went through that change into becoming self employed.

And then from there, I was very lucky to become involved with Matt Fox, who was my first partner in Peter Hood, at Hood Sweeney. And we grew the business into the 30th largest firm in the country. And I retired from practise. I was the managing partner. I retired from practising  in 2015 and went back to school and then decided to take on a few non executive director roles and make some investments in some private businesses and some other stuff. And the role at Account Plus came along, I have to admit, by accident.

So I'm what I call an, in case of emergency, break glass, CEO appointment. I was on the board and some changes were made and I ended up becoming the CEO. But for me it was about, I understood the businesses that were involved in and I understood the accounting and financial advice. And, I had some really, really talented and smart people on the CountPlus board, who I have a lot of respect for. And I knew that they had the right skillset to make sure I didn't do anything stupid, as a novice CEO, in a listed company environment. And they backed me to make quite a few changes, which we've been undertaking the last three years, to be where we are now.

MH: So I think it's fair to say also the financial planning really does run in your blood, because I think your father was a financial planner, back in the days, wasn't he?

MR: That's it. So Matt, look my father, National Mutual, back in those days, before it became AXA. I grew up with the traditional life insurance guys coming to the house for barbecues, or we went to their places. So, I look at that and go, "Well, there's a part of my heritage." I mean, what my father did in the organisation he worked for, paid for my education. So, there's a sort of a deep respect for the past. I think we should acknowledge the past and the heritage that we come from, but I also don't think it should define the future either. So, I think an acknowledgement of where we've come from and to learn from that, but also to look at where we're going now, as a profession and what that means. That's actually also very, very exciting. And look, there's still a number of people that my father worked with that I still catch up and they tell me stories about the old man. So look, yeah, it's in my blood.

MH: And did he mentor you, back in the early days, when you set up your first practise? Or had you got your own ideas by then, on how you thought things should be run?

MR: No, Matt, I can remember talking to my father about, "Look dad, I'm going to leave this job and I'm going to go and set up practise. And I don't really know how it's going to go." And his initial response was, "Don't be stupid. You've got a great job and a great career. Stay there. Stay in the bank. And we had to have a conversation about, "Look, if it doesn't work, I can always go back. But, I want to give it a crack." And he supported me and through his connections, he also introduced me to some people that helped me also get my start.

So, back then, you had to be a multi agent and then you had your licence on the side. It was a completely different structure, but my father was able to point me in the right direction to a couple of people that I got to know pretty well and some of my initial mentors in practise itself as well.

But no, look, he wanted me to stay in the bank and I remind him of that regularly, but that's what fathers do, Matt, isn't it? They try to protect their kids from the big world that's out there.

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MH: Indeed. And do you remember what it was that made you want to actually set up your own shop, and do it yourself?

MR: Yeah, look, I do. It was just the banks at the time were going through some pretty difficult changes. And I can remember seeing a number of my mentors in the bank who all of a sudden didn't have a job. Now, I learned a couple of things then. One, working for a corporate, you've always got to be marketable. So, education, stuff like that. But also when things change, they change really quickly and it doesn't matter how long you've been there. You just may not have a job going forward.

So the corporate dynamic didn't really appeal to me. I found it to be pretty ruthless with people. And I also had this sense that I wanted to do something that would help people. And look, finally Matt, the reason for being in practise is, I was living in Adelaide at the time and that's where we're from originally. But I met Leslie, who is my wife and she was from England. And my options in the bank were to move back to Melbourne or Sydney and she wanted to stay in Adelaide.

So really for me, it was a lifestyle choice to stay in Adelaide. I then had to become self employed. And look, it worked out pretty well. Being self employed was really the best thing I've ever done. And my partnership in Hood Sweeney was the best investment I've ever made, both personally and professionally.

MH: Yeah. And during that time you were building, obviously a very fast growing business, I think you took on the chair of the FPA as well.

MR: Yeah.

MH: Didn't have enough on?

MR: Yeah. Look, what's the saying? "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." Look, I was on the FPA board and then the chairman's role came up and I was the chair for four years. And that was a time of enormous change, Matt. And for me it was about... One of my mentors said, "Look, Matthew, your professional is a debtor to their profession." And I believe in that, as a professional, we are a debtor to our profession and the professional community. And it's part of our role, I think, to help bring the next generation of professional advisors through.

And there was a lot of change at the time around FOFA, and what the FPA stood for and the whole profession of advice. And look, I wanted to be part of that. And I wanted to try and make a difference, hopefully a positive difference at the time, but it was my deep belief in the value of advice and the positive difference that we make in clients' lives, that wanted me to be part of that.

And yeah, Matt, it was a very busy time. I did a lot of travel, but I wouldn't change a thing. It was an exciting thing to be a part of. It really was.

MH: Yeah. 2013. And during that implementation of [inaudible 00:07:59] was certainly interesting. I think now we look back on it and potentially, FOFA didn't go far enough, which we have seen over the last couple of years, but probably a discussion for another day?

MR: Yeah. I don't think it went far enough. And I think you're right, Matt. We're now seeing that post Royal commission, but I also look at the opportunities that are in front of us. If some of these things around FASEA have settled down and are allowed to work through. And if we move to a situation where you're acting in your client's best interests, because, Matt, let's face it, in practise it's pretty simple. If you look after your clients, you act in their best interest, the money stuff and the business stuff just takes care of it itself. That should be the whole premise that sits at the core of who we are. I just think that with different business models, that didn't allow that premise to really flourish. And those business models are now, we've seen it, have been seen to be wanting and people are moving away from them.

MH: Yeah, we might come back. I'm interested in your views on the future of advice. When you took a bit of a sabbatical, I guess, you went and studied leadership for a couple of years, and I'm interested in your take on the type of leadership that you think that we need as an industry right now, to really get us to where we need to be as a profession, in the near future.

MR: Yeah. Look, the type of leadership we don't need is the rock star, big personality, that's not what is needed. And I think the type leadership that we need is more around servant leadership. So, you're leading there because it's not about you, it's about others in the collective and the people that are in your team. And looking out for the people that are in your care. And this whole idea that leaders eat last. Now that's not me. That's somebody a lot smarter than me, that coined that phrase. A guy called Simon Sinek.

But right now, we need to have leaders who do eat last. So, they're looking after the people in their care, clients, seeing beyond their own short term, profit and loss or balance sheet issues, and looking at what's good for the long-term sustainability of our profession and moving it from an industry to a profession.

So I think we should get rid of the celebrities. We should focus on people that are there for the right reasons. And they're there for the benefit of others. As I said, people that have taken that servant leadership approach, but also there needs to be an aspect right now, with some people that have got a bit of spine about them, because another thing I speak about often, here at CountPlus is, as a leader, you only get what you accept or tolerate.

Now, there's just some things in our space at the moment we just should not accept or tolerate. And that includes the people that try to go to the media to grandstand and put their own view forward when it actually hurts all of us. Everybody should just sit back a little bit and work out, "Okay, what's the..." There's enough division, Matt, let's face it, there's enough division. What are the common things that we want to be able to do and to achieve? And how do we get there? There's not enough of those conversations happening. Too many people want to be the rockstar.

MH: And I think that's an interesting point. There is, at the moment, some very divergent views. And particularly in the last month or so, we've seen, in some cases, diverge even further. Given the various fractions and the different voices, how do you think that the industry needs to come together and under what banner should that be?

MR: Look, I think if you start at the client with everything, Matt. So again, it should be like professional practise. And look, I believe this. 99.9% of financial advisors do a great job every day. And they're fundamentally honest and they've got an ethical framework, because it's in their best interest to also do these things, because they're trying to build a practise. But there's a small minority that let us all down. I think if we start with...

Well, actually let's look at everything from the client perspective first and then work back and reverse engineer it. What does the client want? So they want high quality, highly educated, highly capable people. They want competence. That should be a minimum. And we should be able to point to markers around competence, exams and education frameworks that actually speak to that.

They want ethics. Absolutely. So again, being able a point to a code of ethics and we all sign up for that. And that should be voluntary, Matt. We shouldn't have to have it forced upon us, but we are at the moment.

And then the other things are around this idea that we're a custodian for the next generation of financial advisors who're going to come after us. The kids that are at uni right now, who are going to have a career in this space. I mean, they're going to be looking back in 15 years at us Matt, and they're going, "I can't believe you guys we're arguing about this stuff." It'll be how we look at people that used to kill whales for lantern oil. We need to move on from this idea of being locked into where we are at the moment, and what does the future look like?

So I think that there's a lot of self-interest and that tends to dominate some of the discussion. I'm a big believer in individual registration of advisors, but I also believe in the licencing framework because of the protection that it gives to consumers. And there's a lot of stuff that has to play out in that space, around the last resort compensation scheme and other things from the Royal Commission. But, I think we need to come together on and actually work out, "Well, how's this all going to work? How does the ecosystem work together? And how do we make sure that what we do and put forward has consumer protections and we're acting in the consumer's best interest?"

MH: And that's a good point. As far as the different business models that we might touch on today, what do you see the future positioning of licencing of the future business model for licence, given many of the changes?

MR: Look, I think there'll be a continued rise in the small self licence market, Matt. So, this is the licences with 5 or 10 advisors. And they tend to work together as a boutique, or a bit of a collective and expense sharing. I think there'll be a rise of the mid tier players. And they're the ones that have got a balance sheet, but also they're not product aligned. So not vertically integrated. And I think those licensees will offer something different to people that... An outsource solution, systems, processes, quality assurance, and somebody who actually stands behind them and stands behind the advice. Because I have some very strong views, that with all the changes that we're about to go through, around revenue changes in education standards and the registry framework, I think advisors need to be thinking about looking for a safe harbour, potentially, capital adequacy requirements come in for AFSLs, as part of last resort compensation.

So, I think having a balance sheet standing alongside of you is important. Look, I'll be a little bit controversial. I think that the vertical integrated business models and there's still two or three major players that work in that space. I think that they're the ones who are going to be most challenged in this new environment, around professional standing of individual. I just can't see them working in the future world of advice. But, I can see the mid tier players who offer something in terms of services and scale and balance sheet and safety. I can see that there's a future for them in the marketplace,

MH: Given the size of CountPlus, it's no mean fate turning that business around, given where it's come from, and I think where you're taking it. What does your business model look like in the future?

MR: So look, the graveyard is full of consolidators and aggregators on the accounting and financial advice space. So, things that I've learnt, you can't own 100% of a firm, because you turn people that are the talent, the asset of the business into an employee and there still needs to be an entrepreneurial nature. And they need to be aligned both financially and also emotionally. The thing I've learned about people businesses is, when somebody is emotionally invested, it's not just about money. They want to contribute. They want to grow and they want to build something. It becomes about legacy and being a custodian for that firm. So look, for us it will be a model where we have a financial interest, a minority interest in a wide universe of firms. And then at the core there'll be the licencing offering through Count.

Then there might be other things, education, training, fee-funding arrangements, all the things that the ecosystem uses, but just not linked to product. We'd prefer to come to people like you, who are product experts and deal with that. And we go through a robust research process and make sure that we're not putting clients or our advisors into stuff that will do harm.

But I think if we look at, how do we operate and generate efficiencies in practise, but also help these firms to grow and be sustainable and bring on talent? So the big thing we're doing at the moment is the graduate programme that we've been building out for the firms. That's what I think the future model for us looks like. So we can be vertically integrated and horizontally integrated, but in advice, not products. Does that make sense?

MH: Absolutely. You mentioned your grad programme. Have you been partnering with the universities, or how does that operate?

MR: Yeah, so, look, we have been. It's a little bit embryonic. At the moment what we've been trying to work through is, how do we onboard graduates through a firm that actually wants to be a financial advisor? And then getting through the professional year programme and the FASEA requirements. And do it in a way that... And things like fees, so they can actually sit in front of clients. They're not necessarily a full authorised rep, but we have a bit of a different model for them. And do it in a way that we can encourage the firm to bring these kids on and give them a go, because, look Matt, they're the future. Guys like me, Matt I'm bald, old and fat. I'm past my use by date.

It's the kids that are coming through that really excite me. And they're the ones that we should be focusing on as well, because they need a hand up. It's really difficult now. If you're going to bring on people that have to have a degree, there's a certain minimum salary that you need to be able to pay in the market to attract those people to come to you. And they need to be able to also then start to generate a revenue, to be able to pay back to the firm. So we need to get them through and up to speed as quickly as we can. So that's what we're building out.

And look, in terms of the universities, we're university agnostic, So, if they're a FASEA approved university and they're doing the right programmes, we'll take on any graduates through those universities. For me, it's more about how we onboard them into the firms, attract them to firms and then give them a flight path through to become a full advisor, looking after clients and actually being a productive member of that firm and being able to pay their own way.

MH: Given the reputation that the industry has unfortunately had over the last couple of years, thanks to the headlines and obviously the Royal Commission, have you found it's been difficult to attract grads or the next generation into the industry?

MR: Yeah, look Matt, it has been. I don't know about you, but there was some times during the Royal Commission where I just sat back and went, "Wow. How do I go home and explain that to my son?" That this is what I've spent my entire professional career doing. It's getting slammed in such a public way.

And you know what? There was a few train wrecks during the Royal Commission, which I'd just shake my head and go, "That's really poor." And, it's embarrassing. I think that that will wash through with more time. And I think again, having standards in place that you can actually point to and say, "Well, there is actually a framework and it's a recognised framework and there's an independent body that sets that." That will definitely help us. The stuff will wash through in terms of reputational damage, as clients get remediated. And I think, as some of these big players are exiting the market, we will get to shape our own destiny, our own future. And, that brand of the financial advisor will be rebuilt, I believe around trust and competency.

And, I think there's an opportunity, but I think there's a few years in front of us, to actually do it. So, just don't say it. We can't just tell Matt, we need to show, not tell. So, how do we show the public? Well, we show them the value of advice, through what's happened with COVID-19. But we also show them, education, exams, client best interests, no more conflicted remuneration. They're the things that we can actually point to as proof points. Without those proof points, it's just an opinion. And everybody has an opinion. So we need proof points behind us, as a profession.

MH: Yeah. And one of the issues I think, in the industry, is that we've never been particularly good at telling the good news stories or positioning ourselves as the trusted expert. Do you think there's more that the industry could be doing? Is there a grassroots approach, or how is it best done?

MR: Look, I think it's done at a firm by firm grassroots approach and then client advocacy comes back through that way. I think some sort of billboard advertising campaign or putting a one pager in the Fin Review or whatever, it's just self serving. So I think for us, again, it's show, not tell. We just need to get on and get things done. We need to stop, as a collective, stop sniping each other and stop trying to prove that my business model is better than yours and blah, blah. All the noise that's out there. And again, let's just focus on what's important and what we can control. So what's important and what can we control? Again, proof points of professionalism, client best interests, proof points of that, the value that we're delivering and how we come together and build this community of a profession, where leaders in this space see their job is actually custodians for the profession.

As I said, a professional is a debtor to their profession. And until we start to think that way, rather than just about ourselves and our own business, and our business model, and how do I promote Matthew Rowe on the Fin review as being some guru, who runs investment mandates, "My stock picks are better than yours." Until we stop all that noise and actually focus on this collective nature, we're going to be in trouble.

MH: Speaking of stock picking, what does the financial planning model look like in the future? Is it a specialised approach? Or are you going to see more and more firms becoming holistic and offering accounting and wealth and other services?

MR: Yeah, that's a great question. Look, I believe in the converge model of accounting and financial advice and Matt, that's also because it's what I know. I know it works and I know that it's a very powerful combination, particularly in our market, which is a small business in the mass affluent market. When you've got somebody sitting there along with the financial advisor, talking about structure and tax and other things, they do compliment each other really well. And when it works really well, it's very powerful and the client does feel a sense of comfort and trust and peace of mind. Because, let's face it when you're doing your job well, you deliver peace of mind for a client. And it's something that's intangible and you can't value, but mate, it's worth a lot. So I do believe in the converge model. I think the days of... What scares me a little bit... Financial advisors who wake up in the morning, they look in the mirror and they see Warren Buffet, that scares me.

I think financial advisors are generalist in terms of what they do. And, if they're just relying on running a model portfolio, being a stock picker or something like that, I think that that's a very one dimensional view of what they do. I actually think it limits them in terms of the value that they're providing. If that's how they're measuring their success and their value to a client, I think they're actually selling themselves short.

So, I can see a lot more advisors looking to outsource how a model portfolio works and is constructed, because you need to have stuff behind you, Matt, that is defensible. "So how'd you make that recommendation? What was the governance around it?" Not just, "Well, I read it in the Fin review and that's why I made that stock pick." So I think if we focus on what's really important to clients. Yeah, look, returns and safety and security is important to clients, but it's not the most important thing. And until we actually work out for ourselves as a profession, what the clients really value, so let's not try and do it all. Let's focus on the things that clients really value.

In my view, clients value being able to ring you and talk to you about their issues, because financial affairs, that's a very intimate subject matter, and they're all different, Matt.

So, your financial affairs and your relationships with your family and kids and all the rest of it are different to everybody else's, and that's what financial advisors do really, really well. They get to the nub of real issues. They find solutions for those issues. They find ways to manage risk. They listen really, really well. And the portfolio and what sits behind it. That's just, in my view, a very small part of it.

MH: And with the cost of advice going up, there's a lot of talk about episodic advice or scaled advice, which moves away from, I guess, the relationship that you just discussed. How do you see that changing in the coming years? Is episodic advice a short term proposition that the industry has come up with to deliver advice at a low cost?

MR: Depends on who you talk to. So I'm going to be a little bit controversial, Matt. You talk to product manufacturers and the solution to every problem is to sell more products. And, so episodic advice tends to come into that around, "Okay. Well, at a particular point in time, this client needs advice on the asset allocation of their super fund." Or whatever.

So I think it is a short term view, because I think people do actually value, and they will pay for that longer term, again, peace of mind approach. "That person was with me through the tough times." Some of the stories I've been hearing about, what our advisors and firms have been going through with clients, this is the time that clients will really, really learn about you as an individual, and as an advisor. And they will respect and value what you're doing. Yeah?

Now episodic advice, I think is a sound grab around, "Okay, advice is too expensive." And advice is expensive, but I think that's also, there's a lot of regulatory burden that sits behind that. And hopefully that might be cleaned up and simplified as part of some of these changes that the government is looking at.

I think technology does drive a large part of that solution, but here's one thing I've learned about practise, Matt. 80% of problems in a practise are process, only 20% are people. But then when you flip it around for success, 80% of success is because of people and only 20% is because of process.

A lot of firms that I've seen, some of their processes are all so cumbersome and they should be re-engineered and advisors don't tend to focus enough on that stuff, because they're busy being busy, being on the tools.

So I think as a profession, we need to have to have a look at that from start to finish. And if you think about the value chain, the couple of transformation points, the financial advice power to value chain is a transformation point. We do deliver value to clients. It's just, how do we deliver it? How cost effective can it be? And how can everybody make a buck out of it, as well? Because we do need a sustainable profession. And what's the willingness to pay, from a consumer, for that advice? So lots of challenges, but I think episodic advice, it's the term at the moment and I'd look beneath, why are people trying to promote that as an avenue?

MH: Given your comments that 80% of the issue is typically process, when you're speaking to your firms, and those firms more broadly about this point, many of them are going to have to make wholesale changes and significantly re-engineer their businesses. What advice do you give them on how to start that process, given everything else that's going on?

MR: Start it now. That's the first thing. So look, I think start with the plan. So Matt, what surprises me still is the number of firms that we talk to, because we're in the market actively, that simply just don't have a business plan. And they don't have a set of goals and KPIs and some real fundamental business disciplines in place.

So, the first starting point is, what is the business plan? So what are your aspirations? What does success look like? What do you want to be like? What's your legacy going to be, when you retire? So start at the big picture and then work through, well, what's important to, to get there? If anybody thinks that the production of a statement of advice is the be all and end all what running an advice practise, we need to have a different conversation with them. It's not.

So I think starting with the bigger picture and the plan, that's the first point for me, then the financials start to pop out of that about, well, how do we generate efficiency? And quite often, when you look through these firms, they've got a lot of clients who are being subsidised by other clients. And a piece of work that we do is, there's a lot of unprofitable clients that you just can't be doing the work for, even though they've been a client for 10 years. You either need to have a conversation with them about fees, or you just can't continue to do the work. And we're seeing a lot of that at the moment.

The average number of clients per advisor is coming down, because advisors don't even think about this model as a business. And in accounting, it's all about your lockup work in progress and debtor management, which is a proxy for client satisfaction, how quickly can you get the work done, and people pay you?

I think financial advisors could learn a lot from accountants in terms of working papers and processes and how they can actually generate work and do it effectively and efficiently, and also manage time as well. But I think you start with the big picture and then work backwards from there.

And I think it's guys like me who actually get in the way, Matt. The older managing principals have always done it this way. We're pretty comfortable and look, just don't upset me too much, and don't make my life too hard.

We actually have to get out of the way for the young ones coming through, who are more tech savvy and just let them have a go. And you know what, mate, they'll surprise you on the upside. So I think, have a look at the next generation coming through, let them come at this with fresh eyes, because they're also the ones who are on the tools, doing the work and step out of the way. For the older guys who have been around for a while, that would be my advice, step out of the way for the younger ones coming through.

MH: And given the number of advisors that are looking at exiting the industry, that succession piece becomes critical. Have you got any good stories about succession done well, and maybe not so well?

MR: Oh look, I think if I look back at my own experience, when Peter Hood retired, he gave Matt Fox and I plenty of time around his retirement. There were agreements in place. There were client handovers and he got to step away and take on a senatorial type of role within the firm. He could come back. His name still stayed on the building. He mentored some of the kids coming through and he kept in touch. He was like a welcome alumni.

And I have to admit, I felt like that with Hood Sweeney. When I retired, I think I had 52 clients and only one left. And he left to go to his son in law, who had been in practise and after him for seven years to leave the firm. And I know that Hood Sweeney, mate, they're doing far better than when I was there. Marisa Riccio is the new managing principal. She's doing an absolute cracker of a job. And I feel really proud of that.

I think when people get themselves all wrapped up in the price, that's one thing that should... Look, the price should just be a mechanism of profitability. It's that simple. But I think people tend to get all emotionally hung up on stuff that's just not important.

What's really important? When you step away, are you still going to feel like you're close to your former colleagues and your clients? Do you do it in a way that your reputation is enhanced, as a result of that? And do you feel good about how you've done it and that there's a great group of custodians that are going to take the firm forward? When it doesn't work so well, people get exited or terminated. There's always an argument about money. Clients leave the firm. There seems to be disruption in the business that takes six or nine months to get things through. And a lot of the time, that's because the person actually exiting didn't really know what they wanted. They couldn't articulate for them, "Well, if I'm going to exit this business or retire, what does success really look like?"

And unless they can articulate that to the other side, you're going to be in trouble. So I think, it should be around, okay, this should be done in a respectful manner. It should be equitable. It should be transparent and fair, but it should be done in a way that you actually feel good about stepping back into the firm, in reception, feeling like you're still part of it. That's when it works well.

MH: That's great advice. Your firm CountPlus and also Count Financial have been great advocates of technology. Is there anything out there at the moment that's exciting you?

MR: Oh look, I think the stuff that I'm seeing in the accounting space, around the cloud based ledger systems, Xero comes to mind and MYOB and others. And then the apps that plug into that, around how the API works. Look Matt, I believe that data is the new oil. So I think the value of data is now worth probably more than all the other natural resources on earth, put together.

I think we still have some way to go, but if we follow that lead, in terms of how the accountants actually built out this ecosystem. We've got some dominant players, Iris and Midwinter and some others that almost have a monopoly position in the advice space. There's probably a couple of kids out there at the moment working in their mum and dad's garage that are going to come up with the next advice piece of software. They'll do it in a way that is open. So again, plug and play, through the API to apps around simple things, Matt.

I'm so completely frustrated that there is no real simple technology that enables a client to budget well, and to see cash in and cash out and where it goes. The banks are doing some of that stuff through their internet banking capability. NAB does it okay. I mean, it's really simple. The only way you create wealth is to spend less than what you earn.

Now, when I was in practise, Matt, I had some clients who were earning a lot of money, but when you did the exercise and showed them, "Well, you might have earned 700 grand, but you've spent 800." That's a bit of a reality check.

So again, tools like that excite me. And I think if we can move off this whole, "I've got to control the data." And that includes platforms, and I'm not having a go at your organisation, but platforms seem to be wanting to... "No the client must come to our website and they must interact through us, not through the advisor, not through the desktop."

I think that that's the biggest challenge, but also the opportunity for our space. If we start to think more about, what's really important? Start with the client. The client doesn't care who's the owner of that. It then links into the advisor's desktop and capability. So it's easy for them to process. No more wet sutures. It all should be straight through. And then you can plug and play different apps around budgeting and other things that can actually come in, because they are tools that are built, fit for purpose for that particular area. And stop trying to be controlling everything and be a generalist. Open up to the specialist centre in this space.

I think that's what the future could and should look like. And again, if I just got back through the experience of accountants, I can see that's what's going to happen to financial advice.

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MH: Yeah. Matthew, I know you've got to run off in a moment, but I'm interested in your thoughts on, I guess, the positive outcomes of COVID. So clearly there's been a lot of financial stress, but I think there's also been some positives that have come out of the last couple of months and interestingly, perhaps personally, and from a business perspective.

MR: Sure. Personally, I have learnt a lot about people in my team and about how resilient they are. But also how they have a genuine care for each other and they've been looking out for each other. In, let's face it, what's been a really, really weird world, Matt.

It's meant to be business as usual, but different, but it's really different. So for me, on a personal level, it's been our team and how they've looked out for each other and also how they looked after advisors and still just kept things running, understanding that the advisors are under a huge amount of pressure at the moment, because of client interactions and the number of clients. So, just stay out of their way and let them do what they're doing.

I think from the advice profession's perspective, I think what I've seen again, it's in my cohort, but the way that they've approached clients and they've had the difficult conversation, because they've stopped clients from doing stupid stuff in a panic. "Just stay on track. This is going to happen. Stay on track. Stay on target."

Having genuine, authentic conversations with clients when they're probably at their worst or panicking, or they've lost their job, or cashflow is tight and their business is under pressure. How we've helped people around the Jobkeeper stuff and cash booster and the government initiatives. And we now do that through webinars, Matt.

So, a key learning for me is that can be now, an approach of one to many. It does not have to be face to face all the time, one to many. And technology enables that. And we're on Teams now.

Mate, before COVID-19 it was on my desktop, but I'd never used it. Now, there's been a burning platform around COVID-19, I've become a Teams guru. We're on it and so, that's required for travel.

And if I want to talk to somebody rather than the phone, I'll do it through Teams. And I can see, like we're talking now. I think that's been a real positive for us, but we probably needed COVID-19 to actually enable this technology and for it to become accepted and for people to actually say, "You know what, this is actually okay and it's better off that we can talk face to face, than just on the phone."

But I think the key thing for me around COVID-19, really good advisors and really good accountants, they have been worth their weight in gold. And I think clients have started to appreciate the real value of that relationship. And I think going forward, people will look back and they'll remember. Matt, they might not remember what you said at the time, but they will remember how you made them feel.

And they will remember that you gave them some advice, but you made them feel like they were safe and they had peace of mind and things were okay, or things need to change, but, here's some reasons behind that. So again, they won't remember what you said, but they'll remember how you made them feel. And I think that there's been a lot of financial advisors in the last three months, that people have started to really realise the importance of what we do as a profession.

MH: Matthew, I think that's a fantastic place to finish. Thank you for your contribution to the industry so far. I'm sure you have a lot more to give and look forward to seeing where you take the business in the future.

MR:  Good on you, Matt. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.

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Views expressed are of the interviewee and may not be the opinion of Netwealth or its related companies.

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