“No short cuts on path to own firm”
When Joe Virgona was interviewed for his first financial planner job, at Westpac, he was careful about how he laid out his future ambitions.
Virgona had wanted to run his own show since he was a kid, but he wasn’t going to tell his potential employers that he had grand entrepreneurial plans.
“I don’t think they asked my future plans directly, but I think I would have just skirted around it somehow,” Virgona says. “For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to be financially free and run my own business.
“When you’re financially free, you have so many more options in life.”
So why the job with one of the big four?
“The training is great,” Virgona notes. “I know that the banks are copping it at the moment with the royal commission, but I honestly think they teach you so much about clients and processes.
“I would always encourage anyone to start out with a big bank.”
Virgona also thinks banks have a real opportunity at the moment to change tack on how they structure their planning divisions.
“There is a huge opportunity for them to get it right and it’s a great time for them to step away from selling products, but it’s 50-50 in my opinion as to whether that will happen,” he says.
Virgona cut his teeth at Westpac for three years before joining an accountancy firm in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton that referred clients to him.
“I knew I wanted to run my own business and I told them that, but I also knew joining an existing small business was a great way to learn,” he says. “I learned all about the importance of cash flow and making sure you can keep opening the doors each day.”
After two years, Virgona founded his planning firm, Your Money Manager, with two mortgage brokers he knew and trusted, who also had pre-existing clients they could bring to the table.
“The referral model has worked really well for me, in that it has ensured that we had clients from day one,” he says. “I knew I had the skills, but if I had just opened up shop with no clients, I am not sure I would have lasted quite so long.”
Even in the early days, Virgona refused to take commissions on insurance products, even though it was standard practice.
“I am sure everyone thought I was mad,” he says. “The decision certainly stopped the growth of my business a little in the early days, but I was determined to be able to sit in front of a client and give them unbiased advice.
“And it’s paid off now anyway, because I can now ask for a decent fee for my service and there are no conflicts of interest.”
Your Money Manager has changed with the times, too, with an increasing focus on holistic money advice.
“It’s not just about providing clients with investment advice, but actually helping them deal with the stresses they face with money every day,” Virgona says. “A lot of people face some kind of financial stress and some people spend as much as they earn, so it’s about teaching people how to manage their money.
“I had one tradie who was $8000 in debt and within six months had $40,000 in savings, so those kinds of turnarounds are possible.”
Professional Planner magazine, April 9 2018, By Joanna Roberts.