One of our favourite parts of the Money Makeover is Ask the Expert, where we put your questions to a team of financial gurus.
Our experts are leaders in their field, and provide a unique perspective and insights into everyday financial problems… and we’d like to help you get to know them, starting with Brenton Tong, partner and Head of Strategy at Financial Spectrum.
Brenton’s been in the advice business for 17 years, and has a unique take on what it means to be a financial adviser. We sat down with him to find out what makes him tick.
KMM: Welcome back Brenton! Let’s start at the start… how did you get to where you are?
“I stumbled into financial advice way back in 1998 – completely by accident. I was at uni studying accounting and law. I applied for a job in investment management, but instead they referred me to a financial planning firm. I was twenty at the time, and thought I may as well have a crack at this. I haven’t stopped since”.
KMM: 17 years later, is it fair to say you stumbled into your dream job?
“I’m very mathematical and very analytical, but I also love people and the psychology behind what motivates us. I guess marrying the two together is the perfect job.”
KMM: What is your philosophy when it comes to financial advice?
“Advice is a very personal thing for me. Numbers are very straightforward. The key difference between numbers and advice is helping to identify what the numbers actually mean for the individual.
So first I try to work out what my clients value the most. Then it’s a matter of looking at where they are now and what they need to do to get from A to B. I simply point them in the right direction, and help them to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. It’s the benefit of foresight.
Financial health is the same as personal wellbeing. There’s no quick fix to be healthy, but if you eat well, exercise well and don’t drink too much, on the balance of averages you’re less likely to have issues.
And similarly, you don’t need to be in the next IPO or get in early on the next renovating boom to become wealthy. Get a plan, be consistent.”
KMM: Can you tell us a bit more about Financial Spectrum?
“I’ve never worked for a bank or large organisation. As a partner in a small firm, when I’m talking to people it’s a case of ‘well you need a financial solution that looks like this’.
And if there is a need for it, we can do it – whatever financial challenges a person is having. We can provide advice on investments and insurance of course, or bring in other experts like a family lawyer, commercial solicitor, private banker or a buyer’s agent to solve a problem.
I recently had a meeting where we spent the entire session talking about everyday bank accounts. The customer had 11 different bank accounts and wanted to simplify how they did their banking.
Or another client’s dream was to build a farm where immigrants could live and work and build up their skills until they are ready to head into the community. He needed a couple of million to kick that off. Others want a Ferrari and water views. Everyone is different.”
KMM: Ok, the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to financial advice… what is your view on fees?
“There’s no denying fees have been a massive problem in our industry.
Our approach is pretty simple however, and quite rare. Our clients pay us a flat fee, and we tell them what they should be doing. It’s near impossible to find other advisers who do this.
Even so called independent advisers still do the same stuff as advisers aligned to a bank or other financial institution; they just do it independently. We don’t sell products; we will sell you a solution.”
KMM: So does that mean you don’t charge commissions?
“No we don’t charge commissions or percentage based fees in any instance, even on insurance which is typically highly commissioned. We charge an ongoing flat fee based on the depth of the relationship with our client.”
KMM: In your view, what is the benefit of seeing a financial adviser?
“Go to a financial adviser for the same reason you would do any form of improvement… education, health, anything at all. You want to make your life better. And unless you can take an impartial view of your life and your money, a good financial planner will find some sort of improvement. Just like any professional.”