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The team at Innate Wealth have always been curious about using technology to drive business efficiencies and client engagement. Shane Nicholas CFP® talks to Jayson Forrest about the practice’s approach to fintech.
‘Innate’ is an appropriate word to describe the practitioners working in the Keilor and Kew offices of Melbourne-based planning business, Innate Wealth. All have been drawn to the financial planning profession from an intuitive need to help others.
Just take Shane Nicholas CFP® – a Director and financial adviser at Innate Wealth – who started his journey in financial advice straight out of secondary school, knowing that he wanted to spend his time helping people.
“After completing a Bachelor of Business in Financial Planning at RMIT, I explored different parts of the financial services industry, including a stint with one of the big banks,” Shane says. “It was at this time that I realised that working in an institution was not for me. Thankfully, this realisation resulted in a chance meeting with Innate.”
That was back in 2007, and after two years at Innate, Shane took the plunge and purchased equity in the business in 2009.
“I have enjoyed every step of the journey, and remain as passionate as ever about helping people realise their financial and lifestyle goals. It’s a genuine privilege to be allowed into the lives of my clients and assist them navigate the complexities of wealth creation.”
The Innate Way
Today, Innate Wealth – an FPA Professional Practice – is an integrated financial services business, providing accounting, insurance and financial advice services, with other related services, like legal and mortgage broking, outsourced to one of its referral partners. The business’s approach to financial planning is what it calls – the Innate Way.
Essentially, the Innate Way is the practice’s full engagement process, which begins with identifying the client’s circumstances, resolving their pain points, and then developing tailored strategies that put the client on the right financial and lifestyle path. Pivotal to this process, says Shane, is being the sounding board and trusted partner in helping clients identify and pursue the right financial opportunities suitable for them.
“The Innate Way is how we describe our process from end-to-end,” says Shane. “A key part of this process is the time we spend getting to know our clients, including their needs and objectives. If we get the context of the conversation right with our clients from the outset, then that understanding flows through well with all our ongoing interactions with those clients.”
However, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Innate Way is just marketing spin for a process that is fundamentally similar to most planning businesses, but you’d be wrong. Look a little closer and you will discover that the Innate Way also encompasses a range of initiatives that address the health and wellbeing of clients.
Take for example, Innate Wellness, which was created to assist clients navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“Our focus is always on trying to do our very best for what’s right for clients under all circumstances,” says Shane. “Over the last 12 months, we’ve had people locked away in their houses for an extended period under COVID-19, so we created the Innate Wellness program to help people through the pandemic.”
Innate Wellness is a resource of health and wellness articles, as well as virtual fitness streams, where clients could access pilates, yoga and general fitness classes. The program also provided nutritious and healthy recipes, which assisted clients with their health and wellness throughout the challenging times of social isolation during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“We believe that the Innate Wellness initiative has been absolutely essential to keep our clients connected and motivated during COVID-19. It’s wonderful that we’ve been able to focus on their health and wellness, and not just their finances, during this difficult time,” Shane says. “The program has been so successful that we have decided to maintain it as we emerge into a new post-COVID world.”
Curious about technology
When it comes to technology, Shane admits that the business has always been “curious” about technology and how it can streamline processes, improve efficiencies and deliver a more tailored outcome for clients.
“We try just about everything that we can use in the business,” he says. “Currently, we’re looking at data warehousing technology. And for the client experience, we use video and audio (Innate Pod) a lot. So, instead of writing a long email, I actually record a video and send that to the client. And in Statements of Advice (SOA), we’re starting to incorporate videos, which helps clients to better understand the SOA.”
The business also runs a weekly webinar, where clients can dial-in and watch some of the Innate planners discuss topical issues. This also enables clients to ask questions and interact with the planners in real time.
“We like to use technology as a means of mixing up our delivery of content because clients like to consume information in different ways. And using video allows us to inject more of our personality in the way we deliver this content to clients.”
Using technology to more closely engage with clients has enhanced the overall client experience at Innate Wealth and has been a progressive enabler in that respect. But has the business come across any specific technology that it thinks has been a ‘game changer’?
“The short answer is no,” says Shane. “We haven’t come across any single technology that we think is the ‘game changer’. Instead, we are using a mix of technology that is complementary to our business and services.”
As a business that is curious about technology, what is Innate Wealth’s approach to choosing and implementing technology within the business? Shane says the key is being early adopters of fintech.
“We try our best to be early adopters of technology because it gives you a chance to play and tinker with it. If there are areas of the technology that the developer or software company is seeking feedback on, you’ve got an opportunity to provide some insight into it and shape its development.
“As a small business, we haven’t got the capacity to spend a lot of money on buying technology or developing our own tech. So, providing feedback is a way for us to be a participant in the development of how we would like to see technology rolled out in our business.”
Shane also reveals that as a business, when it comes to technology, Innate Wealth is never afraid to fail.
“If we try new technology and it doesn’t work for us as a business, then that’s okay. It’s simply a matter of turning it off and trying something else. The important thing is, we’ve at least tried using the tech, so we’ll never die wondering.
“So, when it comes to technology, we have a crack early, we make a quick decision on it, and if it’s worth persisting with, we then put in the effort to implement it within the business.”
Some of the current technology used at Innate Wealth includes Zepo for data warehousing and aggregation, Salesforce for client relationship management, Xero for tax returns and Class Super for SMSF tax returns.
“We use a range of tools and resources at Innate Wealth. For example, we don’t view Xplan as a software solution that we can run our business through. Instead, we view it as software that produces financial advice documents, and we use it accordingly,” Shane says.
“We use technologies for what their core function is designed to do. Where possible, we also allow these technologies to plug into other applications, which provides us with a more holistic view across our client base.”
Other fintech Innate Wealth is currently exploring includes automation of advice document software, which Shane is particularly excited about, as it will help to streamline a time intensive process within the business, which will free up the team to spend more time with clients.
So, what’s his advice for other planning businesses choosing their own technology stack?
“My best advice is not to be afraid about trying out and using new technology,” Shane says. “Financial planners are conservative by nature and generally don’t want to be the first to try something new in case it fails. Instead, planners and advice businesses should break that cycle and try technology much earlier. The sooner you start, the faster you will learn about what works for you as a business.
“Remember, technology is an extension of what we do as financial planners, but with technology, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. So, unless you explore and experiment with technology within your own business on a frequent basis, you can be waiting a long time for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist.”
As an early adopter of technology, Innate Wealth is a strong advocate of the importance of fintech in the evolution of the financial planning profession.
“There’s no denying that fintech enables efficiencies. These efficiencies ultimately reduce the costs of providing advice, which makes advice more affordable for consumers. So, as a profession, we have to embrace fintech. As to how far businesses embrace technology, well, that’s a personal choice.
“We look at fintech purely from the standpoint of whether it makes us better as a business, such as through gains in efficiency, enhanced processes or improved client engagement. That’s our approach to adopting fintech at Innate Wealth. It’s all about finding the right tech tools that complement the human aspect of financial planning.”
For other advice businesses thinking about rolling out their own fintech solution, the FPA provides a range of resources at fpa.com.au/fintech. These include tools, checklists, fintech providers, and technology assessment templates.
While Shane acknowledges these resources are beneficial for advice businesses, what he believes is vitally important is for practitioners to simply talk to other planners about their own experiences using fintech, and particularly those businesses that have either trialled or use the technology you’re interested in.
“I know it’s commonsense, but you really do need to talk to other practitioners about their experiences with fintech. That’s because there is often a disconnect between what the software sold to you claims to do, compared to what it can actually do,” he says.
“So, ask other practitioners plenty of questions about their fintech, like how they have integrated it within their business, what their experience has been with it, what other tech it can plug into, and what the service support is like. These are the types of conversations that can be very helpful before committing to a brand of technology.
“Remember, when it comes to fintech, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, so you need to explore and experiment with technology until you find the right solution for your business. And while it might sound time-consuming and a little overwhelming, the end benefits to your business can be enormous.”