“Our business could not have existed five and certainly not 10 years ago,” reveals Brett Evans, the founder and group managing director of Australian advisory firm Atlas Wealth Management.
With its headquarters located on the country’s Gold Coast, about an hour’s drive away from Brisbane, the adviser credits the company’s 2011 launch and subsequent success on the emergence of disruptive technologies such as social media.
A seasoned expat, Evans spotted a gap in the market to solely target the Australian diaspora living overseas – a niche that is not yet covered by the country’s emerging IFAs, he says.
Dominated by corporate banks such as HSBC and Westpac, Australia’s advisory landscape has seen a shift toward independent financial advisers in recent years.
"The only way you can adapt and survive in the new environment is by using technology."
“Some of the larger financial planning organisations do not allow their advisers to work with expats due to the technicalities,” says Evans. “Using social media and our networks we are able to reach some pretty amazing locations: we’ve got clients working in goldmines in Laos to UN peace workers in Africa. In the past, we could never have achieved that.”
His father’s career as a pilot saw Australian-born Evans spend his formative years in the US and Hong Kong, before returning home in 1996 to start work as an analyst on the country’s stock exchange.
“I have always dealt with expats by virtue of my background. They seek my advice because, like the HM Revenue & Customs in the UK, the Australian government is always moving the goalposts. The advice I was giving was getting more and more complex, so I decided to set up my own business.”
Targeting expats “spread across the four corners of the world”, Atlas provides the bulk of its advice by email and Skype, with clients “speaking to us more often than they talk to their own neighbours”, says Evans.
A heavy presence on Facebook and LinkedIn means nearly half of the firm’s business now comes from social media, creating a client base that spans more than 18 countries worldwide. This is the firm’s greatest achievement, according to its founder.
Video tutorials feature prominently on Atlas’s website as a tool to educate clients. His firm also uses a LinkedIn group called the Australian Expat Financial Forum to post any upcoming changes to Australia’s complex tax rules.
Evans, who previously worked as an adviser for corporate heavyweight Citigroup Wealth Advisers, believes the Future of Financial Advice Act (Fofa), introduced by the Australian government in 2012, has pushed the industry to be innovative and adopt new forms of technology.
In addition to an RDR-style ban on commissions, the reforms require financial advisers to send clients a renewal notice to ‘opt-in’ every two years if they wish to receive ongoing advice as well as an annual fee disclosure statement detailing what a client has paid during the past 12 months.
“In the past, advisers in Australia managed this by using Excel spreadsheets to keep track of clients, but nowadays this is not a very robust way to do business.
“Fofa improved the credibility of the industry and the profession because every adviser now has to provide advice in a very structured and orderly way.
“The only way you can adapt and survive in the new environment is by using technology,” says Evans.
Referring to ‘fintech’ as the current buzzword, Evans says “it is alive and well in Australia”. Atlas in particular has been quick to adopt fintech, investing heavily in a cloud computing IT system to back up its AdviceOS client relationship management (CRM) software, powered by Midwinter.
The programme allows the firm to record and log all video chats with clients directly to the CRM, which Evans says makes it much easier to comply with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) stringent guidelines.
In addition, the firm uses Australian platform provider Hub24, describing the product as “next-generational”, providing all its clients with 24-hour real-time access to their investment portfolios.
Boasting $45m in assets under management, Atlas specialises in two areas of advice: superannuation arrangements and investment portfolios.
The superannuation scheme, known as ‘supers’, is Australia’s state-backed pensions arrangement whereby people invest in funds that will replace their income on retirement.
“Like the UK, we have quite a robust pensions scheme but a lot of the time when people go offshore they are more concerned about where they are going to live.