Despite years of talking about increasing the reach of advice, it has stagnated at two in 10 Australians and remained in this ball park for some time. In the same vein, the number of women opting for a career in financial advice has also mired around the same ratio, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to attract new, particularly young talent to the industry.
After identifying a vast cross-section of the community is, for the most part, being - or certainly feeling - excluded from participating, Fox & Hare co-founders Jessica Brady and Glen Hare saw an opportunity.
We want to help people irrespective of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income. We want to be seen as an organisation that works with everyone that has goals and wants to put a plan in place to get there.
Having worked together for about a decade in business development at Macquarie, Brady and Hare grew tired of visiting advice practices and meeting the same "middle-aged or older white men that typically serviced that same demographic."
Hare explains: "I loved my job but it kind of made me wonder who was helping everybody else. Who's helping the people that look like me and my mates?"
They soon realised the answer was very few. Very few advisers were catering to younger demographics because very few within those younger demographics were seeking advice.
But why? After all, the earlier you start planning your financial future, the better off you'll be when that future becomes the present.
To gain a better understanding, Brady and Hare held several focus groups. Inviting a broad sample of ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities and occupations, the overwhelming consensus was that the prospect of seeing an adviser is intimidating and expensive.
They expected they would be judged for not having already sorted their finances or assumed there was a level of financial literacy required that made accessing advice feasible. A majority also felt that they didn't earn enough to warrant seeking advice.
Of the participants that had sought advice previously, they reported feeling as though they weren't listened to or that they didn't identify with the adviser, making the whole process uncomfortable.
"The biggest challenge we have is that our ideal client doesn't even know what an adviser does and they also don't know when the right time to see one is," Hare says.
Taking on board what they'd heard, Brady and Hare set about creating the Fox & Hare brand.
With a particular focus on maximising the customer experience, they looked outside of financial services; Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram and small tech start-ups in particular served as inspiration for their ability to create a value proposition capable of capturing and engaging mass audiences.
Taking it a step further, Fox & Hare specifically selected a creative agency that had never worked with a financial services business before to design the practice's website.
"We really wanted to break down the preconceptions of what a financial advice business or brand should look like," Brady explains.
Identifying there was now a disconnect between the look of the website and its actual content, the team asked Hare's partner to rewrite all of the copy on the site to ensure what they were saying actually made sense to prospective clients.
"It's so easy to speak in jargon and financial advice language because that's what's natural when you've been in the industry for some time, and we also assume a level of financial literacy that a lot of clients or potential clients actually don't have," Brady says.
The focus on client experience flows through to the business' back office too; again, deliberately looking outside of financial services to embed technology that is largely industry-agnostic.
Resigning from Macquarie in July 2017, Hare - who doubles as the practice's head of IT - spent several months researching and testing solutions to create the ideal tech stack ahead of their launch the following October.
Video sharing site Vimeo, video captioning service Rev, and document sharing and storage platform SharePoint all made the cut, along with Zoom for video conferencing and CRM software Hubspot.
"Hubspot is probably our most powerful tool. It hasn't replaced our traditional financial planning software but we realised that for us to deliver the client experience that we really want, the planning software just didn't have the functionality that we needed. So, we have both and we run them simultaneously, and that works incredibly well for us," Hare says.
As for Statements of Advice, Fox & Hare sends these to the client via electronic signature tool DocuSign. They also include an explanatory PowerPoint presentation and a quick video summary of the strategy. In terms of SoA preparation, they are currently trialling Nod.
"We don't really see the value in a client receiving a 50-page print out. This way they can access and review the SoA at any time and it isn't taking up space on a shelf, collecting dust. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of saving trees," Brady says.
The strength of the solutions being used has created significant efficiencies within the practice and afforded Brady and Hare greater client-facing time which, in turn, is further adding to the overall client experience.
"A lot of what we do is behavioural coaching, which takes time. People know what a budget is and that it's best to have one, but that doesn't mean they stick to it," Brady explains.
As motivation, Fox & Hare developed three coaching programs: Get Sorted, Like A Boss and World Domination. All offered at a fixed fee, the client selects the program based on where they're at in life and the complexity of their finances.
The Get Sorted program is for those that are starting out and looking to set foundations to help achieve their longer-term goals.
"About 75% of our clients sit in Like A Boss and they're typically in their late-20s or early-30s, starting to earn reasonable income and have realised they probably need to start 'adulting'," Hare explains.
The World Domination program is more aspirational, Brady says.
"It's for those clients that are looking to own multiple businesses or homes down the track, and it's what a lot of our Like A Boss clients are working towards. It's actually encouraging clients to work better with their money just so they can get into that next program," she says.
Brady believes Fox & Hare's fixed fee, non-aligned offering is more appealing to younger demographics.
"They seem to really like the transparency and the fact that they can see what they're getting for their money, and they can see right away that it is affordable because it's priced with them in mind," she says.
While the Fox & Hare website lists those that are starting out, next gen professionals, females and same-sex couples as who they work with, they aren't doing so to exclude anyone - it's about inclusion.
"It's about creating that safe environment and not one that is judgemental. We don't specifically focus on those groups but we want to make sure that those groups can identify or see themselves in some way, shape or form when they are checking us out online," Hare explains.
Brady reinforces this by pointing out the lack of diversity across the financial advice industry, which has subliminally resulted in an equally non-diverse client pool.
"We don't mean any disrespect by it, but we need to start being open and honest about the fact that we live in a very diverse community and that isn't reflected back through our industry," she says.
While open to helping anyone that asks, Fox & Hare is steadfast in its pursuit of the next generation of advice clients. Currently, their youngest client is 22 and their oldest is 49 years old.
"The biggest asset that our clients have on their side is time. They have so much time to really build their wealth to make sure they can do all the things that they aspire to do," Hare says.
In fact, for many Fox & Hare clients it's their only asset. For Brady and Hare, assets under management are irrelevant and not monitored because many of their clients have no assets whatsoever - just mountains of credit card debt.
"Getting out of debt is probably the most common goal our clients share. Buying property, starting a business and starting a family are also up there," Hare says.
Again, Fox & Hare is challenging tradition; the advice industry has typically focused its efforts on pre-retirees and retirees with bigger balances.
"We want to help people irrespective of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or income. We want to be seen as an organisation that works with everyone that has goals and wants to put a plan in place to get there," Hare says.
Now, approaching its first birthday, the advice start-up has just recruited its first employee to help out with administrative tasks that have started to pile up as a result of their - largely unexpected - success.
"We've been quite surprised by how many people have reached out and said they have been wanting to get advice but haven't met anyone they felt could help them. It's been a really amazing surprise because the traditional model is referrals - the website and social strategy is paying off," Brady says.
Having spent the bulk of their careers with corporate giants - Brady moved to Zurich when it acquired Macquarie's life insurance business. "All of the little things" that come with running a small business have proved the biggest challenge so far, Hare says.
"It's been a big learning curve. We had a new starter, so I was in the Apple store buying a new laptop. If the printer breaks we have to Google how to fix it. In comparison to all of that, the advice piece has been a walk in the park," he laughs.
The next step for Fox & Hare is a series of female-specific focus groups and workshops teaching the very basics about money.
"It's not about providing advice. It's just getting them talking about their finances because I really do think that's the last taboo. We talk about politics and all sorts of things now, yet we still struggle discussing our income and finances," Brady says.
Here, Brady will draw on not only her knowledge as an adviser but also her experiences sitting on the Y Connect Advisory Committee for YWCA NSW. Among other services, the YWCA provides mentoring for young women, financial literacy and life skills.
Hare also dedicates much of his spare time to helping young people, serving as national partnerships manager at Out for Australia, a charitable organisation that encourages LGBTIQ students and aspiring professionals to be their authentic self in the workplace.
"What we learn in those volunteer roles is really helping us further shape our brand and the brand that we want to project. We want to be seen as the firm that is open, transparent and works with everybody. We don't want to pigeonhole anybody," Hare says.
"At the end of the day, we just want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable to seek advice because the sooner they do, the sooner it'll change their life." fs