January 17, 2023

#370 Cara Graham – Transcript

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Ben Nash
Hey guys, Ben Nash from the XY advisor team. And today I’m here with Cara Graham. Cara is principal wealth advisor at the wealth designers over in the great state of WA. Cara, great to have you here.

Cara Graham
Thanks for having me, Ben, it’s excellent to be here.

Ben Nash
And particularly good for you to have you here, given that you’re on mat leave. Although, you know, as, as I sometimes hear from my wife, perhaps that’s a bit of an excuse to get out of the baby talk, as well. But yeah, appreciate it. Appreciate you taking the time as you’re balancing all of those plates. And no doubt, we’ll end up chatting a little bit more about that. But I thought maybe a good place to start is if you could talk us through, like your your journey and advice and how you’ve ended up where you are today.

Cara Graham
Yeah, sure, sure. So I entered advice land back in 2006. So I had finished school, I was a fresh 17 year old had no idea what I wanted to do, and ended up getting a job rather than going to uni, I thought maybe I’ll figure it out first, and then head to uni. So ended up getting a job for a pretty prestigious firm, which I didn’t really even realize at the time, because I was you know, 17 year old, you don’t really know a lot at that stage. But it ended up being such a good opportunity for me, I stayed there for five years, they paid for part of my uni degree, I sort of moved up to the ranks, sort of so to speak, you know, went from being the the office Junior through to the business unit manager at one stage like the administration manager, and then and then on to becoming an associate advisor. So it was a pretty good five years. But towards the end of that the organization got bought out by one of the major banks in Australia. And they just changed a lot the culture changed. The sort of management decisions got centralized over to the East Coast. And I really just decided it wasn’t the kind of place that I wanted to work out anymore. What where I wanted to work, I wanted to work somewhere where the owner and the decision maker could look me in the eye and tell me about the decisions they made. Rather than you know, getting almost like an anonymous email saying we’re making this change. We’re taking away this support resources that trumps so I went on the lookout to find a new business to work for and I came across the wealth designers. So that was over 11 years ago now was back in 2011. And I met Troy McMillan. He said they’re sort of owner and primary owner and founder of the business. And, and really, I’ve never looked back, you know, we’ve had some ups and downs along the way, I think, as everybody does over the course of 11 years. But, you know, for every sort of challenge we face. So I always sort of thought, you know, I don’t actually want to work anywhere else, you know, for all of the bad stuff. There’s there’s way more good stuff within our business. So 11 years later. Yeah,

Ben Nash
I guess. And yeah, I feel like you got a little little fortunate, I wouldn’t say lucky but a little bit fortunate in that because I know Troy runs a solid outfit. And it’s great to watch the wealth designers just crushing it over there as well. I had Troy on the podcast a while back, I mentioned to him that the wealth designers is one of the businesses that I had sort of looked up to when I was starting my own business seven years ago. And it’s it’s so good to see you guys going from strength to strength and just dominating over their career. One of the things that we were just chatting about offline and talking about business ownership, and I know that you’ve gone through a bit of a journey around that as well. Can you just talk us through that?

Cara Graham
Yeah, absolutely. So you know, I guess when I was a young advisor, let’s let’s call it going through uni and things like that one of my aspirations, probably my biggest goal is I wanted to be a business owner. That was really what I wanted to strive for, or what I felt like I should strive for, in a sense. And I achieved that goal a few years ago. So I was when I was still under 30. I was sort of we made it sort of felt like it was a pretty big deal. I was under 30 and a business owner. So that was pretty cool. And I bought into the business and the last few years have been pretty challenging. For me personally, I’ve had some some family challenges. I’ve had a family member passed away, I’ve had my parents getting a bit more elderly, I’ve got a sick brother, as well. And, and I’ve also had two kids at a time. So it’s been pretty full on and I guess what I’ve realized in that time, that being a business owner actually, isn’t that important to me. You know, I think on reflection and after everything I’ve learned over the last few years that you know, maybe I almost thought it should be important. I thought maybe that was the pinnacle of of being an advice land. But really, what I’ve learned is that I want to be senior member of the team, I want to be able to contribute to decisions. But I don’t actually want all of that added stress of being a business owner, you know, I’d rather you know, be able to focus on my clients do a really excellent job looking after them, and then be able to come home and focus on my family, you know, that my immediate family and my, you know, my parents and my siblings?

Ben Nash
Yeah, it’s interesting, I think that a lot of people, and it’s pretty common in advice that that’s the thing that people work towards is you feel like it’s sort of the progression as you get more senior in a team. But like, we, we’ve been recruiting advisors over the last couple of years and chatting to people. And I think there’s a lot of people that say that that’s their ultimate goal, but don’t really realize the things that that come with that the extra, the extra is sort of responsibilities, the risks, the the stresses, and all of those sorts of things. And like, I love sort of running my business and the challenge that comes with that, but there are days where I wish I just had to turn up to work and do my thing, as well. And I think it’s, it’s an interesting lesson for people and particularly, I think, like, depends on the business and what the dynamics of that is. But perhaps in a smaller business, if you’re the one that you taking on all that responsibility, yourself anyway, then it might make more sense. But when you’re in a, like a business that’s on a strong growth path, where there’s so much stuff going on, that that maybe, you know, being being senior in a team, it’s going to be fulfilling, and you still have the same control, but you don’t have the those extra responsibilities and the extra the extra pressures and stress as well.

Cara Graham
Yeah, no, absolutely, I think, you know, I really look up to everybody that does run a business, because I can appreciate how difficult it is, you know, it’s so incredibly challenging. And let’s face it, financial advice, land is bloody hard, you know, everything, it feels like, everything is changing, it feels like we’re getting stuff thrown at us from all angles in terms of the challenges, and it’s probably never gonna go away, you know, I was chatting with one of our team the other day, and we were sort of talking about how, you know, every year at the world’s designers, there’s some kind of change project, and we’re always going, we just need to get through this. And then, and we just need to get through this. And then and, you know, then as soon as we finish it, we’ve got another change project. So, you know, it’s not going to get any easier. And you know, that’s probably just been a change in perspective. For me, you know, I want to be part of the solution, but maybe I just don’t necessarily want the weight on my shoulders all the time.

Ben Nash
Yeah, I think change definitely seems like the constant ever since like the faux fur changes and everything. Thankfully, it seems like they’ve been ratcheting up the you know, the compliance and admin and I think it really has had quite a positive impact on advice and advice, consumers, thankfully, with what we’re seeing at the moment, that that has some potential that it may come back the other way. But given that the landscape is changing, the technology is changing, the markets are changing, people are changing, consumers are changing, it means that there’s always something else to that you need to be changing if you want to be keeping up and yeah, there is there’s there’s a lot a lot there. And particularly in multi advisor businesses, it’s like you got that extra dimension of being able to create a an approach that’s going to cater for different personalities, different thinking profiles, like all of those sorts of things. So means that there’s a network whenever short of something to look at, as well. And I think in a lot of cases, you can get the same sort of empowerment, the same control, but not not have to necessarily be the driver. And, you know, I find it challenging enough for me and like I’ve got a couple of young kids, but my wife does a lot of the heavy lifting there. And I’m fortunate to be in that position where she can do that. I think if you balancing those things out as well, like, it’s just an extra dimension to that challenge as well. Definitely. Cara, what, for you what’s been the most challenging part of your advice journey?

Cara Graham
I, I think there’s probably two parts to this, and maybe I’ve just alluded to it before is, is change that, you know, I think we’ve got a bit of a continuous change culture within our business constant, never ending improvement. And we’re always evolving a little bit, you know, a little bit along the way, sort of been a little bit of change every day, in a sense, but some of the large scale changes that we’ve had have been been so challenging. And then you know, ultimately as you’re implementing them as well, you you learn things along the way which only would have impacted the decision that you make from there too. So then you kind of piling change on change which is quite hard. And then the other sort of part that I think is also been really challenging is just having the right people around me. So, you know, we’ve had a lot of success in terms of recruitment. But, you know, probably, you know, I think it’s fair to say, we’ve probably also had a couple of failures, you know, fair few failures, in a sense in there as well, you know, just having the, you know, the wrong people join our organization, which maybe, you know, maybe they’re not a cultural fit, maybe they’re, you know, don’t have the sort of same, you know, principles and things. And, you know, we’ve had to make some hard calls along the way, as well to sort of exit people from business or have people depart. You know, sometimes you look back and you go, Well, you know, it’s always hard to lose somebody, but maybe, maybe that is the right thing for us at this time. So I feel like, like most businesses would probably it felt like, we’re always recruiting. And partly, that’s because we’ve been growing a lot over that time as well. But just it’s, you know, your team is, is the most important thing, let’s face it, you know, you can have, you can be a great advisor, but if you don’t have, you know, good support under you, or around you, rather, I should say, then you’re not going to be very effective, because you’re just so limited. And, you know, I think we’ve we’ve got lots of really awesome people there, but we just always seem a little bit short, we always just feel like we need that that one more assistant, or that one more person who’s really good at the technical side, that one’s really good at modeling. And, and that’s just so hard. You know, I think, especially in this environment, right now, I’d probably say, you know, every advisor is probably crying out for a few more people to support and help them and, and, and it’s just yeah, it’s challenging, challenging to find them.

Ben Nash
I think the people part is the biggest challenge, finding good people supporting them the right way, having them work in their in their flow and not being overwhelmed, but the busy enough, then the right people need them. And when you’re trying to grow a business and manage the commercial side of things, it’d be great to just hire 50 people, and then everyone’s nice and comfortable. But then that doesn’t work commercially, either, as well. And I think the point that you made about finding good people, and sometimes you have someone that’s just the wrong fit. And you know, that’s not good for them, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for the business, not good for the clients either. So I think that they’re finding good people goes a long way. But we as a as a senior team member in your team, and as an advisor, essentially leading the clients and then responsible for the people underneath you, what what, what’s your biggest or your top tip around how to how to get the most out of the people that are supporting you in the advice that you’re providing as a frontline adviser?

Cara Graham
Oh, gosh, I reckon it’s just treating people like humans, you know, having having empathy for their situation, giving them some flexibility, you know, COVID probably been great for that, in a sense that we’ve got more flexibility around the way that we that Raisa, we work, but I think that it’s really important to kind of recognize people for who they are, like, you know, maybe this sounds a little bit silly, but you know, some people are morning people and some people afternoon. So, you know, having a set eight to five business hours or something along those lines, it just doesn’t actually work for everybody, and you can’t make everybody fit into the same box. And I know, you know, certainly, I just think about some of the members of our team, you know, we’ve got people that are working different hours, or, you know, almost like peak in terms of their productivity at 10pm at night, that, you know, which you’ve got to kind of give them room to be able to do that the way that you know, work the way that they want to work. And sometimes that’s a bit frustrating, because maybe, you know, maybe you want them there at 730 in the morning, when you know, like, I’m more of a morning morning person in terms of my productivity, you know, from there, so, there’s challenges in it as well. But I think you’ve got to give people just, you know, room to be themselves. And even we had a new staff member join a couple of months before I went on mat leave, and, you know, something sort of happened to them. And, you know, I was sort of saying, you know, just why don’t you just pack up for the day and go home, eat, you know, take care of yourself. And she was actually so surprised that I cared, which, you know, for me, I was like, What wouldn’t everybody think this way? You know, wouldn’t everybody just say go and put yourself first, but she said, you know, at some of the other businesses should work for that just wasn’t the case. And I I was really astounded because I thought that was just the normal thing to do. But you know, clearly, it’s not always which is a bit sad, but yeah, I think, yeah, treating people like humans having some empathy.

Ben Nash
I think that the point that you make about having people working their zoning is is an important one as well, like, how do they want to be working? And as you say, the COVID situation sort of pushed us into that or sort of accelerated that. The need to adapt to that as well. But I think ultimately, like, people have jobs to deliver certain outcomes. And if someone wants to get to an outcome one way, really like that’s the outcome. That’s important, not not necessarily. How you. Yeah, that’s work. Yeah, exactly. So I think it’s probably not as common as it should be. But it’s, it seems to be more businesses are catching on to that, as well. And I think that that’s where, as you say, like we view people feeling empowered to do that to, to, to get to the outcome, but do it in a way that works for them. Ultimately, that’s, that’s the goal.

Cara Graham
You create loyalty through doing that as well. Yeah. Because then yes, you know, can appreciate the flexibility and know that you do care about them, and you’re going to support them.

Ben Nash
That’s right, yeah. And again, like going back to those outcomes, it’s like, if you’re getting there, does it matter if someone goes and, you know, has to drop their kids off somewhere or deal with unemployment or a personal thing, I think the COVID situation, again, it’s sort of accelerated that, that people are forced into their bunkers. And, you know, you just get that immediate exposure, I know that, like, I’ve got some mates work in banking. And for them, it’s very much like even more than than financial advice. It’s like you, you’re expected to be almost like a robot. And then you’re just there to do your deals and, you know, be ultra professional all the time. And not to say that financial advisors aren’t professional, but I think bankers take it probably to another level. And it’s sort of forced on them. And it breaks down some of those barriers. And the end result is building better relationships with people, as you say, more loyalty, you know, both the customers and annual team as well. And I think that that you get that teamwork flowing. And that’s where the magic happens. Cara, I’m keen to hear like you’ve been at it for you know, for a fair while in advice, what would you say? What’s the most difficult skill that you’ve had some master to be the advisor that you are today?

Cara Graham
Why it’s difficult? Yeah. To be honest, it’s probably delegating. I think, I’m generally a pretty controlling person, I, you know, I think sort of, I’d probably label myself a bit of a perfectionist as well, which can be a real strength, but it can also be a big downfall. Because then, you know, maybe you’re working on things a little bit too long, or sort of, you know, you’re never going to get things perfect sense. And so I’d probably say that delegating is something that I’ve continuously struggled with, in a sense, but have just had to get better and better at it as time has gone on. And, you know, there’ll be days where I slip back and go, Oh, you know, don’t have time to sort of pass this on. But that would almost be one of the things I’d go back and, and kind of really tell myself as a younger adviser, is is just, you know, to sort of, I guess, you know, sort of trust more and delegate more. And, you know, it’s almost that what we were saying a moment ago that, you know, maybe someone’s not going to do it exactly my way, but it’s still going to be you know, Dan, it’s going to be done well, you know, from from there and yeah, I think that’s probably something I’ll continue working on for the rest of my life. But it’s yeah, it’s certainly been certainly been something I’ve had to had to focus a bit more on as well as things have gotten busier life as last week is

Ben Nash
well with a growing client base and a growing family it sort of does get forced on your on you a little bit because you reach a point where it’s just not possible to do all of the things but I think you know, tying that back to what you’re saying around team and getting the right people around you I think it’s an also an important thing because there’s not many people that like to be micromanaged. There are a few there are a few people that want you know, really clear guardrails and work really well in that in that sort of environment. But I would say that they’re broadly in the minority. So when you’re when you’re doing that, it can become a bit of a roadblock for for the people around you to to get the best out of them or to feel like they’ve got you know, the control of their destiny that they want to get as well. So, you know, one advantage you get more stuff done for you instead of having to do it yourself. But secondly, you’re you are empowering those people around you as well. Karen, I know that you’re you currently you’re on that leave but just like in your career and as an advisor and with your clients, what are you focused on? Now? What’s sort of coming up for you?

Cara Graham
Well, I mean, I guess right now in this moment, my focus is really on, on my family. And, and, you know, even just going back to work at some stage next year, I think a big focus for me would be about achieving the elusive work life balance, there’s, I think everybody probably struggles with it to a certain extent. So one of my family’s financial goals is for my wife and I to both be able to work part time until our girls are in school. So, you know, we’ve worked really hard over the last sort of, you know, decade and a half to kind of get to a point where, financially we can afford to be able to, to, you know, sort of work less and live more, and be around our kids a little bit more from there. So, you know, it’s probably not a very workI sort of focus. But but really, that’s, that’s what’s matter. What matters to me at the moment is, is prioritizing my family a bit more and working less?

Ben Nash
And how do you practically like how do you structure that with you being in as an advisor? You know, you’ve got clients that you’re looking after and responsible for? Maybe you haven’t got this all figured out exactly yet. But how do you how do you envisage you managing that moving forward?

Cara Graham
Well, even before I went on that wave, I moved down to a four day work week, for a period of time, but just before I went on leave, I did have to bring it back up a little bit, back to the five days because I was struggling to get things done. But I am a big advocate for the four day workweek, at the moment, just because our youngest is so little, my wife’s only been working three days a week, as well. So we’ve had, you know, lots of family time over the last couple of months. And then what I would envision, when I do go back to work is again, say having a three day workweek. Perhaps initially, we’ll just see how that tracks and you know, I’m pretty realistic in the sense that even if maybe I’m only in the office for three days, or have three sort of set workdays, yes, I’ll probably do a little bit of work on those other days in terms of checking emails and fielding calls. And I’m totally fine with that, just to sort of smooth things over, but I think it’s, it’s more so just about setting some limits and some boundaries. So, you know, at the wealth designers, we’ve always kind of worked off different metrics, in terms of, you know, our target number of meetings per week, our target clients that we want to sort of meet and, and engage with, and, and again, I guess it’s just sort of resetting some of those in line with, with how much I do want to want to work over that period of time, as well. And just making sure that, you know, it’s achievable, trusting my team, you know, as much as I can as well to manage the rest. And, you know, we’ve got so many great advisors at the moment, and I really big believer that different personality types work best with different clients. So, you know, I often would get referrals, and I’ll have a little bit of a chat with them. And I might actually feel, you know, what, actually, it’d be a great client for Robin or for David, or the dawn, or whoever it might be that, you know, if I get a referral, I don’t need to follow that through all of the way they might actually be a better fit for somebody else. So you know, more than more than happy and we’ve got a really good kind of team culture, that it’s not sort of every advisor for themselves, it’s really about how we achieve as a team. And I’ve always, I think that’s, that’s a really good culture to have. And I you know, want to make sure that we we continue to have that.

Ben Nash
Absolutely, yeah, I know, when my wife and I had our first child, like, it sort of forced a level of putting some extra boundaries in place to allow me to provide her with a level of support and also to be present as a as a dad as well. When we had the second one, though, it was like game on and it needed to sort of take those to the next level. And, you know, as you know, you got your you’re balancing the two, it is a pretty full on sort of thing. So I have personally been forced to sort of do something not feel like forced in a way that I was very keen on doing but to do that, and it’s, it’s been really interesting, because I think like, like for me, like I’ve spoken to a number of other advisors in the same position that it’s like, you feel like this really deep sense of obligation for your clients and the things that are going on and you feel like you need to be available. You know, like not all the time but almost all the time as things come up. But when you I’ve found for me that when I put those boundaries in place, the world didn’t stop, things still happen. Clients got looked after the the important things still all move forward. But you You are sort of, you know, being human and able to do the things that you need to do or want to be doing in that space as well. So it’s been been really interesting that I think, like, easy to, to have that feeling that you need to be there, but when you’re not, and you just try it, and then everything just works, and it is sort of pretty enlightening and, you know, empowering to allow you to do that as well. Oh, definitely,

Cara Graham
I think, um, you know, I guess it’s, you know, not just kids, but you know, just different life experiences, can put things into into perspective. And what I’ve sort of often tried to do is almost, in a sense, train my clients. So, you know, maybe I’m training them that I’m not available out of business hours, or I’m not available on the weekend, or, you know, not available on my day off unless it’s, you know, time critical, being in the sense, and for the most part, people are pretty supportive of that, because, you know, you’re working with these clients, you’re getting to know them, they want the best for you as well, you know, they don’t want you to be to be sacrificing your family time when they’ve, you know, they, you know, they’ve, you know, if my family heard of them or seen pictures, and you know, they want, they want me to be able to enjoy that as well.

Ben Nash
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that it, it often just deepens your connection with them when they realize that you’re not just some financial robot on the other.

Cara Graham
Yeah. You’re a real person.

Ben Nash
Cara, my last question for you is, if you could, if you could turn back time and and go back to the start of your journey, in advice and do one thing differently, what would it be?

Cara Graham
You know, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I think that, you know, I’ve had a lot of successes and a lot of failures over the years, but each of them has really led me to be where I am. That sounds really corny. But but, you know, for every kind of, you know, mistake or failure that I’ve had, I think I probably become a better a person or a better advisor because of it. And yeah, I, you know, I think I think everything is has been pretty valuable, even even if sometimes it’s been incredibly challenging, and, you know, caused a lot of stress and heartache and, you know, tears, you know?

Multiple times. But, you know, it’s all it’s all just part of the journey. And yeah. No, it’s all it’s all been all been positive in one way or another as challenging as the last.

Ben Nash
It’s the old thing that the the obstacle is the way sort of thing and as long as you’re learning those lessons that it all contributes to the next step, and the next step and the next step.

Cara Graham
Oh, that’s right. Absolutely.

Ben Nash
I love that. Cara, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights. And again for for taking the time when you’re on mat leave. Yeah, great. Great to see you guys smash to get over there. Thank you.

Cara Graham
Thanks, Ben. Thanks for having me.

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