Hunter's client focus

Phil Smith – Director and Financial Planner, and Natalie Sullivan – General Manager at Hunter Financial, share their thoughts on their unwavering love for their clients – and getting what needs to be done, done.

Over the 16 years Newcastle-based Hunter Financial has been running, there has been a conscious decision not to specialise in certain professional groups or industry segments. Their approach is behavioural, founded on the belief that like-minded people will attract each other. Hunter Financial clients vary from farmers, vineyard operators and brewers, to doctors, CEOs and miners but all share common characteristics: they are time poor, want to be well organised financially, are unsure who to trust, appreciate advice and are willing to accept and pay for that advice. Sticking with the ‘no labels’ mentality, Hunter Financial does not assign categories to their clients to determine the services provided. The only classifications applied are ‘retired’ or ‘accumulation’ and these are only used to ensure the content of communication is appropriate.

The practice has managed to build its client base 100% organically via word-of-mouth introductions from existing clients.

“Many advisers think that clients will refer business to them because they see value in the service. That is just a ticket to the game. The reason existing clients provide an introduction is because I ask them,” explains Phil.

With a model relying heavily on personal endorsement, Hunter Financial believes that it is more important to reward the behaviour and acknowledge the result.

“Providing material reward based on the monetary value of a referral is problematic, because it doesn’t account for the importance of that relationship to the person giving the referral,” explains Phil.

Natalie expands: “We want clients to refer business because we do a good job and they trust us rather than them knowing they get given something. An incentivised system also means your client is trying to determine the quality of the referral, which is difficult to do.”

Best outcome for clients

The Hunter region is the largest regional economy in Australia with its two largest industries being mining and manufacturing, both of which are blue collar. While Hunter Financial has a 50/50 split of white and blue collar, the individuals within those groups all fit the Hunter Financial profile. In terms of servicing the diversity in the client base, the advice doesn’t change, but the way the adviser presents themselves and the way they talk will be modified to suit the audience with the aim of making them as comfortable as possible. At Hunter Financial they run flexible hours which govern availability for clients, so Phil and the two other advisers on occasion will meet with clients in the evening or on weekends if that is when the client needs them to be available.

“We are unwavering in the love we have for our clients. Some things you just can’t fake,” says Phil.

Phil and Natalie admit that the organisational structure within Hunter Financial is unusual with 17 staff in total, yet only three advisers.

“Our resourcing is based on what we need for our production output. While each team member has a primary function, we like our team members to be able to do all jobs as it benefits the business but in turn exposes them to different situations which help with their personal growth and development. While the adviser to support staff ratio may be high, the adviser to client ratio is top notch as the support team is quite empowered and best in class,” explains Natalie.

By setting up the team in this way it maximises the outcome for the client.

“There are three things advisers should be doing: see the people, see the people, see the people. This is better for all stakeholders. I want my team members to be doing what energises them and I’ll see the people because it energises me,” says Phil.

Future proofing the practice

Geoff Missen from the MBA Partnership is a CountPlus-appointed Director of Hunter Financial (CountPlus own a 40% share in Hunter Financial) and helps guide the strategic decisions. When he told Phil and Natalie ‘You never want to waste a crisis’ they opted to fast-track several initiatives around technology during the recent lockdown.

“While these initiatives were all in the pipeline, having to implement them quickly worked out better as we didn’t overthink things – we just got it done,” Natalie says. “We will continue to benefit from these improvements even after the crisis is over, and it has made us rethink how we will approach technology and process improvements in the future.”

With working from home likely to hang around post-COVID, a regional practice might be nervous about losing local talent to big city jobs when they can have the lifestyle Newcastle provides, but Phil and Natalie are not concerned.

“We don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will be exactly. If a good proportion of our client base chooses to continue with virtual servicing, then we can access talent from anywhere,” Natalie says.

Mindful of where the industry was heading, Hunter Financial made the decision in December 2018 to transition from ongoing service arrangements to a fee-for-service model. By 30 June 2020 they will have successfully transitioned all clients across. Both Phil and Natalie attribute the retention of clients to the time spent with each, explaining the change, and addressing any concerns.

“We feel strongly that it is in the client’s best interest to have a transparent fee arrangement and it lowers the risk to the business.” explains Natalie.

The key to making a fee-for-service model work is being proactive.

“We track when we last saw our clients and don’t wait for them to ring us. It is about respecting our relationship with them and our duty of care to keep their financial journey on track. The difference is that they pay as they go, when they need it,” says Phil.

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