From fleeing her war-torn country to building two successful businesses, IPA member Natasha Janssens explains how she’s kept pace with financial services by embracing challenges head on.
Arriving in Australia as an 18-year-old refugee from Serbia following the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Natasha Janssens had to strike out on her own and make sense of a whole new environment.
At the time, she had little interest in the world of finance, choosing instead to study software development, before a stint in a family-owned retail business saw Ms Janssens handling some bookkeeping work, piquing her interest in the accounting world.
Fast forward to today and Ms Janssens operates as a qualified accountant, licensed financial planner, and mortgage broker under her own boutique firm in Canberra, Sova Financial.
Her journey was by no means a fluke, with Ms Janssens diving into different opportunities presented to her, starting as a tax accountant at Taubenschlag & Associates, then as a management accountant at the Australian Pharmacy group before a break as a senior consultant at the big four firm, KPMG.
“The beauty in all of that especially with working with smaller businesses, I got to work very closely with successful entrepreneurs and business people and learn directly from them,” Ms Janssens said.
“[I got to understand] what their thought processes were, how they managed their business, how they negotiated deals and all those sorts of things so it really gave me a lot of those skills that you wouldn’t really learn at university — all the practical aspects of navigating the world of having a business.”
In leaving KPMG, Ms Janssens sought to reconsolidate and take stock of her role in the industry, leading her to set up Sova Financial in 2013.
“It was a combination of things; my husband and I were planning on starting a family so I wanted to have a little bit more control of my work schedule but also I was looking for what my true passion was and what was the best way I could go about helping people,” explained Ms Janssens.
Her experience with clients getting lost between conversations with accountants, brokers, and advisers motivated her to unify those three services under one “holistic advice practice”.
“Through Sova Financial I maintained my accounting licence and also became a licensed financial planner and mortgage broker basically so I could help families navigate through the whole process and be able to liaise with one person instead of getting caught in the regulation trap,” said Ms Janssens.
“It’d be so much easier if I could have that conversation with them end-to-end and take everything into account.”
As she went about building her business from the ground up, Ms Janssens became pregnant with her first child, “as luck would have it”.
With baby boy Nicholas in tow and a budding business ahead of her, Ms Janssens’ entrepreneurial instinct picked up on yet another business opportunity.
“When my son was born I discovered Facebook groups where mothers were doing a lot of networking online and there was a Facebook group for pretty much every topic that you could think of but there was nothing really much in relation to finance,” said Ms Janssens.
“I saw that these mothers were turning to those Facebook groups and seeking financial advice and guidance, and so in consultation with them I said ‘why don’t we set up a group that’s dedicated purely to this topic?’
“So, I started out a move that at the time was called Mummy Matters since we were talking about money matters for mums and just through word of mouth within a few months, we grew to about 300 members including some from interstate.”
Her act proved to be such a hit that she decided to set up the business ‘Women with Cents’ in January 2016.
“[The Mummy Matters group meet-ups] were quite popular to the point where I was getting requests from women who were interstate, asking how they could access this and this included women who weren’t mums and that’s sort of how it evolved and how Women with Cents came to be,” she adds.
“I decided to start up a proper business and a proper brand for it and to take the workshops that I was doing and take them all online so we could reach as many women as possible and not be restricted by geography.”
Just under two years later, Women with Cents now has over 7,000 women subscribed, with her online delivery of podcasts and 12-week courses allowing her business to grow outside of Canberra.
An accounting focus
Despite juggling two hats as director of Sova Financial and founder of Women with Cents, Ms Janssens has kept her accounting feet firmly planted on ground and predicts her firm’s model will be emulated in time to come.
“I think it’s already moving that way to a larger extent, with all the recent changes in regulations about what accountants can or can’t advise on with regards to super, that has already moved a lot of accounting practices to get a financial planning licence,” said Ms Janssens.
“Looking at the industry as a whole, there are more and more businesses consolidating their services so they may not have one individual like myself who is licensed across all three professions but they are certainly starting to bring those services in house so that their clients aren’t being bounced around through different firms.”
With the accounting landscape undergoing significant changes, Ms Janssens says her time as a triple licensed professional has given her greater perspective on what accountants can better do to stay ahead of the curve.
“There is some very savvy and sophisticated software coming out even for small business but this is a challenge that not only accountants face, but even financial planners and mortgage brokers are facing as far as how can it add value apart from the data entry component of it because there is a lot of technology nowadays that can look after that,” said Ms Janssens.
“I found that when I switched from being an accountant to being a financial planner that the nature of my relationship with my clients changed.
“With my financial planning, we were having far more personal and intimate conversations around their goals and values and really digging further into their personal finances apart from what you would when you are just looking after their taxes,” she added.
“That’s the next step for accountants… building those relationships and being more involved and proactive with their clients throughout the year, because usually we see them at the very end of everything unless there’s something specific that they need advice on.
“I think developing those personal relationships more and helping guide them through the year and teaching them how they can be more strategic with the way that they manage their personal finances and their taxes, I think that would be where accountants can value-add.”
Looking to the future
Ms Janssens has big plans for Women with Cents, hoping to push it to become the national “go-to resource for women”.
“There is no clear standout for [women] as far as to where they would go to for all this information, not even with ASIC’s Money Smart or the ATO website,” said Ms Janssens.
“I want to build up Women with Cents so that it is the first place they think to go to for financial information whether that be tax-related issues or something else.”
To add to that, Ms Janssens hopes to roll out a matchmaking service that helps connect women to accountants and financial planners because of the “analysis paralysis” that many of her clients face once they have been given the necessary financial information.
“[Women] tell me there are so many accountants and financial planners out there that the decision is overwhelming so they won’t do anything,” she explains.
“I’d like to build up a database of like-minded businesses so that once a client has established a need and they recognise what it is that they are after, through that system they can choose an accountant, financial planner or mortgage broker that they like the sound of and they can contact them and get the ball rolling from there.”
On the flipside, Ms Janssens has no plans to expand Sova Financial, fearing that it might lose “that boutique and personalised touch about it”.
Ms Janssens knows exactly how important that personalised, community feel is, having been a member with the IPA since 2008, a move that has given her the impetus to grow.
“I love the community that we have here in Canberra because thinking with my financial planning and mortgage broking hats on, in those professions there really isn’t much of a community and a network through the associations that’s happening in Canberra, most of the events take place in the larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne,” said Ms Janssens.
“Whereas with the IPA we have a great little community in Canberra that catches up regularly, there are people I can bounce ideas off or ask questions if I’m unsure on a technical point.
“So that’s been very helpful in advancing my career but also to grow my practice.”