Peita Diamantidis, managing director of Caboodle Financial Services, doesn't think of herself as a financial adviser. She is a storyteller; weaving clients' financial situations with their lifestyle goals to formulate a narrative that will see them realise their dreams.
"I defined my approach as an adviser long before I even became one. I completed a graduate program with one of the big banks where I was working on the futures exchange before it was closed. Being in the pits like that and watching the markets in action taught me to focus on the long-term, the underlying truths, and that's what underpins my investment philosophy," she explains.
I defined my approach as an adviser long before I even became one.
For Diamantidis, the ability to simplify complexity in this way is her biggest asset and, if adopted more widely, it could also be the industry's, she believes.
"I really do think we can inundate people with too much information, and it's to our own detriment. There is a perception that if you don't have money then you don't need an adviser, but the challenge is that there are a lot of people that won't ever have any money if they don't get some help," she says.
This very idea inspired the original name for the self-proclaimed math nerd's business, DeltaPlan; in mathematics, the 'delta' symbol represents change.
"We were delivering change through advice, but it just didn't connect with our clients or the public at all - the math geeks appreciated it though," Diamantidis laughs.
The business name was changed to Caboodle to reflect that when clients come to see Diamantidis' team, they get the whole kit and caboodle.
"We wanted people to know that we will look at absolutely everything to help them. We also wanted something that was accessible, personable and friendly. We don't want people to feel that they have to dress up to come and see us; we want them to feel they can just pop in and relax," she says.
Established in 2006, Caboodle specialises in acquiring the passive clients of other practices and now comprises two advisers looking after about 5700 clients. With only a few clients sporting a balance of more than $1 million, Caboodle also doesn't deal with high-net worths.
It's for this reason that Caboodle's business model has been through numerous iterations, with Diamantidis explaining: "We want to fight to be able to build and provide a reasonable, affordable offer to the public. I'm sure everybody says that, but everybody also struggles with it."
As such, Caboodle has pared back the advice it provides markedly. The business doesn't service self-managed super funds, nor does it offer share trading.
"We have a very specific clientele for which that's just too far down the road, if at all on the horizon. We're not trying to be everything to everyone. We have a list of things that we don't do that is as long as the list of things we do," Diamantidis says.
As such, Caboodle's advisers are taking on more of a financial coaching role, with Diamantidis saying she prefers client meetings to feel less like a formal consultation and more like she's taking them on a journey - albeit in smaller, bite-sized chunks.
"We're in the business of waking the client up, engaging with them, nurturing them and getting them to take more and more action with their money over time," she says.
Being able to connect with people in this way is what drew Diamantidis to financial advice in the first place. Having studied actuarial science, she began her career in investment banking but was turned off by its "soulless" nature.
"I know that's a pretty harsh way to describe it, but I just didn't feel that it connected with people. Advice was a natural, more human step for me," she explains.
Striving for a greater sense of connection is also why Diamantidis has launched additional businesses off the back of Caboodle, attempting to fill various gaps existing across the financial advice landscape.
"There is a bit of a gap out there in terms of helping people to simply get on top of stuff. There are a lot of things that people in those situations can be taught. It's like having a personal trainer - we all know we should do something but often need someone else there with us for encouragement," she says.
With this gap occurring before the possibility of receiving advice is even a reality for many, Diamantidis is looking to build a one-to-many model via cost-effective seminars, online courses and - most importantly - blogging.
When it comes to this demographic, it's finance bloggers that are changing people's lives, not financial advisers.
"There are bloggers out there with one million subscribers on their mailing lists and that's because they connect with them in a personal way. They tell personal stories but also great stories and they build a tribe around them," Diamantidis says.
A public sentiment survey conducted by Caboodle as to their financial behaviours and perception of financial services found over two thirds of respondents felt the industry speaks in a language they will never understand. That's where the storytelling comes in.
"We are a large industry, a massive part of the economy, but somehow most of what we say doesn't resonate with the public," Diamantidis says.
In discussing the importance of an adviser's ability to communicate, Diamantidis points to financial journalist Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, The Blind Side and Moneyball.
Lewis' 2011 novel Boomerang looks at the macroeconomic consequences of cheap financing that formed the plot of The Big Short.
"If I had one piece of advice for other, particularly new, financial advisers, it would be to read that book. It really makes you realise that the technical stuff is what we need to know, but it's the story that will capture the public," she says.
"Giving someone statistics and graphs is not communicating. Getting into the habit of writing and writing well will put you in good stead. It is so underrated in this industry, but so effective."
With this in mind, Caboodle's financial literacy brand, Zaptitude, was born. Describing it as her baby, it is Diamantidis' way of connecting directly with the public without the, often intimidating, hovering shadow of financial advice.
"I try to talk about money without it sounding like advice. It's more relaxed and fun and it's our way of turning all the things people should be doing, like their taxes, into things they want to be doing," she explains.
The Action Movie Review category on the Zaptitude blog is a perfect example. Diamantidis' tips for being more financially responsible are virtually disguised in entertaining reviews for films such as The Martian, concluding that anybody who can survive on Mars for more than 13,000 days with minimal resources is most certainly enough of a long-term thinker to be a financial adviser.
However, Diamantidis soon realised that having the ability to sort out one's finances isn't quite enough - they also need the motivation.
"Now, through the Dream Crusade, we're trying to build a program to help all the human hamsters out there that are working hard but are simply surviving," she says.
The Dream Crusade is about reminding people how to dream and then turning those dreams into reality, she explains.
"The thing is, when you start chasing something, all of a sudden all those years of tax returns get done. You ask anybody that is doing something big - buying a house, moving overseas - once that decision is made all of the financial stuff they've ignored for years suddenly gets sorted," Diamantidis says.
The initiative is about making people realise that money is just functional, with Diamantidis saying: "Money is not the point, it is simply a resource. Living is the point."
But, at the end of the day, it all leads back to the value of financial advice and particularly the need for the advice industry to be more open-minded in how it approaches those that are most in need of assistance.
"We take ourselves pretty seriously. I think our industry has a problem where we've actually managed to distance ourselves from the public when, in reality, we should be connecting with them. We have to take ourselves a little less seriously because that is at the root of the perception problem," Diamantidis says.
Consumer expectations have changed and will continue to do so, just as what people want in life has changed and Diamantidis believes the advice industry needs to be more proactive in responding.
"We need to respond to this and be willing to help people do all the weird and wonderful things they want to," she says.
"How cool would it be if even just 200 advisers were doing the same but different? It would probably significantly change the number of people interacting with advisers!" fs