The decision to integrate advice into your service offering is a big decision. A decision that has paid off for the GNS Group Pty Ltd (GNS Group) of Melbourne, with a quarter of the firm’s annual revenue now coming from their advice service. GNS also have more ambitious and innovative plans for the future — which they plan to achieve with licensee support. Let’s look at their story.
GNS Group has been providing high quality accounting services to individuals and businesses in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs for more than 50 years. In 1994 the firm decided to take a new direction, by offering their existing accounting clients additional advisory services.
Since then, the firm has continued to broaden its advisory services to providing financial planning, business improvement and lending alongside its traditional accounting and tax services.
Today, financial advice accounts for around 25% of GNS Group’s annual revenue. But while integrating advice into their service offering has proved a highly successful move, it was a gradual process. The journey took time, careful preparation — and dedicated support.
The journey to integration: transparency and choice
Anthony Sinclair, GNS Group’s Partner, says “As accountants, we’re quite conservative by nature. We did not want our financial advice services to be associated with product or sales targets.”
A key factor in the decision making process was transparency and flexibility in the solutions they could provide to their clients.
“After talking to a range of licensees, we chose the one that allowed us to maintain our professional identity,” says Sinclair. “We were looking for a licensee who understood our business needs and was the best support and services to help us successfully integrate financial advice into the business.”
Referring, not marketing
While GNS Group were confident that they had chosen the right licensee, the integration process still took time. In the beginning, the accounting team were held back by the perception that they were marketing financial advice to their clients — and, as Anthony Sinclair points out, this is not part of an accountant’s core skill set.
“The realisation that accountants can’t market was our light bulb moment,” Sinclair explains.
GNS Group stopped trying to get their accountants to convince clients to seek financial advice. Instead, they focused on the fact that accountants want to help their clients — so when they saw that a client had a need they didn’t have the expertise to deal with, they could refer them on to a specialist who could help them.
However, Sinclair admits this took some trial and error to get right. Fortunately, they had licensee support them with training and helping the accounting team to get on board.
“One of the most useful tools provided was the case study templates, which we filled out with real examples from our own clients to explain the benefits of financial advice,” says Sinclair. “The accounting team could relate those examples to their own clients and see how advice could benefit them.”
Once referrals started happening and the accounting team saw their clients benefit from solutions like appropriate insurance, their confidence to look for referral opportunities grew.
Dealing with growth
In 2013, GNS experienced a spike in revenue and took on additional staff. This gave the firm extra capacity — so they decided to change some of their systems to make the company more efficient.
“While we didn’t go through a formal change management process, we did change some of our processes,” Sinclair says.
With the help of their Practice Development Manager, the firm put strategic new systems, processes and tools in place.
“This allowed us to gear up so we could accommodate extra clients,” Sinclair explains.
Not only did it save the firm the time and effort in developing from scratch, it also ensured they had high proven materials to draw on when needed.
While the Group is delighted with its success to date, they still have ambitious goals for the future.
“We’ve tended to offer our clients insurance when the need arises rather than prioritise it,” Sinclair says. “So in the next 12 to 18 months we’re going to focus on ensuring that our clients are protected — and we’ll be seeking licensee support to integrate this process.”
Sinclair says that GNS Group is also particularly interested in exploring how innovations in technology can improve financial advice — from offering robo-advice to people who need help but can’t afford a personalised plan, to simplifying Statements of Advice and insurance applications.
“Automation can free you up to do more value-added things that clients appreciate, and give clients quicker, more responsive turnaround times,” Sinclair explains. “I can only see it as a benefit to everyone.”
“Providing innovative technological solutions is something that, on our own, we couldn’t afford to do,” Sinclair says.
“Having the financial strength, resources and capacity of a licensee allows us to offer solutions in the future that we couldn’t get on our own.”
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