What influenced your career?
My career trajectory started when I was 10. I had an afternoon paper run and my last stop was selling the Daily Mirror and Newcastle Sun at Charlestown Bowling Club. Bowlers would buy a paper after work to read whilst having a few beers. One of my customers, Reg, one day quipped, “I see you sitting there reading the sport and comics - why don’t you do something useful and read the stock market pages? Let’s follow a few companies. Do you like you like lollies? Well let’s follow Allen’s. Do you know anyone who works at BHP? So we started to watch BHP. I was making $10 a week, putting half through a pinball machine and banking $5. I was also frustrated at only earning 9.5 per cent interest in my Newcastle Permanent account. I’d just turned 11 when I withdrew my entire balance to buy $900 of BHP shares at $4.64. The shares went up - so I was hooked.
After the HSC I started as a chemical engineering trainee at BHP. It was the mid 1980s when BHP had just started an employee share plan, offering workers the opportunity to buy 1000 BHP shares with an interest-free loan.
I noticed some men on back shifts were reluctant to participate (literacy and numeracy problems were common) … so I started helping shift workers, explaining the deal and helping fill out the forms. Having helped dozens of employees into participation and seeing the rewards, I realised that through financial advice I could have a real impact on people’s lives.
We’re seeing a tidal wave of anti-establishment sentiment building which is driving advisers and consumers away from the institutions.Andrew Masson
Why did you study chemical engineering?
Because I believed it would provide me the greatest number of career choices. The University of Newcastle’s Chemical Engineering faculty was one of the best in Australia.
What led you to work for US-headquartered water treatment firm Nalco?
BHP was a declining workforce. Like many young managerial aspirants, I realised there would be no opportunities for leapfrogging the corporate ladder.
Why did you move to Morgans Financial Limited in Newcastle?
I returned to Newcastle from Sydney, in what many consider to be a courageous move, turning my back on chemical engineering. My desire to be part of the investing world and to help people make money never left me. In 2002 that I started with Morgan’s and that passion was re-ignited.
What were your roles?
I was originally a private client advisor. From 2004 to the end of 2015 when I left, I was a director of the firm.
In 2016 you founded Infinity – why?
There’s a lot being written in the press about the outcome of the royal commission, I could see what was happening in the industry. Clients were becoming account numbers and decisions were being made at management level to get more money out of clients. That never resonated with me, it went against my values. I knew I could do it better, I just needed the confidence to do it.
What is Infinity’s point of difference?
We’re best known for the way in which we manage money for our clients. We are very active in our decision making, in a time when many advisors preach ‘set and forget’. We combine fundamental and technical analysis in a way few others can. This comes from our stockbroking background and expertise in direct shares, where we embrace ownership of the decision on what to invest in.
The banking Royal Commission has exposed abhorrent behaviour by financial advisors. Are you surprised?
No. In its simplest form, the Royal Commission has exposed the extent of profit focus at the expense of client focus. This has happened because decision makers in large institutions, have over time, seen clients as numbers and revenue lines, overlooking the obligation to serve. All is not lost, however: the majority of financial advisors are client focused and will ultimately turn the current climate of doubt around. But for now, we’re seeing a tidal wave of anti-establishment sentiment building which is driving advisers and consumers away from the institutions which have provided conflicted advice.
You are critical of “fees for no service”, when advisors set up portfolios then leave them dormant until their yearly review. How common is this?
More common than what most would recognise. A question I often ask new clients is “When was the last time you had contact from your advisor?” Often the answer is, “I didn’t know I even had one”. Some clients have been paying fees without receiving financial advice for many years!
Infinity has joined forces with two other financial planning practices, Allegiance and Hamilton Insurance & Investment Services (HIIS). How will it change operations?
Infinity is known for the way in which we invest money. We’re able to bring that expertise to combine with two businesses who have complementary strengths, in terms of strategy and insurance. We’re very excited to bring our clients an even broader service offering.