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Meet the 2016 Rising Star finalists

September 2016

Heather Jacobs spoke to this year’s finalists about how they got their start in the industry and what motivates them.

Greg Bloom - Yellow Brick Road Bondi

A chartered accountant in his native South Africa, Greg Bloom was working as an auditor at Grant Thornton in Johannesburg when he left to go travelling. During these adventures, he not only climbed to the peak of Kilimanjaro and to the Everest base camp, he also met his future wife who happened to be Australian, prompting him to relocate here in November 2011.

Joining Yellow Brick Road (YBR) as a revenue analyst he worked in the head office, reporting directly to the CFO. In 2013 he gained an advanced diploma in financial planning at Kaplan, followed by a certificate in mortgage broking, and decided to become a financial planner.

Bloom teamed up with two former colleagues at YBR Bondi:  Daniel Carini, the former head of sales and distribution at YBR and Zoi Mina, who’d been the senior lending manager. After a trial period to make sure it was the right fit, he became an owner and director of the practice in July 2014.  

The lifestyle suits him. With the office a short commute from home, he gets to spend more time with his wife and young twins. Bloom also enjoys the camaraderie he shares with his business partners and the resources and technical expertise that comes with being part of a network.

Providing holistic advice to his clients, he’s working towards specialising in risk, investments and mortgage origination. His client base tends to be professionals aged 25-45 going through significant life changes.

“They could be getting engaged or married, having kids, buying their first home or getting divorced,” says Bloom. “In those life stages people are really receptive to getting advice because they realise they can’t just sit under a rock forever, they need to make big decisions or put their affairs in order.”

As a Rising Star finalist, he’s looking forward to being an ambassador for the industry.

“There’s a perception that you’ve got to be rich to get advice and as we all know, that’s not the case,” he says. “They’ve done studies saying people who use a financial adviser are wealthier than people that don’t. That means one of two things, either only rich people use advisers or advisers can help people maximise the opportunity to grow their wealth – and I believe the second.”

Maritza Kriel - MK Wealth Solutions

Maritza Kriel is a firm believer that financial advisers should be degree qualified, as well as have a minimum number of years’ experience in order to help raise the perception of the industry in the eyes of the general public. Since starting her own business – the Brisbane-based MK Wealth Solutions – she’s built a steady client base of people aged 35-55, mainly families with young children and professionals.

Her academic and professional background is impeccable. After graduating with a master’s degree in economics and a postgraduate diploma in financial planning in her native South Africa, Kriel spent two years as a private banker and investment support specialist at Absa Private Bank. She then joined Sasfin Securities, one of the country’s leading wealth management and stockbroking businesses as an investment adviser/stockbroker.

In 2008, she relocated to Perth and continued to work as a stockbroker until she had her first child in 2010, followed by two more in 2012. The family moved to Brisbane and on returning to work in 2014 she became a financial planner at Private Wealth Group where she worked for a year before deciding to start her own business, which she loves.

 “I like that it’s completely personalised, so clients always have access to me and I know the ins and outs of everything happening,” she says. “Flexibility is also important. I have young children, so it gives me the freedom to do the school pickups in the afternoon and attend my mother’s day function at school.”

Her husband, Martin, is joining her business soon. Currently the CFO at an engineering firm, he’ll be expanding the offering with business coaching and outsourced CFO services. 

Kriel hopes her position as a finalist will help raise awareness of the financial services industry. Her approach is to explain complex financial strategies in a way that’s easy to understand so her clients can take control of their financial situation.

“Having a financial planner gives you that peace of mind, knowing you have a professional taking care of your finances,” she says. “In the longer-term, I believe it will save you money; giving you a better return on your money and provide you with better protection in terms of your insurance cover.”

Erin Truscott – GCA Financial

Seeing clients go from a lack-of-control over their finances to total control is one of the many things Erin Truscott loves about being a financial planner. “Through education and regular tracking, real change can be made in only a matter of months,” she says.

Truscott became a 15 per cent shareholder in the Brisbane based GCA Financial in January this year, making her one of four owners. She’s been with the business for eight years all up, having previously worked as a practice development manager with Financial Wisdom, for which GCA is an authorised representative.

Truscott has done an advanced diploma in financial planning and is working towards her master’s. When the existing partners asked her to join them for a year’s honeymoon period before making the partnership official, she didn’t hesitate.  

GCA has been in business 43 years and her goal is to expand the number of millennials on its books, starting with the adult children of their existing clients who are now becoming clients themselves.

“We talk about financial freedom within our practice and that’s the idea of working because you want to, not because you have to,” she says. “And that’s a really exciting thing for anyone to hear. It doesn’t really matter what age you get to that point, it’s just getting you there as quickly as possible, so you have the choice to do what you want and financially you’re OK.”

Truscott is also the Queensland state chair for the Association of Financial Advisers’ Inspire Community, which is focused on encouraging female advisers to step up through networking and education.

“We have a lot of value to add as females and as advisers,” she says. “We bring something completely different to the men and it’s really nice to gel that together. It’s about getting females involved in what traditionally has been a male dominated industry and giving them the skills, confidence and support to want to step up.”

Truscott was nominated by Fraser Jack of myonlineadvisers. “She is a superstar, full of energy, passionately committed to advice and how it benefits consumers,” says Jack.

Peter Hodgson – ANZ Financial Planning

Peter Hodgson’s decision to become a financial planner started with his own quest to become financially literate and ensure his family was comfortable. 

“I come from a family of tradespeople who aren’t particularly financially literate,” he says. “If you work in an industry that helps other people, you can also help yourself. That continuing quest I’m on to become financially literate is helping me gain skills that will help me and my family become financially stable.”

Hodgson has worked at ANZ in Brisbane as a financial planner associate since 2013. After graduating from university in Townsville he moved to Brisbane and worked in IT sales before deciding to become a financial planner. He liked that ANZ offered him the chance to be mentored by a senior financial planner while he learnt his craft.

Hodgson is currently studying for a master’s of financial planning at Griffith University and makes the education of his clients – and the broader community – about basic financial concepts key to his approach. 

“That’s probably the single greatest part of becoming a planner – being able to transfer that knowledge to help raise financial literacy levels in the broader community.”

He’s contributed in many ways, including the creation of a free event at the University of Queensland called “The Beginner’s Guide to Wealth”, with presentations by personal financial experts Noel Whittaker and Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon for MoneySmart Week. He’s also a presenter for the Wealth Academy, which creates videos and other content for school children on financial literacy.

The first ANZ planner to make the final round of the Rising Star Awards, Hodgson was nominated by colleague Mark Powell.

“Peter is a superb ambassador of the financial planning industry,” says Powell. “There’s a lot of discussion around lifting education requirements and enforcing higher standards of care in the financial planning industry, to ultimately create a profession the wider public respects and trusts. If the industry were made up of planners like Peter, we would have achieved this goal.”

Making it to the top six of the Rising Star awards has been rewarding for Hodgson, who hopes to inspire new and upcoming planners.

He says: “I’d love to show them that if they believe in themselves, are willing to invest in education and do what is right by their customers, business and community, then anything is possible. Even going from no experience in the finance industry to a Rising Star finalist in three years.”

Brent Story – Cornerstone Advice 

Brent Story decided he wanted to become a financial planner when he was working in business development at his family’s firm, Story Fresh, a vegetable farming and processing operation in Toowoomba.

He’d returned to the farm – which has been in his family for three generations – after studying for a bachelor of business at the University of Southern Queensland.

“My role involved a combination of growing lettuce on the farm with some financial management of the business,” he says. “I really enjoyed the financial side, which made me think I needed to get into the industry. As a farmer, there’s not a lot of people to talk to or engage with on a regular basis and that was something I wanted in my life on a day-to-day basis.”

He moved to Brisbane to join NAB’s wealth consulting program and then spent a year at the Private Wealth Group before deciding to go into business. He teamed up with Tony Evans to become equal partners in Cornerstone Advice, which opened its doors in October 2015. One year on, they’ve exceeded their budget forecasts and successfully bedded down a client base they’d purchased from another firm.

Story primarily works with pre-retirees aged 45-plus, helping them establish a long-term plan to achieve financial security and independence.

Becoming a finalist in the Rising Star Awards is recognition of all the hard work that went into getting to this point, including juggling a young family with his studies in financial planning.

“I started my final studies in the same month that our second child was born,” he says. “There was a conversation between me and my wife on whether we actually do this in one go and she was really supportive and she’s helped me to be able to put the time towards study.

“It’s those investments you make in yourself and your future and it feels like it’s been worthwhile. I consider myself a professional that’s part of the new wave of advisers who will re-shape public perception regarding the role and trustworthiness of financial planners.”

Cathryn Gross – Twelve Wealth

After a successful career in institutional banking, Cathryn Gross became an executive coach and then undertook her diploma in financial planning. Her professional background has given her a unique business offering for her start-up, Twelve Wealth, where she works with clients to maximise both their financial and human capital.

Gross launched the business in November 2015. Part of the Wealth Network, it specialises in women aged 35 to 55 who are time poor and prepared to pay a fee to bring order to their financial lives. She currently has 15 clients.

“Mine is a high touch business, with formal quarterly client meetings,” she says. “This helps build trust, and makes me a sounding board for more of life’s big decisions. I’m passionate about empowering women to reclaim control of their financial lives.”

After graduating with a bachelor of economics and a bachelor of science at the Australian National University in Canberra, Gross took on an institutional banking cadetship at the Commonwealth Bank, where she worked for the next four years. She also spent nine years at UBS. 

 “Once I started having children I remember thinking, I just can’t do this anymore,” she says. “I can’t just sell product to big institutions, I need to be helping people.”

Gross returned to UBS once her first child was five months old – she now has three children – and started a yearlong women’s leadership program through Executive Central. She ended up joining the executive coaching firm as a senior consultant, building the profile of Women Central, which offers leadership and career development programs for women.

Realising she was missing the financial markets, she combined her skills and became a financial adviser. Starting her own business offered a flexible schedule so she could spend more time with her young children.

For Gross, becoming a finalist in the Rising Star Awards has helped create a platform to show women that it’s OK to take a risk and set some goals and start your own business. As well as being a regular contributor to the women’s financial literacy site Financy, she’s created an online goal setting tool (www.readysetgoals.com.au) and has partnered with Executive Central to develop a leadership program for women called Women Thriving.

“I feel blessed to get here,” she says of her finalist nomination. “I never thought 12 months ago when I started my business that I would be here. No way.”