Inspiring the Entrepreneurial Revolution in Financial Planning with Dean Holmes [Ep73]

Welcome to episode 73 of The Innovating Advice Show.

I’m joined by Dean Holmes, co-founder of The Wealth Network in Australia where they’re inspiring the entrepreneurial revolution in financial planning.

If you are currently a business owner or think it might be on your horizon, this episode is for you.

We’re chatting about the ups and downs and realities of starting and growing a successful business and Dean walks us through The Wealth Network's unique model for solving the major pain points in launching an advice or planning business.

And listen until the end where he talks about hyper-targeting and hyper-personalization and why we should all be doing it.


Guest Bio

Since starting Absolute Wealth Advisers twelve years ago, Dean has become a leading mentor to some of the most awarded young talent in the financial advice industry. His superb ability to implement an efficient business model with high standards in detail, duty and compliance has set the groundwork for Absolute Wealth Advisers to be able to offer impeccable and focussed service.

In working directly with clients Dean is passionate about developing a financial strategy that fits with their goals, objectives and passions in life. "Investment portfolios and returns are the last thing that I talk to a client about. Investments need to have a context which are your personal goals."

Dean has held several positions on family boards of high net wealth family clients and has directed teams of accountants and lawyers in managing family affairs. He has an Honours in Economics, a Diploma in Financial Planning and is a member of the SMSF Professionals’ Association of Australia.


02:32 - Introducing Dean Holmes

04:18 - The entrepreneurial revolution in financial planning

07:10 - The flexibility that technology provides: being able to control your work environment

08:27 - What will the office of the future look like?

10:40 - The reality of going on your own versus as a group

15:00 - The benefit of a third-party providing some services

16:20 - AFSL: Australian Financial Services License

17:17 - Advice for people thinking about going on their own

21:41 - Having your business gives you more time flexibility

23:14 - The Wealth Network: empowering financial advisors

26:18 - The two reasons why having ‘skin in the game’ in building a business works

28:40 - The Entrepreneurial Operating System: people and processes

32:30 - Outsourcing: Internet security and client confidentiality

36:00 - Focusing on hyper-targeting and hyper-personalization

44:50 - Some final thoughts: it's a great time to start your own business


Kate: Well, hey, cousin, welcome to the show.

Dean: Hey Kate. Thanks very much. It's good to be here.

Kate: Dean, it's great to have you. And I guess we should clarify. We are not technically or actually cousins, but look, I grew up and I've always said, family is who you choose it to be. So I think it's kind of fun. Let's run with it.

Dean: Yeah. I've been telling people that I know you really well because of the surnames. So it's worked for me so far, as well as been leveraging off the family network. So it's a really good place to start.

Kate: That's fantastic. So we are speaking all about the entrepreneurial revolution in financial planning, and I have actually been giving this a lot of thought. It's something I've had experience with over the years, but I don't know if it's the pandemic or just thoughts coming back to mind, but I want to start with talking about why, why is this happening? So first with your experience Dean, what is driving this entrepreneurial revolution?

Dean: Yes. So I think it's two things that we're seeing is, from an Australian context, there's some changes in the landscape that we're seeing here in terms of, larger organizations, post the Royal commission, which I'm sure you brought up and spoken about before - larger organizations are now seeing that they weren't able to successfully run financial planning businesses in and amongst their product businesses. So they merged the two together and that caused some problems.

Dean: As well as what I would say is like the new generation of financial advisors, be it not necessarily by age, but just attitude. And those new generation of financial advisors are realizing that they want to be able to do things separate from institutions and have a little bit more flexibility in their life and stage.

Dean: And definitely in the last nine months, life has taught us a few different things as well and the need and the quality of technology is another factor as well in this mix as well, because it's proving once again, that both advisors that have a technological mindset and clients that go along the journey, you can actually run your business from anywhere, which is not a necessity for the entrepreneurial revolution, but it's one of the parts on not only being able to work anywhere, but leveraging technology in your organization to be able to do things easier, faster or better for your end customer or client.

Kate: Yup. Yeah. And I am familiar with all that. You know, that's what I did back in 2013, starting my last financial planning business being totally virtual. That was incredibly important to me because I love traveling so much and wanted to be able to work from anywhere. So it's fun to see. It's fun to see people opening up more to that.

Kate: But I will say to people that are in situations where it's like, Hey, we were forced to work from home and maybe you've got multiple family members. You're a parent with kids that you're trying to teach. You know, maybe you have your parents living with you as well. That to me is not actually the proper experience of working virtually. So that's one of the things I'm seeing is people saying, Oh, I don't actually want to work virtually because that part isn't fun. But once the world opens back up again, it'll be interesting to see how many people stick with the flexibility that technology provides. And you even mentioned flexibility.

Dean: Yeah, definitely. It's, it's interesting because whilst you're working from home, just generally, you're actually in a space that you can control for your virtual meetings. Whereas if you contrast that to the current modern office or the modern we work workspace is you can't actually have video meetings with two people sitting either side of you having video meetings.

Dean: So one of our businesses, they have an office of six people, but two people at the same time can't do video meetings in their office just because it's too noisy and you can overhear one another. So we kind of have created a new problem that when we go back to the offices, even for the entrepreneurial advisor that is potentially working on their own, they have to have a space where they can go to, to run the virtual meeting just in the same way that you would have a client coming to a meeting room. We still have to go to some type of room to do a meeting, and spend that time with the clients.

Kate: So right when everyone just spent the last number of years moving to an open office, we might end up going back more to a closed office so that people who have that private space.

Dean: Absolutely. Yeah. I think the office of the future will have people coming in and out at different times, but also different spaces for, depending on what work that you're going to do as an advisor or as any worker, in that you'll have a collaboration space, you'll have a space for doing video related meetings, whether it's one-to-one or one to many, and then you'll have this the old Google sleep pod, you'll have a spot where you can go for sort of quiet contemplation without the noise or all the buzz of the office.

Dean: So I still hear people that say, I like working at home because it's quiet and I get my work done. And that's probably just shows a failure of the modern office at the end of the day, if you can't do your work in the office. But absolutely, I still think there is a view of people wanting to get back to some type of office in the future and do their work from the office.

Kate: Well and I have to say, I'm a huge fan of that sleep pod. I am a big fan of nap taking. I read all the research that talks about how that helps you soak up stuff and rejuvenate. So yes, let's get some sleep pods in the office, but since I've worked from home for just about my entire career, I've got a built-in sleep pod here.

Dean: Good. Very good. It's always, it's something I do occasionally when my daughter goes to sleep as I sleep at the same time, because it's just quiet household and it's good for everyone to recharge.

Kate: So Dean, one of the things I've been thinking about is as people move into this entrepreneurial revolution and think, okay I've been at the big firms and I kind of wanted to do things differently. You mentioned just that different mindset. I'm going to go start a business. There are lots of people doing that, which is fantastic. And these are really smart, driven, determined people that have the tenacity to stick it out because it is hard to start a business. But I see so many people doing that on their own.

Kate: Now, what are you seeing in terms of people just saying, okay, I want to start my own business versus maybe some of those people actually coming together and sharing resources and brain power and splitting up some of the work and the expense of starting a business.

Dean: I think, one of the, one of the great books that you can read that gives you the context of being an entrepreneur and starting your own business and some of the challenges is called the E-Myth and it's kind of this concept that you become really good at your skill and our skill on this podcast is being a financial advisor. And so you become really good at the skill. And then you decide that, Hey, wait a minute, I can go and do this on my own. And I can be a financial planner on my own and that the story of the E-Myth and the reality when you go and start your own business is that you can actually only be a financial planner for potentially 50% of the time in that first year, whilst you're starting your business. And the other 50% of your time is spent doing a ton of other activities that are actually not financial planning related.

Dean: Some of those things are below your pay grade in terms of the work that you're currently doing within a financial planning organization. And there's just random stuff that needs to get get done. And so the learning of being an entrepreneur and coming into this world is absolutely that there's a longer list of things that need to get done every single day to take your business forward that some people haven't fully thought through or appreciated when they're saying I'm going to jump out of my corporate job and jump into this financial planning entrepreneur revolution. The mail still needs to make it to your desk. The coffee cups still have to be collected. And phones have to be answered as just random examples of where you actually need systems and processes, or do it yourself until you're at a certain level where you can hire staff or outsource certain things.

Dean: And so absolutely when you talk about, is there an ability to combine resources and go out as a team, there's definitely a fair few examples of advisors leaving a practice together, to go and combine resources and then go and start a business together. And on some, in some regards I've seen that work and other times I've seen it fail because they, those three advisors, if we just created a pretend business with three advisors, none of those three advisors have still thought about those extra 50% of jobs that need to be done.

Dean: And there's still a leadership within the organization that if you have three leaders, you kind of sometimes have no leaders. And so you still need the concept of a boss or a manager that's going to run the business of the financial advice business, as well as the financial advisors giving the financial advice.

Dean: And so I still think that the challenge, whether you do it on your own, or you do it with a few people, how you divvy up the tasks that are in that 50% bucket of your week that need to be done, regardless of whether it's checking the mail, cleaning the coffee cups or setting up some business structures, all of those things need to get done and someone has to do it. And the difficulty is that no one kind of gets the value for it, or you don't see a price attached to it I suppose, when you're looking to charge a client for advice.

Dean: And coming from corporate, they never got to see what the true cost of their service is, in terms of what they should be charging their customers for advice. That just came down the line I suppose. But 'we've always charged clients 1% so we have to' without really understanding the overall cost base.

Dean: So that's the path of leaving as a group. And something that I'm involved in, which is slightly different is actually the concept of a cooperative in, it's very easy in the Australian context being an AFSL, but there is a benefit of a third party providing some services consistently across multiple financial planning businesses. And that's what we're starting to see in something that I'm building is that the concept of the back office of financial planning businesses can be the same, regardless of the target client, like there's processes and products and outcomes that I could do for any number of clients, regardless of who they are or what they would like.

Dean: But it's that front end that can be unique from the client experience and the backend of filling out a form - there's only one way to fill out a form. So why have five people in five businesses filling out forms when you could have one person doing it for five. And so there's some leverage in that in terms of partnering with people to build out your financial planning business. But the challenge on day one is there's no clients, no revenue and just the dream. And so it's hard to price and build it in, in terms of doing it all at once.

Kate: Yeah, it is. And just to make sure we are fully describing everything. So AFSL is an Australian Financial Services Licensee, right?

Dean: Yeah. So we in Australia, AFSL is the licensee. And so I have the license from the regulator essentially. And then I sub authorise or license businesses and advisors to give advice to end consumers. A little bit different I think to the US and South Africa where some of the listeners are, in that most advisors have a direct relationship with the regulator, that isn't the case here. although it might be the case in the future, but we don't exactly know when, a fundamental change like that would happen. we've probably had enough fundamental changes for the last few years, but we can handle, we were resilient and we could handle another one or two.

Kate: You're incredibly resilient. So thinking about people you mentioned in those big firms and all those little things that you have to do, I'm actually, co-writing a chapter in an upcoming book called The NextGen Planners Guide To Being A Next Gen Planner. And my chapter is on launching a business. And my co-writer, we just had a meeting yesterday and he was sharing that he was an employee in a bigger firm and he recently left and he was talking about the things that you actually take for granted being an employee, because you don't think about, okay, somebody does have to get the mail and somebody does have to clean the coffee cups and somebody has to go get the coffee, all those little things.

Kate: So what advice do you have for people as they're sort of taking that jump or even earlier when they're just thinking about, Hey, I want to leave. I think I can do it better. I'll have more flexibility. I'll have a better quality of life. But how do you get through and say there's a little more to it.

Dean: Yeah. One of the challenges is you don't want to ruin the dream. And so the concept of getting the mail just as our little example is that you don't want to focus on that too much when you're still just trying to build out the dream of what you want your business to be. And so I would never talk to any budding adviser going when they come to me and say, look, this is my vision for my business. This is the clients that I want to look after. This is why. I'm never going to say, don't forget, you've got to get the mail because that that's just going to pop their bubble straight away. The attitude though is the most important thing or their mindset, I suppose, in how they're going to tackle this.

Dean: Everyone has ideas and everyone has an idea that this business or industry could be done in a different way. And so ideas are obviously all around there. It's all in the execution and not only the execution, it's that resilience to solve problems along the way, and put your hand up and ask for help. And so what I would talk to people about in terms of I'm about to make this lead is not necessarily about, you've got to go and collect the mail, but going 'that's a great business idea that you have. I love that you're focusing on a particular niche, target client. And so what I want to teach you is the resilience of all the things that are gonna go wrong, and how you work with people and ask for help to solve those. And probably the mindset of you no longer have a hundred percent of your time to give advice.' Those two messages are the way in which people start to get an idea about the time commitment involved in starting a business, and everyone, or, no one values the time commitment unless they go through it and do it themselves.

Dean: Like everyone that looks at a successful person, and I'm not quoting any books here, but everyone talks about this, is that you look at a successful person and the thing is oh, you're so lucky, you you're so lucky to build that business. You've done so well for yourself, but no one really takes the time to go, Oh, but they spent a hundred hours a week in the first year building the fundamentals or the foundations of that business.

Dean: You know, my business partner and I, when we first started, we pretty well worked every weekend for a year to be building the business. I know Jess and Glen who are in my network now, which you've interviewed Jess before, they were two and a half years in the making, but they had thought about the business and what it was going to look like two and a half years before it started. So there's an extreme amount of time invested, whether it's before you launch or during that first two, three, four years where there's just more time invested in creating the business, and executing at the same time. And that's obviously a challenge for all of us in this space is how do we leverage our time so we can see enough clients, get all of the other back-office operations working, and then still have to spend time with our friends and family in that same week.

Kate: And that's always the tough balance to make...

Dean: And that's the e-myth. And that's the reality is that if someone's going, I want to start my own business so that I'll have more time, it's not true. The truth is that you'll have more time flexibility. And so I have that in my life now because I'll finish at four o'clock today and pick my daughter up from daycare. But I might work at eight o'clock tonight for a couple of hours doing something else. And so it's not like I have more time to dedicate to other activities. It's just that I have the time flexibility to choose how I work. And that's the difference to the corporate world that advisors are in today, that they pretty well have to be feet under the desk, nine to five, five days a week, because that's one of the metrics of their success. And so it's delusional to think you have more time. It's just, you have choice of time.

Kate: Yes. And that's something I've always stressed. So like right now it's 7:30 at night and we're chatting, which is fantastic. And my husband just got home from work this afternoon so I went to the airport and picked him up. And yesterday my brother and I were running errands, like just being able to do what works when, and especially really getting into the dead of winter here, I actually would rather be outside or running errands or doing something in the short window that it's light because it gets dark so early. And then I've been working later into the evening. And so that flexibility is, is everything to me and to a lot of people.

Dean: Yeah, absolutely.

Kate: So you mentioned Jess. So yes, we had Jess Brady back on episode 62, and we had Ben Nash, you've worked with him at Pivot, back on episode 46. So tell us a little bit about The Wealth Network.

Dean: Okay. So The Wealth Network, as it stands today, is that essentially being an AFSL, but also more specifically that we want to empower financial advisors to essentially start their own financial planning practice, to participate in what we call the entrepreneurial revolution in financial advice, which is essentially advisor's ability to run their own business, with support, in my view, but run their own business and run that front end client experience, however they deem necessary.

Dean: So the way in which we do this is we provide a coaching and mentoring and business planning service that kind of sits above or below, think of it above the financial planning business. So we use our experience that we've had, and I say way because of business partner and I've been doing this for 15 years. So we use our experience in running financial planning businesses and we've bought and sold businesses over the years.

Dean: So we use our experience in running businesses and provide that to the individual advisors that are starting out on their own. And so by doing that, we hope that they avoid the mistakes that we have made in the past and focus their efforts in the right areas to grow their businesses faster than what they otherwise would if they had to learn everything on their own.

Dean: So we do that with a coaching mindset, a coaching and education mindset, which essentially sees us work with the businesses on a weekly basis. So we have weekly leadership team meetings in terms of understanding what's going on within the business. So not client issues, but just business issues about what things are working and not working. And then our coaching program, it allows us to have quarterly and annual meetings with the advice businesses to keep them focused on growing that practice over time.

Dean: And so we're up to seven businesses within The Wealth Network now. And both Ben at Pivot Wealth and Fox & Hare are two of the members that have gone through or are going through what we call the partnership program, which is this five-year journey with us, where we co build that financial planning business with the advisor to give it, as I said, a greater chance of success than that individual advisor doing it on their own. Now, the people we pick, the advisor would have always done it on their own and built successful businesses, we're just giving them the kickstart at the end of the day.

Kate: And you do that in an interesting way. It's not like it's a traditional consulting or even coaching role of, Hey, this is our hourly, monthly or annual fee. You've actually got skin in the game in building these business.

Dean: Yeah, absolutely. So it's the skin in the game came from, comes from two, two mindsets, I suppose. So firstly, it aligns our interests. So just in case, no one knows, skin in the game is what we're saying in terms of having equity in the underlying financial planning business, it's got nothing to do with your body or body parts.

Kate: My husband has been watching Dexter lately, so...

Dean: Yeah, so, so nothing to do with body parts, Kate. All to do with aligning our interests in terms of jointly owning the business. Now the advisers own the vast majority of the business at all times, and we have an agreed exit plan for ourselves so that the advisor feels a hundred percent confident that what they're contributing to build, they will own a hundred percent of in the future. But I talked to, and I believe that it aligns our interests in building the business as opposed to receiving a consulting revenue. And so the consulting revenue, albeit a nice from a cashflow perspective, if I double my effort, I halve my consulting revenue. Whereas if I double my effort in the context of, I got skin in the game, and the business size doubles, obviously we and the advisor both get rewarded for that. So the skin in the game works for us in terms of aligning the interests between us and the advisor.

Dean: And the second element is, quite frankly, they're startup businesses. And so they're trying to work out how they're going to be able to pay their rent or mortgage, let their kids go to school and how they're going to get their first client. It's very difficult for them to say to me or to any consultant mind you, Oh, I'm happy to pay you monthly when I'm not paying myself. And I don't know how I'm going to pay my mortgage because I haven't got any clients yet. So it works from that perspective as well.

Kate: Yeah, I like that. I think that's great. And you mentioned forms earlier and back office and stuff. So is that service you guys provide on top of the coaching?

Dean: Yeah, so we're at the start of that journey, but the way in which we're doing it is that we're very focused on, and there's some coaching things that come out because we use a system called the entrepreneur's operating system, EOS. It started in America, but it's making its way all around the globe, but it's a coaching system for any business, let alone financial planning business, but they have two key focuses and that's people and process. And so we're focused on those two things at the moment.

Dean: And so what that means is that from a people perspective, we currently have 19 staff members working for our businesses in Cebu in the Philippines. And so they're allocated to each individual business. So they're working in individual businesses, but over time, the intellectual property of the group, in terms of what they're knowing and learning is growing.

Dean: So in terms of building out people capital or human capital, the businesses in Cebu  that we're growing there allows new advisors to essentially come into our group, have a virtual assistant working for them on day one that knows more about their business than what the advisor does on day one. And so that's the end goal is that the training of the virtual assistants is kind of happening ahead of, or at the same time of new businesses joining. And so it's the goal that I have of  an advisor joining the group and me saying on day one, we'll go, here's Betty. Betty is your virtual assistant. She's been trained in all of the core processes that you need to do as a small business owner and then connect Betty to the advisor. And I let them go on their way.

Dean: And so we've started that journey because we obviously have 19 people, but over time we were building out an Academy of people, the staff coming in ahead of demand in terms of starting the businesses. And so that's a big element, in terms of taking a load off an advisor when they're first starting their business from a people perspective.

Dean: And then the second element of that is process. So, that's the back office part of it that you mentioned, Kate, that we all could learn how to complete a form or quite rightly a staff member that worked in one of my businesses knows how to do it. And they can go over to their colleague next door and teach them how to do it. And so we're building this knowledge base of going well, sometimes we only do things once or twice a year, but at least we know there's a few people in the organization that know how to do it.

Dean: And so if there's a new person that doesn't know how to do it, , they go to the person that knows, and that's cross business  information transfer, which is really valuable. And you don't get that when you first start a business from scratch, you don't have a network. Advisors are kind of on their own individually in this context of starting businesses. But then when you bring on a staff member that if you're  on your own, that staff member is just constantly coming back to you, going, I don't know how to do this. I need to learn how to do this. Can you check this. Can you help me. And we're trying to remove elements of that so that the advisor can concentrate on what they need to do, which is marketing and growing the business and the team that's doing their administration can learn from others.

Kate: And in terms of having people in the Philippines, that's hugely growing with businesses all over the world, outsourcing to the Philippines has kind of become the new hotspot for outsourcing and tremendous VA's there, highly educated, speaking English, but for advisors listening anywhere in the world that could be concerned about security or client privacy, confidentiality, what would you say about that?

Dean: Yeah, so it comes to technology at the end of the day. And so the important elements of it in terms of how we are protecting our client's data at the end of the day is everything is still housed in Australia and they're able to access it through our systems, but everything, all of our systems become multifactor authenticated with pin codes and passwords and the like. The office that they work from, they can't take  mobile phones or pens and paper in and things like that. So it means that  the chances of things  are reduced at the end of the day. And so we've put a lot of roadblocks in place. As you can imagine, if someone wants to do the wrong thing, it doesn't matter where in the world that person is located, they will work out a way to do the wrong thing.

Dean: And so, ultimately it's hiring the right people and  we work with a third party  that that is helping to hire and mentor and track the people as well. There's a piece of software on their computer that takes screenshots. So we know what's going on. So there's a variety of, brick walls that you can put in place in terms of making sure that the staff members are all doing the right thing.

Dean: Now, each one of those brick walls, you should do  whether your staff member is in Sydney, Johannesburg, or Cebu.

Kate: Or sitting right next to you.

Dean: Absolutely. And so there should be no difference. But yeah, absolutely like internet security is an important thing in general. And that's something that, you said as you spoke about people that have left and go, Oh, I didn't realize that I needed to do that,  IT is a classic one, because guess what, everyone, if they have an IT problem in their corporate, there's a phone number that you call and they solve the problem.

Dean: And not only is there this help desk, that's on call. And I know they're all frustrating at the end of the day, but still they're there for you, but there's also the technical thinking about, well, am I on the best technology? What is the next technology that I need to be doing? Am I running windows 95 or windows 10? If you're not, who's telling you to upgrade if you don't have a partner in that context. And so that's just another example of the thinking that we do, and guess what, we run office  365. So it's not like it's something incredibly revolutionary. But actually, the way that we do it, the way that we secure it and know what's going on is quite good, but we're thinking about it. Whereas as a small business on your own, that's in the 50%, it makes it difficult to do it all.

Kate: Hugely difficult. It's always difficult to do it all  in any regards, but that's a really good point  on the IT side. And I mean, I want to make sure to point out and sort of congratulate you as well on Ben from Pivot and Jess and Glenn from Fox & Hare they've won tons of awards. It feels like anytime it's award season in Australia, it's just amazing to see how they've grown. I've known Ben for years and watching his business has been truly delightful and what they're doing, and they both have such great niches and focus on their clients and how they've built it all. And I know part of that comes from what you guys do and you really emphasize focusing on hyper targeting and hyper personalization.

Dean: Yeah. So thank you. It's really good to reflect, and take a moment to know   that there's some great businesses working with us and where we are really proud of that. I kind of think of myself as  the coach in that  the coach doesn't get the gold medal or the awards and things like that, but that's okay because that's the position that I want and choose to be in. That my objective is to create more Pivots and more Fox & Hare's in their own individual way. And so that is the hyper-personalization and hyper targeting, which is two separate things, even though the word hyper is mentioned twice. The hyper hyper personalization is just a context that new clients or members or customers have come to expect. And so the Googles, the Google reviews, the Google suggestions, the Netflix, have you considered watching this is, are all digital examples of hyper-personalization.

Dean: And so there is an expectation that the advice that you give me as a client is very personalized based on my needs. So we can't just give everyone like Oprah used to give everyone a car. We can't just give everyone the same thing and let them all be happy. We need to do more to actually personalize the advice and the experience and through technology, we can do that now. So the client desire for hyper personalization  is there. You can't get away with putting the wrong client's name or leaving old client name in documents anymore. Like, it was never okay, but everything is expected to be personalized.

Dean: And then the other concept,  Kate, of hyper targeting  just goes to my entire message that right now, using technology, once again, you can talk to the audience that you want to serve.

Dean: And so you can talk to people with, I talk about left-handed veterinarians all the time, right. That if you wanted to target left-handed vets, you absolutely could find them and have them as your target client and create a business around that. And both virtually because now our target market is all of Australia, like yours would be all of the United States and beyond in what you're doing, you can now find enough clients that are in that hyper targeted niche for you to help. And the concept of hype