FPA Advice Innovation Award 2021: Daniel Thompson

09 February 2022

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Growing up all over Australia has given Daniel Thompson a valuable perspective on how different life can be for each of us. It’s a view that’s helped him and business partner Prashant Nagarajan develop a whole new approach to financial advice with their practice Finnacle.

EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: Bachelor of Economics & Commerce UWA, Master of Applied Finance (Financial Planning) CSU, Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning Kaplan

POSITION: Director & Financial Adviser

PRACTICE: Finnacle

LICENSEE: Lifespan Financial Planning

YEARS AS A FINANCIAL PLANNER: 11

Having spent his childhood in Australia’s more remote states and territories, Daniel Thompson has encountered many different walks of life. It’s an upbringing that’s given him a strong sense of curiosity about his financial planning clients as well as an awareness of the wide range of lifestyles that are possible in this country.

“My parents are both from Western Australia and have always had a sense of adventure,” says Daniel. “In his 20s my Dad spent a lot of time exploring the continent on his motorbike before relocating to Darwin with Mum in the early 80s and then starting a family. The Northern Territory is where I was brought up to start with before going to boarding school in WA. Moving around introduced me to different ways of living. I saw some people doing well while others were struggling. Without consciously realising it I was learning about the role of money in building something out of life and it started to feel important to me.”

This awareness led Daniel to start investing from an early age. “By the time I was going to high school in Bunbury I started to invest money I’d saved,” he says. “I was only in year eight or nine and I didn’t keep paying money into the fund I’d chosen. But I did keep reinvesting the capital and returns. That investment of just a couple of thousand dollars ended up paying most of my deposit for my first home. It gave me that conviction that starting small and earlier with investing could really help a lot of people.”

Starting from scratch

Towards the end of his high school years, Daniel was thinking about becoming a planner but felt he needed more experience in the world of financial services. Plus he already had a strong desire to help people who think they can’t benefit from working with a planner or would find it too expensive. “After finishing my degree in Perth, I jumped in a car with my best mate to drive across to Melbourne to start the rest of my life,” he says. “While I had my degree behind me I had no experience and I thought working as a stockbroker might be a good place to start. I was already working my way through a stockbroking course while in the car, as well as firing off job applications for financial planning roles.

In 2010, Daniel took on an entry level role, cold-calling prospects to book in meetings with the financial planning team. “Within a year I had moved up through the ranks to become a planner,” he says. “ I continued to grow my knowledge and experience until I was ready to team up with Prashant my business partner to launch Finnacle. Our aim is to make advice simple, accessible and affordable to younger families and individuals who are generally not served by the rest of the industry.”

Daniel and Prashant knew they needed to do things differently to make their service appeal to their target market.  While it was a challenge to develop a suitable business model, they saw the opportunity they had as new business owners to bring fresh ideas to the profession. “Designing the business from a blank canvas has given us a significant advantage when it comes to innovation,” he says. “With the way the world works now and the technology we can use to engage with clients and to streamline back office tasks we had a lot of the tools we needed to support a more affordable and sustainable business model. And we had the benefit of being able to develop our service around these technologies instead of retrofitting them to an existing process.”

Strong on access and education

With the monthly subscription approach Finnacle have developed, their business is reaching a part of the Australian market who haven’t been able to afford advice or engage with financial planning in a way that suits their life stage and goals. “We’re able to serve young Australians with a far smaller income and wealth base via a monthly subscription similar to a phone plan, with no upfront or setup costs for members,” says Daniel. “This allows anyone to be able to access advice, even when starting out and only having $10,000 to invest.

“The idea is to start with getting people comfortable with financial planning and set up some of the basics. While we still touch on everything when looking at their situation, we modularise the different parts so that members can focus on what’s important to them first without getting overwhelmed. We start with the holistic strategy and then over 12 months we might have eight to 12 catch-ups or meetings. Some of these are education sessions and some are pure advice or a combination of both.”

While every Finnacle member will be focussing on different goals, the whole service is designed to keep them developing their own financial capability and awareness. This has benefits for each client’s sense of confidence as well as supporting sustainable outcomes for Finnacle as a business. “Because we’re working with younger generations we know we need to keep engagement high,” says Daniel. “This means doing it with them not for them, and along the way they’re improving their understanding of what’s possible with their finances as well as achieving better outcomes. The feedback we’re getting is that education and knowledge are a big part of what our clients are getting from their memberships and this is the part of our success I’m most proud of.”

A focus on innovation

As award winners for innovation, Daniel and Finnacle have certainly brought something new to the financial planning profession. And while technology plays a big part in how they engage with and deliver to clients, it’s not the answer to everything. “Innovation is one of the core values that we agreed upon at the start and so it permeates through everything we do,” says Daniel. “Everyone has the ability to suggest and test different ideas to improve what we do and also find completely new ways to do things.

“Technology is the obvious area when it comes to innovation in financial planning – from open APIs & automation through to Regtech, which will help everyone serve more clients more efficiently. This is definitely something that can help the profession as a whole. But when it comes to individual businesses like ours I think that it’s innovation within the service proposition and delivery – something that makes you truly different from everyone else – that is the key to making the experience better for clients.”

Poised for growth

Like every financial planning practice, Finnacle have to ensure their new ideas for advice delivery are viable and robust from a regulatory perspective. While ongoing reform in legislation and policy could be seen as a constraint on innovation, Daniel sees these changes as positive overall. “There is a lot of change, which means there is a lot of opportunity,” he says. “Most planners that I speak to at the moment are growing even within a shrinking industry.

“The speed of growth is much quicker than in the past as well – there is much more support within the industry to allow businesses to grow quickly, such as technology and outsourcing. There are a lot of good people around too, who are more than happy to speak to you and give you some pointers, or introduce other people who may be able to help. I’ve been blown away recently by the support of people who want us and other young businesses to do well.”

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