October 4, 2021

How to set up a successful partnership with your clients with Idham Idris – Transcript

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SUMMARY KEYWORDS

financial planner, financial planning, people, clients, terms, malaysia, advisory, business, firm, company, financial advice, advisors, agents, product, financial, blue ocean strategy, industry, financial advisors, grow, building

SPEAKERS

Gwen Lazarito, Idham Idris

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the financial planners, South East Asian podcast went here and today, we have a licensed financial planner, as well as the director of wealth Vantage advisory started him address. Thank you so much for being on the show.

 

Idham Idris 

Thank you for having me.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

I’m very keen to chat with you today with regards to financial advice and Malaysia, and in particular, your your financial planning, advice, business, which is the well fantage advisory. But before we start on that I just wanted our listeners to get to know you more. So how long have you been in the financial advice industry?

 

Idham Idris 

Okay, so first of all, thank you for having me. On the show. Yeah, I started out way back in 2003 as a unit trust consultant, so basically selling unit trust products, mutual funds, I think it’s more popularly known and progress towards life insurance. And after that, going into estate planning, so that was in a span of roughly about 12 years, where I went through that journey. Oh, so financial advice was something relatively recent, yeah, where I had a greater awareness in terms of what how the client base was actually changing here in Malaysia. So they got more sophisticated they are, they want more in terms of what the intermediaries can provide. And they don’t want people coming up to them and just tried to sell products. So that was the turning point for me to make that change to financial advisory, which is somewhere around 2013, where, you know, I first got that realization. So from then onwards, I had to take the necessary certifications, and the licensing process to get the necessary licenses to practice. And I’ve been a fully licensed financial planner, since 2018. So only about three years.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yeah, yeah. Because I know that it takes a long time for you guys to get the certification in Malaysia, because you have to take a thing. Yeah, it takes a long time for you to get certified. But I’m actually curious. So I did a little bit of research. And I learned that you were a graduate in Information Systems Engineering. So how did someone from like, a tech field, jump to a financial advice? field of career?

 

Idham Idris 

Oh, very good question. I P, and technology is actually a deep passion of mine. I really enjoy. I’m in technology. Yeah. So in fact, in hindsight, it was actually a blessing in disguise. Because now with FinTech and with all the new technologies coming into finance, I have a greater appreciation and understanding in terms of what it what what are the challenges, and things that are required, and perhaps even an insight into how technology can help in personal financial management? Yes, definitely. I was a scholarship graduate, which means that I received scholarship from a company to continue my further my studies in it, and after a few years, bonded with the company, I decided to leave to switch over to financial more for the reason because I think at that time, I was I wasn’t happy with the corporate life. So it was nothing to do with the actual industry of the type of work that I was doing. But I, I didn’t feel that corporate life is fulfilling for me. So which I, which is why I made that jump into entrepreneurship at that time, that is what what I had in mind, or what I was doing was actually going into entrepreneurship. And the field was chosen only because I felt that I could make money, that’s all. So, but in fact, I found out that there’s a huge need for it. And I grew to appreciate it. And I felt that I could contribute a lot in the field. So, you know, which is why I stuck with it for the past 18 years already. Yeah, yeah.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

And 18 years is such a long time, if you’re just in it for, for the career change, right. So I’m sure that you really found something that you were passionate about to stay for 18 years in the industry. And I guess, why I asked is because I also came from technology, I graduated information technology as well. And here I am in the financial advice industry, too. And I guess Yes, and because we know, like, a lot of us have different stories and how we started and it’s very interesting that you started that way that you just wanted to change careers. And yet you stayed. So what made you what was the driving force that made you stay, and you just woke up, and 18 years later, you’re still in this industry?

 

Idham Idris 

I think in the initial five years, it was something new, very exciting, I was learning a lot of new things. You know, I always had a interest in business and entrepreneurship, and I didn’t know anything about that before. So coming into becoming a title agent, with a financial services company, gave me that platform to understand and at least, you know, experience what what it was like doing marketing, doing sales and, and prospecting and, you know, building up your, your client book and all that. So it was a, it was a very interesting experience. I think around closer to the 10th year, I was more like, there must be a better way of doing this. I always had that in mind. And I was like thinking, what are the things that I can do differently that can add more value to my potential clients. And that’s when I found out that there is this track to do to go into financial planning and financial advisory, which at the time in Malaysia is still I would say very under undeveloped. Currently, even the practicing licensed financial planners is less than 1000 people for the whole country. Compared to Korea, tide agents numbering in the 10s, of 1000s. So I felt like that I am in a position and I have the the experience and the understanding to sort of carve out a new area, in in Malaysia in financial planning and financial budget. I always tried to compare it to you know, the blue, blue ocean strategy. Oh, yeah. A lot. Yeah, a lot of people are financial services agents, or intermediaries, they’re in the red ocean. And definitely what I’m doing now is very, very blue ocean is just that a lot of the existing agents, they don’t dare to make that jump or they’re scared to make that jump. Or they they don’t feel like they have the the capacity to make that change. So I felt fortunate enough that I could do that. And, you know, this is where I feel like I can grow further in the industry.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Oh, wonderful. And yes, I definitely agree. And for those of you who are not familiar with the blue ocean strategy is actually it’s a book. It’s a strategy that was introduced by the book of the same name, and it’s from Rene. I’m sure I’m going to butcher his name, but I’m Renee mo burn and Chen Kim W. Chen Kim. So it’s a it’s a highly requested, highly suggested read. It’s a it’s a wonderful book. So and and I’m very, very interesting to learn that you have applied the blue ocean strategy. But aside from that, since you are now a financial planner, do you happen to have an ideal client now that you’ve been 18 years in the industry,

 

Idham Idris 

it’s a, it’s different, I can say when when you’re looking at through the lens of a financial planner, and financial advisor, I think when I started out earlier in my career, he was always talking about or at least the conversation was always about the rich clients. Yeah, we were always looking at Oh, who which client can contribute in terms of buying the biggest premiums, or investing the most money, etc. As a financial planner, or financial advisor, that almost becomes like a secondary thought the first most important, I would say Client Profile or characteristic is they are willing to work with you. And they work with you as partners in trying to solve their financial concerns. So that is always the number one consideration when I’m looking at as a lens of financial planner and financial advisor. Because in order for them to achieve what they want, or how I can help them to achieve what they want, there must be this mutual respect, understanding as as, as partners, in terms of how we can work together to achieve the same goal, and how and how we go about that is through through whatever, either product implementations advice, changes that they have to make within their own, how they manage their own financial, all of that has to be taken into account. So more holistic and more comprehensive view. So I do become more selective, but I become happy.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

I’m glad that you pointed that out, because I noticed that when someone is new in the financial planning sector, and the financial advice industry, I do notice that some financial planners tend to take clients, regardless of thinking about well, you know, without thinking about if they would work well together. And I guess I understand because they’re still new in the industry, and they would like to acquire as many clients as they possibly can to, to keep their business afloat. But, you know, sometimes, and I, I think you would agree that sometimes your your, your plans with your clients don’t go, they don’t get followed through because you and the client didn’t have a mutual understanding. Or, as you mentioned, there’s no respect for for each or each other sides. And I think that’s an important, and I’m happy that you mentioned that you’re you are selective, but you’re happier because of that.

 

Idham Idris 

So the mutual understanding, I think is very important. Because when working together, we just want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. My focus in terms of where wealth Vantage, you know, my firm, our vision statement is making sure that we do the right things. Yeah. So so in doing in doing so, we do need that partnership arrangement, we do need that sort of like conversation. So it’s not like a position where we are taking a higher position than the client or the client is a higher position than us is not that kind of sort of like a master servant relationship. It’s very, very much a partnership arrangement. So for those financial planners that I see where they’re doing, they’re growing their business, they are doing well in terms of the advisory, they they can bring in the assets and the advisory, they can they can have all the products it’s because of the this the partnership arrangement is working well. So that that to me that is that is number one. That is the number one consideration.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

That’s so true. And you also mentioned that you were getting into your your firm now wealth, Vantage advisory. So you’re You are directing your firm, but at the same time, you’re still taking in clients as a financial planner. Right? Right. That’s right. All right. So my first question, I guess is, how do you manage your time between being a financial planner as well as being a director of a company? Because I do, check out your, your website, and you do have a fair number of financial planner? So you’re, you are a big team,

 

Idham Idris 

right? Yes, that’s right. So we started out with only four people. And with the three directors, myself, and my two other partners, and one employee, that’s how we started the company. And, and, and from then on, we, we had to put in all the pieces together in terms of building up the corporate structure, the the framework, in terms of how to do the advisory process, the way that we run things where we have like a back office team, and a paraplanning team, and we have the operations department, you know, building that up, and at the same time, as going out and meeting clients. Yeah. And as well as hiring people to become the organization, the employees of the organization, because our financial advisors are not our employees, you know, they are license with us. But they work based on revenue sharing basis with us, so they’re technically our business partners. But then the firm itself has to be managed in a, in a proper corporate structure. So we had to bring in all those pieces together, you know, at this point in time, I think we have around 21 employees, and then about a 33 advisors currently. So it has grown and we look forward to growing further by he has been quite a challenge. Like you mentioned, running the company and, and going out and meeting clients as well. If you want to ask, like, how do we manage it? You know, it’s a it’s a very delicate tightrope. We’re just like, you know, you can There are, of course, there. I mean, I cannot say that we sometimes we never dropped the ball, of course, of course, we do, given the given the way it is, but you know, I think it’s a sacrifice early on. All start, we view ourselves like a tech startup, you know, I think you’re very familiar, where even the founders, then you know, they have to go out, they have to do make deals and, and go out, do marketing, whatever the it takes. So I think we are already starting to get those results that we wanted early on, when we started the company. Now it’s just a matter of growing it further and making more sustainable and, you know, getting the message out because like I mean, like I said just now financial planning advisor is very, very new in Malaysia. And and we want to, to make our mark and, you know, make a difference in terms of how customers or clients view the the service of financial planning.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yeah, that’s true, because and I talked to this with fellow with your fellow Malaysian financial advisors that there is still a bit of prejudice in terms of I don’t know if prejudice is the right term, but I guess like people are still thinking or some Malaysians still think that financial planning and financial advice is only for rich people. Yeah, and then middle class don’t need it because they can just manage their money on their own. So like, what do you think about that? And how do you usually address it if it comes up?

 

Idham Idris 

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. But I think it depends on the financial advisor themselves. In our case, we tried to make it affordable. And we tried to make it very structured and very process base. In fact, I think at one point, if somebody came, I think we had one of the people coming in to to look at how we do things and they commented that we we almost look like a manufacturing, floor flow. where where where we design things so things move from one step to another step, another step because we have all these different parts moving and have like different support pillars in to make sure that the financial plan comes out the way it’s supposed to come out. So it’s, I know that there are some firms where they everything is depend on that advisor to do A to Zed, you know, they had to come up with a plan, they had to figure things out, whereas we have tried to give How to say support where the word cuts down on the adviser side, and they can actually go out and see more people. Yeah, so so in by and so in doing so they’re able to service more our say, a more wide range of clients by the same thing, they still want to choose to see just the high net worth, or the private clients, you know, they’re welcome to do so they’re free to do so there’s there’s nothing wrong with that is that we we do offer a lot of support from the companies from the firm set for them to really push themselves and go to the next and break through to the next level. Yeah,

 

Gwen Lazarito 

that’s wonderful, because there’s a lot of paperwork, right, and a financial planner, instead of, they would want their time to be spent, you know, speaking with clients and helping them out making their financial lives better, but because of paperwork, it that might get, you know, they might get stuck in paperwork, they may see less people. So it’s good to know that you, your firm is there to support them. And that’s what they can expect from you. That’s what financial planners can expect from you. But I guess my next question would be, what would you require from your financial planners? What do you think is a great fit for wealth? Vantage advisory?

 

Idham Idris 

That’s a very good question. I mean, we’re trying to solve, police have that problem right now. The main reason being is that, because the industry has grown the way that it has, in the past, I would say 40 years, when we’re talking about insurance agents, and unit trust agents, so there’s a very, very strong and entrenched way of doing things in terms of selling. Yes, selling products are selling Yeah, hard selling product pushing, you know, that’s the, that’s the term so. So to get this transition first into what we call meat, bass, or consultative kind of conversation with clients, is actually a huge undertaking here currently. But the problem is financial planning and advisory is beyond that, you actually have made that move from the traditional hard selling product pushing into something that is more consultative, where you talk about that you actually talk about the client’s needs, no hard selling doesn’t do that you just like, Okay, I have this product is the best product in the world, please buy it, you know, whereas you got the consultative, you actually have a deeper conversation in terms of trying to find out what the client needs, what kind of products would would fit or would match and you try to do so within that capacity, the small selection that you might have, because you are a type agent, whereas if you move to financial planning advisory, it was the whole thing wide open, because you suddenly have more products, you have more types of services that you can provide. And then there’s that fee based advice, advisory part that you can also charge to clients because for our traditional agents here in Malaysia, they cannot charge any fees. So once you start to move into financial planning, financial advisory, then you can start to charge fees where you don’t actually need to depend on commissions from products product pushing our product selling. So it has been a very challenging journey for us to find this kind of of advisors who are actually looking to transition towards financial planning and advisory because they have been so how to say a de within that culture and ecosystem I would say that to them that they don’t see any other way of doing the business. And that’s why I feel like we sort of like tried to need to stand out and and shout out saying that, hey, you know this, there’s a better way and a different way of doing it. Maybe you’d like to check us out and see how we can actually help you grow your business in a more sustainable and profitable way.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yes, that’s true because there are a lot of people now do find the value of insurance but The financial advice or financial planning industry is still relatively new, as you mentioned earlier, as well. So there’s still a lot of things that you can do. And a lot of there’s a lot of potential in the industry, right? And so it’s just a matter of finding the right people. But in terms of the business as well, so you grew from just having one employee to now you have 21 employees, and you also have 30 plus and counting financial planners, but how did you manage to reach that growth? Because I know that you mentioned you started out with just the three of you going out there and at the same time building trying to to building the the firm, but now that you’ve grown, like how are you able to manage that that growth that your your firm has,

 

Idham Idris 

I think what what we did right in? Well, actually, I’m not sure whether you want to say whether we did it right, but maybe we got lucky. Because initially, we had a, when we came in, we sort of already know a group of people that wanted to make this change, we wanted to make this down. So it was around if I’m not mistaken, around 15 odd advisors. So when these 15 advisors came on board, 15 agents, actually 15 agents came on board, they brought in some of their previous business as well. So we were actually able to, you know, leverage on that in terms of getting the revenue quickly, building up that that revenue stream quickly for the for the company, but he was still he was still a journey, we’re still a process. And, you know, of course, we didn’t hire the right people. I mean, I don’t think any company hires the right people that they want in here. So so you know, we had to go through the process of hiring and letting go of people that we feel didn’t fit in. But we did that in a very, I would say, I wouldn’t say fast, but we we had a very clear direction in terms of where we wanted to go in terms of the company side, and as well as the, the business side. And so the company in terms of what is the strategy that we need to put in place, we know that we need to have the operations department, the back office planning and solutions department, the customer service team, the training department, all that we had to build from scratch. So So supported by these advisors who are able to bring their business and at least give us that runway in terms of the capital needed to, to to slowly, well, I would say slowly, but at least we are reinvesting all that what we receive back into the business. So it took us so we started around 10, the early 2018. So 1920 so this would be our fourth year.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yeah. So that’s, that’s why it’s very impressive. So in just four years, you had, you’ve grown to be like 50 plus people. Bigger than you actually started with just four and I think it’s good that you think that you’re just lucky, but I feel like it’s more than just

 

Idham Idris 

the thing is we always you know, when we’ve had like regulators, discussions with regulators, and they would ask us, you know, why are you doing it this way or that way? And we say, to be honest, we don’t have any I would say template of how to do it, you know, what we are referring to most of the time is looking at how other countries are doing it? So one of our biggest I would say reference model was Australia. Yes. We tried to look at what Australia was doing. And and I and we were trying to look at you know, how they structure their company and what kind of business structure they’re offering to their advisors the way that they structure the revenue shell all those things you know, we will always referring to two examples of models that is outside of Malaysia because in Malaysia, there was nothing what we think that we want it to be there was nothing like that. Yeah, yeah. So So a lot of it was like just Okay, let’s, let’s copy that part. See if it works. And actually that came from I think one of I remember I attended one of this fun launches. Way back it in 20. The 11 or 2012, and CEO of the asset management company at the time was saying that, he said, I remember the quote very clearly, he said, it’s actually very easy to do business in Malaysia. And he says that, because all you need to do is just look at what works overseas. And you just bring it over to Malaysia. Just copy, you know. So in a way, we’re trying to see whether, you know, does the financial advisory or planning model that is that exists now in Australia, US, UK? Singapore, for example, can we bring parts of it or elements of it into Malaysia and make it a Malaysian financial planning? model?

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yeah. And that’s really that’s, I think that’s very smart. Because you’re already there are already people that already have put in the work with, you know, setting up that that business model, and all you have to do is just, of course, copy what works for them, and then tweak it to your own liking to make sure that it fits well, with not only you as as your business, but with Malaysian people as well. So that’s really nice. And you got paid Australian as well. And yes, I do agree Australia has, like one of the most comprehensive, like financial advice industry in the world is really cool, because you mentioned paraplanners. And I know that here in the Philippines, we don’t have paraplanners yet. So it was very interesting that I heard that from you. And, you know, modeling it from an Australian system for financial advice, like, what do you think would you change? if in case you went back to time and and started your company all over again? What would you have liked to not do in the first place?

 

Idham Idris 

Right? So I think that’s a very good question, my feeling is that we should have focused more on the financial planning advisory aspect very early on. So in fact, we waited about a whole year before we actually got really into financial planning and advisory and setting up that framework and structure etc. And I really feel that we should have done it a much, much earlier, because it does give us more time in terms of inculcating The, the right way of doing things to our advisors. And, you know, or else there will still be in that mode of trying to slowly change when we actually came out with that, with that process flow. So so I felt like if we had started earlier than that change will be faster and new people coming in, didn’t have to sit between because we did that consultative need base advisory in our first year. Where before we start to move towards full financial planning, and that that whole framework that I mentioned that, that we rolled, rolled out to our team, I wish that we had done that much, much earlier. So so. So there was I would say, less confusion because they we had some people coming in from from other companies, where they will create agents, and they wanted to just transition to whatever that they were doing that to doing the same thing. But in a funny, yeah, in the in a different company. So I didn’t think that was the right approach. Yeah, so so. So we had one or two cases, at least now wanted to get a few, a few people that is no longer with with the firm, because it wasn’t the direction that they were looking at, in the first place. So in fact, they were just looking at, can I sell more products and answer and use leverage on the platform in that manner, becoming a multi product provider, you know, but but we did, we didn’t want to do that. That’s not that’s not what we we wanted to go in. That direction was wasn’t what we wanted to go in. So I wish that that that part we had done much, much earlier.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

That’s wonderful. But I’m glad that that just you came to realize that in just a year, some other companies take much more time in order to like I know that even if they have pinpointed like pain points in their company, it takes longer for them to pivot. So it’s good to know that you were able to change direction and then you know, make sure that your goal was clear, clear all throughout your staff. And so now, like, aside from financial planning, what are some other like type of services? Are you offering? Do you offer any other types of services aside from financial planning in your firm?

 

Idham Idris 

Well, you know, traditionally, financial advisors and financial planning firms, once they try, once they go into a more, I would say, on the wealthier client side, they tend to move towards family office, or maybe from the start, they will just be a family office outfit. So what we trying to look at is how can we serve actually corporates and, and small medium enterprises better. So this is where, where we feel like we have an sort of an edge, because we do have advisors in our firm that have management consulting experience and business advisory experience. So so we’re trying to look into ways into how we can actually serve the smaller companies, I wouldn’t say small as in really small, but the small and medium enterprises that might get overlooked by the bigger, bigger management, consulting firms, in terms of how they want to manage the financial the corporate financials. So this is something that we’re actually looking into family office, we do have, actually have a lot of queries from from families that they are looking into succession planning. So we are we are looking at some of that. But to be frank, these are new areas of growth for us. But the core financial planning service that we provide, is a huge opportunity here in Malaysia because of that blue ocean segment, blue ocean strategy that I mentioned earlier. Whereas when you look when you go, or you will start to go into family office and and you know, corporate advisory Business Advisory, you’re already competing with some people that is already in that space for quite some time. Yeah. So So, you know, we’re trying to serve the different needs of our target market. We’re trying to serve their needs. But at the same time, you know, we just can’t we just need to make sure that we have our eye on the eye on the ball.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yes, yes, definitely. But that’s good that because it’s it’s always good to serve the the people that need your service. And you have to, like mold your, your company or your business strategy towards that. And so yeah, like, I guess my question now is, before we do end the show, it is what would you advise financial advisors who would like to start a financial advice firm, or what do you think would be, like a good thing for them to start thinking about,

 

Idham Idris 

I think, for a lot of people, when they tried to open or build up their own company, they might feel like they want to have their own brand or identity. And I think here in Southeast Asia is very, very much personality based where there is like, a figurehead, you know. So sometimes you might get lost in that. Whereas you need to make sure that you do have the proper structure in place, you need to have the proper team in place, you know, it’s not a one man show, you cannot do it on your own, definitely, you need to bring in the right people that can fill in those necessary positions in the corporate structure. So that you can build up from there, we, I always feel like, we were very fortunate because, you know, my, we had three people, three partners, so myself and one my, one of my other partners, we are the ones who are we grew in the financial services industry. So we’re very, we know very well in terms of the whole landscape in terms of the business or the products, the way the business has been run by my other partner was very much a corporate guy. So he was able to provide the contacts in terms of how to build a company, how to build an organization, and, and, and putting the proper processes the necessary people that we need in order for us to, to to grow in so I so we’re very much a corporate structure, because if you look at a lot of financial firms in Malaysia, they’re more like an agency. Yeah. So so they Like recruits and downlines and you know, that different tier structure, we don’t have any of that we have we have we’re very, we’re very corporate, corporate base, financial advisory firm. So a lot of people that’s the first thing that they say, when they come to us and say, Oh, this is this is not what I expect that I thought like I had to be recruited in and there’s a leader and you know, things

 

Gwen Lazarito 

like, Yeah,

 

Idham Idris 

Yeah, all right. Yeah. So so we’re not like that we’re very different in terms of how we structure the company itself and the way that we do business we, with our, with our financial advisors, so I hope that we I think we are moving towards the right in the right direction. And you know, hopefully that we are getting better support in terms of conversations with regulators. Previously I think they are more focused on the product side, but now they are also looking more into the advisory side because I feel like they feel like this needs more how to say dialogue with stakeholders to make sure that they grow the financial advisory and financial planning industry in Malaysia in a healthy manner

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Yes, definitely. In you know, Malaysia I feel like is ready is growing faster, going faster to the right direction, which is really good and also good for your your firm as well, because you get to be in the forefront of that change. And on that, you know, positive evolution. So thank you so much it him and before we finally end the show, where can people contact you if they want to get to know you more, maybe a financial planner hears this and wants to be part of your team? How do they contact you? Right?

 

Idham Idris 

So if you want to reach out to me personally, you can get on my LinkedIn, which is just my name, Adam a dress. But if you want to know find out more about the firm, you can go to our website, www dot wealth. vantage.com. Don’t mind. We’re also on Facebook, under wealth, Vantage advisory Instagram, Twitter, in our area. We have a very good branding hot days. Yes, we, we have all these things going on podcast, live shows, webinars, everything. Everything is going on.

 

Gwen Lazarito 

Your marketing team is working very hard. That’s good. Yeah. All right. So thank you so much it has and be sure to tag all of those, all of your social media in the show notes of this podcast. Again, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your thoughts and experience with regards to the financial advice industry in Australia, I’m sorry, in Malaysia where you’ve taken the model from from Australia and also for, you know, sharing, sharing everything that you know about starting a financial advice company, I’m sure that a lot of our listeners will find that very valuable. Have a good one and more power.

 

Idham Idris 

Thank you and it was my pleasure. Thank you so much.

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