Cover Story: Glen James
Listen to the new wave
From starting his own business at the tender age of 25 to cutting through the saturated podcast market - nothing is holding Glen James back, and he kind of knows it. Elizabeth McArthur writes.

From starting his own business at the tender age of 25 to cutting through the saturated podcast market - nothing is holding Glen James back, and he kind of knows it. Elizabeth McArthur writes.

Glen James is riding high. The podcast he started just last year, My Millennial Money, is the number one personal finance podcast in Australia.

James merged the business he started in 2010, Fortify Financial, with IMFG Complete Wealth in February 2019 and now he works when he wants, how he wants and on what he wants.

He counts the last year he worked full-time as 2009, and even jokes that he's already semi-retired.

My Millennial Money has proven the perfect platform for James. The podcast format allows him to be creative, honest and - at times - provocative.

In fact, he admits he probably offends some.

"I'm just loose. People might get offended. People might think financial advisers are meant to be a bit more proper," James says.

However, while the podcast has attracted a legion of fans, not all the feedback has been positive.

"It's not for everybody but the people who enjoy it really enjoy it. We get reviews that slam us. People say it's not structured and that I haven't prepared, but for me the best version of me I can give people is unscripted," James says.

It's his attitude to money that seems to be the most polarising issue - some people think he doesn't have the frugality or sensibility you might expect of someone giving personal financial advice.

But James believes the way someone spends is just as important as how they save and invest. He seems to believe that if money can't buy happiness, it can certainly buy a bit of fun.

One of the bizarre things that got James in hot water recently was talking about his new kettle on the podcast.

"I talked about buying a Le Creuset stovetop kettle that was over $150 - people would write me messages on Instagram being offended that I would spend that much on a kettle," he says.

James is a vocal critic of the FIRE movement (Financial Independence Retire Early). On the podcast, he spoke about coining his own movement in opposition - LOOT, which stands for Life On Own Terms.

"Do what you love. If you're passionate about something, work out a way to make money from it. Retirement isn't this line in the sand where you stop," James says.

Those who believe firmly that living frugally and saving enthusiastically is the secret to financial freedom can get offended by this very different attitude to money.

James is a big believer in enjoying the luxuries money can afford a person and speaks on the podcast about flying business class and buying expensive shoes.

But, what's perhaps lost on the offended is that it's part of a wider philosophy. James sees himself as a spender and that means being passionate about generosity.

"I've given a portion of my paycheque away my whole life and I'm no poorer. You can't really give anything away; it always comes back to you," he says.

While he might be flying high now, James' meteoric rise has an unlikely beginning. He dropped out of school at just 16.

In that same year, he read a book that had a huge impression on him - the personal finance and self-help classic, Rich Dad Poor Dad.

For those who haven't read the book, it's not quite as simple as it sounds. It's all about the different attitudes to money people have and where those attitudes come from.

The "rich dad" in the book takes risks with his business decisions and his money and sees endless possibilities ahead of him.

Meanwhile, the "poor dad" works hard for a paycheque and for his pension. He views the world and his own options as very limited and seems to put up with a lot because he thinks he doesn't have a choice.

The book got through to James at a time school wasn't appealing to him.

"I was always interested in business - the two subjects I was good at in school before I dropped out because I was sick of people telling me what to do where business studies and photography. So it's really cool now that I run my own business and it's a media business and I have my own studio for recording, video, and photography," James says.

After dropping out, he did an apprenticeship in a technical trade and worked for a while before pursuing a diploma in financial planning and getting an entry level job at a financial planning business in Sydney.

That job might have been his entry into the industry but it also involved a lengthy commute from James' home on the Central Coast of New South Wales to Sydney every day.

Despite the gruelling commute, James worked his way up from administration to client services to paraplanning and finally advising.

It was at that job that James met his mentor, his real life "rich dad", Macca.

Macca captured James' attention because of his wildly different attitude to life, work and money.

James is a little wary of revealing Macca's exact identity but he will say he was a farmer and a business man with a variety of businesses including aged care facilities, and he has since moved into banking.

"If it wasn't for Macca I wouldn't be here today," James says.

"I jokingly said to him once 'you can't have it all' and he said 'why not?'"

Macca gave James his first cheque to start his business in 2009. James doesn't like to say exactly how much it was for but he says it was "nothing to him but everything to me."

"I was sick of commuting so I decided to start my own business on the Central Coast in 2010 when I was 25. I was young enough and dumb enough to think I could do it - it was so bizarre," he says.

James says once he started his business he also started working on his own terms.

"I don't have a hobby, I work. My work is my hobby because I like what I do," he says.

"Why would you want to do something that you're not enjoying? Mondays don't suck, your life sucks."

Despite being - as he puts it - young and dumb, James seems to have had a good business sense from the beginning.

From 2010, he built Fortify Financial up from scratch with no debt - one client at a time. His clients were based on the Central Coast and mostly upper working class, self-employed, business owners.

He kept the business lean, with minimal staff and operation costs in order to maximise his own freedom.

James jokes that there were times he'd pretend he had a meeting and go home and watch Netflix, and that was OK because it was his own business and he'd set it up in such a way that he didn't have to watch over every little thing.

"There were close to 250 clients and I had met all of them and had a good relationship with all those clients," James says.

"So when I wanted to transition into the online space I couldn't just throw the keys away to another business. For me it was about finding the right company to partner with that had the same philosophies so that I could still be active in the business."

That's why he chose to merge his business with IMFG Complete Wealth instead of outright selling.

Now that the businesses have merged, James works with about 10 clients personally.

He describes his perfect client as someone who values his advice and is willing to pay, and that's exactly the kind of client he has now.

"I wanted to stay in the game," James says of choosing to keep some clients as the podcast took off. "And also they're really good people to work with - they value advice and they're low maintenance. They're great people."

The decision to minimise the time he spent with individual clients was deliberate and happened after James discovered that one-to-many general advice was something he could do well and something the market needed.

"What had happened was my friends and friends of friends would ask for help with their money and I'd sit down with them and do a budget or whatever for them. Then I started doing seminars on the Central Coast where I live and I would charge people because I wanted buy in. If people pay for something they'll value it," James says.

"It got to the point where I was sick and tired of repeating myself so that's why I made the online course for cash-flow and budgeting."

That original online course came from James being sick of sitting down and coaching people, the podcast is almost a natural extension of that.

He says the success of the podcast is partly down to what already existed in the market.

"When I started My Millennial Money there was no good quality Australian personal finance content out there," James says.

But, James also positioned the podcast as a comedy show - understanding many people have a niggling feeling they want to sort out or better understand their finances but aren't necessarily going to go searching for the answers in the business section of Spotify.

My Millennial Money has now expanded to include My Millennial Money: Property.

The new podcast sees James join regular co-host John Pidgeon to address aspiring property investors.

It seems that once again, James has spotted a gap in the market.

Since the Australian love of property is famously unwavering, it's likely he's onto another good thing.

While the property podcast is set to speak to millennials who want to break into the property market or invest in property wisely, James has also launched a podcast for a whole new demographic.

Gen Z Money launched at the start of August and is aimed at people under 24 years old.

James says the podcast came about after he recorded a couple of episodes of My Millennial Money with 19 and 20 year olds and found that they had a radically different mindset to millennials. So much so, he couldn't even use the episodes.

"The issues facing Gen Z are so different that I didn't want to abuse my existing audience," he says.

The episodes James has already recorded for Gen Z deal with a wide range of topics from going on university exchange to wanting to start a business at 20 years old and needing to find the best business account.

James says of the Gen Z mindset: "They have grown up with technology and getting everything instantly. So they're used to getting what they want, and I don't mean that in an arrogant way but in a way where when they want to start a business at 20 years old they don't see why they shouldn't."

It's plain to see that in switching his focus to general advice James has applied the kind of ambition that allowed his first business to grow so quickly.

And, for all his talk of expensive kettles, James is still passionate about giving back.

My Millennial Money has partnered with the anti-slavery charity A21 and James will tell anyone who'll listen that it never hurts to be generous.

"My generosity can offend people," he says.

It all goes back to James' belief that while he's given away a portion of every paycheque, he's never been any poorer for it.

"If you're just saving all your money you're not going to be nice to be around. You're a pain in the arse. You need balance. That's what I preach - for lack of a better word - on the podcast."

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