Keeping it personal
FMS Group’s owner, Christine Hornery, explains how being unafraid to be true to her personality and values cemented her practice’s position in the industry.
Starting a business now isn’t what it used to be, something Christine Hornery knows all too well.
For one, the marketing tools on offer ten or even five years ago barely compare to the vast resources available to a budding start-up today.
Ms Hornery recounts the humble beginnings of her financial advisory FMS Group which she slowly but steadily built, one client at a time.
“It was really challenging as it meant I had to go out and find people and show them I could make a difference in their life while educating myself on how to run a business. I had to swallow my pride, get on the phone and knock on doors,” she recalls.
Going door-to-door, Ms Hornery managed to convince Tuggerah locals to come on board as clients, a decision they have stuck with over the years.
“The majority of the people that I saw within the first six to twelve months are still with me today as we were able to make a difference in their lives, both financially and strategically.”
A man’s world?
Ms Hornery has no regrets about her decision to go it alone in financial services, although she sympathises with prospective business owners who are put off by some industry stereotypes.
“I believe the challenge is that it’s perceived as being a male-dominated industry and I guess the perception out there is that perhaps it is a little tainted and it’s sometimes not seen as a professional career when in fact it is,” she says.
While Ms Hornery is a big supporter of the industry today, her first impressions of the space were far from than encouraging.
“When I first decided to become a licensee and went in for the interview, the very first question they asked me was if I had checked with my husband whether this was an appropriate career path,” she recalls dryly.
“I said to them that I did not need to check with my husband and that’s how it all got started.”
Ms Hornery is happy to note that this was an isolated incident and, judging from the business she has built, it was likely the first and last time her judgement has been questioned.
“I haven’t felt disadvantaged at all. I’ve had great support, other than that first question in my first interview.”
Ms Hornery is a passionate advocate of women in financial services, saying there are infinite opportunities for women in the industry.
“I think we [women] ourselves are our own barrier because I think this particular profession is probably more adaptable for women to have their own business because of the flexibility that comes with it. You can see clients on a weekend and study online, so you can work around other commitments you might have.”
Putting clients first
Just as those early clients Ms Hornery met on doorsteps were pivotal to the origins of FMS Group, clients remain at the forefront of the business today.
“From the very first meeting you’ve got to make the client feel important, and I say to them that without them I don’t have a business,” she says.
One of the drivers of Ms Hornery’s success is her ability to engage with customers whom she regards as members of her own family.
“My focus is on the client experience because if they don’t have the same values as you and your team, then it’s likely that the relationship is not going to be as long as you’d want it to be in order to assist them achieve their goals,” she says.
“I can’t help mothering my clients a little bit, although I do try to be the objective third person, and discuss the opportunities and obstacles they face,” she laughs.
Ms Hornery is a firm believer of immersing herself in her clients’ finances as well as their wider personal goals.
“I love being able to sit in front of a client and say we’ve achieved their goals, or start planning someone’s holiday,” she says.
“Every day, I get up and love what I do. For me, there is no retirement on the horizon.”
Just as satisfied clients are central to the business, so is the task of assembling the right team to ensure the business continues to deliver value.
Over the last decade and a half, the business and its staff – now numbering more than 10 – have gone through a number of transformations. One thing that has remained consistent is Ms Hornery’s management strategy of leading by example.
“I don’t ask any of my staff to do anything that I haven’t done. My expectation is that I can pull up my sleeves and do their work as well,” she says.
It was as a result of this hands-on approach that no doubt helped the business recognise the need to bring accountants on board.
“When I saw there were inadequacies, I canvassed our clients and they said that accounting services were something they wanted. We started offering that service three years ago and I’m happy to say our accountants are very proactive. With them [on board], the clients now realise they have a whole team working for them,” Ms Hornery says.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Ms Hornery is already eyeing further additions to the team.
“My next step after that will be to bring a legal team in-house to be able to ensure clients can walk out of here with a good estate plan structure.”
Once the right team is in place, Ms Hornery says it’s important to keep nurturing their talent.
At FMS Group, all staff are expected to complete further study while working.
“I invest dearly in their education. I encourage everyone who works here to undergo some form of personal development along an education pathway,” Ms Hornery says.
“It’s something I’ve had in the business for a long time… that no one leaves here without some kind of qualification.”
Accountants are no exemption. Ms Hornery believes accountants should look at what the industry needs and work more closely with financial planners.
“I think there’s an opportunity for accountants to embrace recent changes, relook at their education pathways and become multidisciplinary. I just had our accountant do the diploma and she couldn’t believe what we have to do. It’s opened up a whole new approach for how she looks at things now and she’s now starting her advanced diploma.”
“There’s always that us versus them mentality, but I think we need to work together,” she adds.
Ms Hornery says she is surprised by the general lack of financial knowledge in Australia and she has plans to change this.
“My next project is around financial literacy, and as part of that we’ll be converting an area into a wealth emporium where groups can come in, particularly from high schools, and we can provide them with the financial guidance skills they need.”
The importance of giving back
Ms Hornery is also looking at ways to improve the industry to provide better results for clients.
“I’m within the licensee part of the NSW state charter. Sitting on that group, my role is to represent all members but also, in particular, it is to identify the challenges some women face in this business, and how we can improve those relationships,” she explains.
“I attend the AFA leadership forum each year which provides good business insights which I then can impart on to those I mentor, within and outside of the licensee.”
Keen to pass on her knowledge and expertise, Ms Hornery makes herself readily available to those making their way in the industry.
“Just the other day, I spoke on the phone to one girl for half an hour. She had some things that she needed to talk through that she needed to get some clarity on, and I was able to help as I drove down the expressway,” she says.
“Often I think some people just need to know that they aren’t the only person paddling up the stream.”
Ms Hornery did not have the benefit of professional mentors in her early career and instead turned to other role models.
“There were no mentoring programs when I started and even the programs we have now are centralised to the capital cities and we don’t have mentoring groups within regional areas,” she recalls.
“There was a strong dynasty of women in our family who were both independent and caring about their families and their community. They had a very harmonious approach.”
That idea of community is something she continues to value and help build today.
“I’ve always given back to the community. We’ve been supporting the Cancer Council pro bono since it came in. We’ve also kept a homeless lunch running on Sunday at one of the local Central Coast churches,” Ms Hornery says.
Ms Hornery’s sense of community and her connection with her clients is so strong that they sometimes involve her in their personal lives at the most crucial times.
“One of our clients got the all clear for cancer in November last year and he was so excited to come in and see us. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated more recently and when he passed away just a few weeks ago, within 15 minutes of his passing, his wife had already called us,” she says.
Ms Hornery says this close, personal relationship she has with her clients is not out of the ordinary.
“We get mentioned in eulogies and funerals quite a bit. That’s the relationship we have with our clients. We understand their world and what it feels like when something happens in their lives.”
“Ultimately what we do is about more than just money and I think it’s crucial we remember to put our clients first.”