Advice From Abroad – Interview In the Australian Journal of Financial Planning

 

An expat, a father and lover of all things social, Brett Evans is not your average financial adviser. From an early age Evans knew finance was the right place for him and flourished in the uncertainty and challenge of each day.

“I love the industry because it’s dynamic, it’s different every day,” Evans says.

“When someone asks what’s ahead for the day, I’ll say ‘I’ll tell you at the end of the day’ because it’s so different, there’s truly nothing mundane about it. I would be almost a wallflower, or shriveled up, if I didn’t have the ability to have that dynamic environment.”

Obvious to all who have met him, Evans is a man that thrives on social interaction and knew that financial planning was the right career for him from his first client interaction.

“I love dealing with clients and I learnt that after getting about four years of experience in the industry,” Evans explains.

“Getting on the client facing side and hearing the stories are what took it to the next level again, amazing people, hearing about their life and then gradually gaining their trust – that for me was a massive part because they’re relying on you to give them advice.

“I was a bit nervous in the early days of my advice career because I knew clients were relying on me to give that advice. It was quite empowering to say well there’s a husband and wife sitting across from you and they’re coming to you to find out what they should do.”

Evans started Atlas Wealth Management (Atlas) five years ago as a financial advice firm that specialises in providing financial advice to Australian expats across the world and assist Australian expats receive financial advice from abroad. Through starting Atlas, Evans was able to follow a lifelong passion having grown up as an expat himself. The business was born out of a gap in the Australian financial advice market and took shape from a combination of feedback from expats and increasing focus on financial regulation from Australian and international governments.

“Over the years I was getting more and more questions from colleagues overseas and friends and family about what they should do in certain situations,” Evans says.

“In 2011 that’s when I decided righto we’re going to go an inch wide, mile deep and straight into it and specialise in expats only. We absorbed the area and took in as much as we could to try and deliver advice in a way that saw everyone learning, understanding and making the right decisions. Time and time again we keep seeing people make the wrong decisions for the right reasons…they’ve got good intentions but they go off and they execute incorrectly.

“In the past expats could sort of wing it when it came to financial advice but now just because you get on a plane and go overseas doesn’t mean you leave behind your obligations.”

Approach to advice

The niche nature of Evans’ practice means that his delivery of financial advice has been tailored to understand and nurture his target market. For Evans it is truly important for his clients to have the connection between moving and working overseas but also having something quantifiable there too.

“Our target market is different to domestic clients, incredibly different,” Evans says.

“They don’t need help to save up for the first house or help to pay off the credit card, it’s a matter of managing their wealth and maximising their opportunity overseas. The biggest thing we like
to say to clients is that we want you to come back to Australia with something to show for it, as opposed to just stories, photos and having a great time.”

“It is very important to us that they have something they can put their hand on and say my time overseas was great, it was good for my career, my family, great from a cultural experience and
I’ve also got this money saved up and can improve my financial wellbeing from here.

Working with expats means Evans and his advisers must work through a two-dimensional advice process, taking into account Australian legislation, Australian tax law and Australian issues as well as those in each client domicile.

“We need to be cognisant of what’s going on there to give the most appropriate advice,” Evans says.

Clients in multiple time zones is another challenge Evans faces on a daily basis, but the adviser notes he and his team make it a priority to ensure clients wake up to a response. If a client emails overnight his team will be sure to respond in the morning, allowing the client to respond in the afternoon. Improvements in technology have been extremely helpful in overcoming time zones.

Between 30 to 40% of Atlas’ clients are in Asia, with the vast majority currently residing in China. Evans believes the combination of the China free trade agreement and the country’s dynamic growth have made it a natural place for Australian expats to move to.

“We initially had a serviced office in Shanghai but we closed it down and now we work out of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, which we have found to be our strongest connection. That’s because they’re trying to provide value to their membership and we’re trying to provide education – there’s no sales, these are just workshops and seminars for expats to expand their knowledge.”

For Evans the reality of having a digital connection with clients has become more important than having a physical office to meet at, the inherent nature of his clients means that on any day they could be in a new country.

“We’ve found not having a physical presence in China but having a digital presence there is more important,” Evans says.

“When it comes to working with expats the other thing to note is that they’re incredibly mobile. They’re often travelling for work, so a lot of the time I want to catch up with a client from Shanghai but we catch up in Singapore because he’s in Singapore for work.

“I think I’ve always joked that the world is my office, I’m not pinning anything down.”

Embracing technology

While some firms focused on domestic clients are only just introducing digital platforms and signatures, technology plays a vital role in the Atlas client experience and helping them receive financial advice from abroad.

“To us the use of technology is a matter of making the process as easy as possible. We shouldn’t kid ourselves it’s a very dry subject, it’s a very boring subject,” Evans says.

“We’ve got to use technology in a way that makes the whole process more palatable and digestible, I will never say fun, because finance isn’t fun, but it’s something that helps them get through that process. Once we get clients on the other side and they’ve gone through the process they’re like wow I’ve just freed up so much mental space because I’m not worrying about all these issues now. It’s all set up.”

Improvements in and the acceptance of technology have made the process of providing financial advice to expats not only more efficient but also less taxing on the client’s involved, especially those in opposite time zones.

“The idea of printing off a PDF, signing it and sending it back sounds like a very simple process but the client is in NY they’ll think ‘oh yeah I’ll do it this weekend, I’ll do it next weekend,’” Evans says.

“To overcome this we had to embrace digital documents and digital signatures, to make the process as easy as possible. Now when we get clients to complete documents they can click on a link, they fill it in online and do a digital signature, so it increases the speed of turnaround but also there’s no anguish with clients. They no longer have to convert family time on weekends to convert
financial documents.”

Technology has allowed Evans to work quickly and efficiently with any of his clients around the world and help break down geographical challenges.

“The speed that you can work at now is just so much quicker with any sort of digital device,” Evans says. We can do anything towards six to eight Skype meetings a day in six different countries, now that is amazing. You’ll have a call first thing in the morning with New York, a call mid-morning with Shanghai, afternoon Dubai and just roll through the day.

“That type of efficiency would not have been possible without the technology that enables us to do it, whether it’s a call, an email or a text message, it makes life so much easier.

“One of our clients in Shanghai said the other day she speaks to me more than she speaks to her neighbour and she’s in Shanghai and I’m in Australia – that to me says that we’re doing the right thing. We’re giving excellent advice; we’re breaking down the geographic distances and enabling them to have that one on one interaction wherever they’re located.”

Social media

While some advice firms are just posting their first tweet or creating a company LinkedIn page, Atlas is a leader in industry best practice, embracing the full force of social media to increase client engagement and ease of access.

“Social media is everything. If you wanted to get access to someone in Sydney, you take out an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald; you can’t do that with expats,” Evans says.

“If you want to be able to assist Australian expats receive financial advice from abroad the one common thing all expats have is social media – so whether they’re on twitter, Facebook or Instagram – we’re connected with a lot of people in a lot of different countries.”

Talking to the proposed changes to superannuation put forward by the government in the 2016 federal budget, Evans and his team were able to share and send updates to all clients within 45 minutes of the initial announcements.

In the past expats could sort of wing it when it came to financial advice but now just because you get on a plane and go overseas doesn’t mean you leave behind your obligations.

“There’s no other way that you could get that information out there to such a broad range of people than by social media,” Evans says.

He and his team have recently upped their YouTube game, using the Atlas YouTube channel to host an educational series to discuss issues such as where you accumulate wealth as an expat, where you manage super as an expat and how to manage your super in a market like the US.

“We’re not going out there trying to get every single expat as a client but we’re going out there and educating as many people as we can,” Evans says.

“Some people will come to us naturally because they recognise our skills and need our services, but if we can get the message out there then we’ve done our job and social media is the only way.”

Atlas has gained 49% of its clients from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

“We’re never surprised now. Atlas could not have existed 10 years ago because social media wasn’t there at the scale it is now and also the adoption wasn’t there by the expats,” he says.

“Now we can have these conversations at scale and virtually broadcast that to the world. As long as you’ve got internet and a social media account we can get in front of you and inform you with say the change of tax laws in respect to holding investment properties. That’s where we see 70% of what we’re doing as educating and 30% as execution.

“Social media is everything to us.”

A family affair

Evans is dedicated to his clients and understands working Monday to Friday, nine to five doesn’t really work with his client base. However Evans is also a man who is dedicated to his family and ensures his schedule doesn’t impede on the quality time he spends with his wife and two daughters.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say it but when you have a client base which is global, you don’t have set time frames,” Evans says.

“As the business grows and as we improve our functionality I’m hoping to bring back more of my weekends but right now clients love the fact that they can email me on a Saturday morning and they can get a response pretty quickly.

“At the moment, selfishly or not, I’ve put everything on hold and am demarcated by time where I’m always home by 6pm and I will spend those two to three hours with my wife and my children and then I will jump back on the computer again.

“I want my two daughters to be a big part of the Atlas journey. I want them to look back as teenagers and say ‘oh I remember when dad started that business.’ Family is the important part. I want my kids to be as invested as I am in what I am trying to do. I don’t want them to resent it.”

With a father as a pilot and as a former expat, Evans is a lover of travel and hopes his daughters will be able to have the same experiences.

“I want my kids to see the world, my wife is a former expat too and at last count we’ve been to about 25 countries,” Evans says.

“When I went to school in Hong Kong I had 20 nationalities in the class, as a result I came out of school with an incredibly well rounded view on the world. You’re sympathetic to a lot of different cultures and a lot of different thought processes and I want my kids to have that.

“I don’t want them to be myopic I don’t want them to be very one sided when it comes to how they view things I want them to look at things from different angels and have a true understanding of the world.”

This article originally appeared in a interview with Financial Standard.

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