After starting their consulting company 27 years ago, Darren Steinhardt and his wife Stephanie are in the middle of a good inning.
That knock looks even better when you consider that the original practice is now part of an advisory network that includes 180 advisors, 18 mortgage brokers and a “handful” of accountants, all of whom work under the Steinhardt-owned Infocus Securities Australia trading group . is a holding company in which the couple is the majority shareholder.
As with most success stories, Infocus’ impressive numbers belies the need and the transplant. It was not easy, says Steinhardt, with “a lot of trial and error”. Despite the strength of the licensing company, there are still tough days for the affable CEO.
However, he knows he is not alone as most advisors are familiar with the fight. This is another reason why the search for community is so omnipresent in counseling.
“Being in business is lonely in itself,” says Steinhardt Professional planner. “Being in the financial services sector in particular is probably a little lonelier with all the regulatory changes. Put Covid on top of that … there are a lot of things you want to talk about and get away from your chest that you may not be comfortable with talking to a friend or even a spouse. “
What keeps Steinhardt going is another topic consultants know well – building a better life for clients. From the point of view of a CEO of a dealer group, this drive manifests itself in developing better solutions for consultants.
Technology was an important channel for these solutions. The group has its own customer relationship management tool called “Platformplus,” which has grown from an early web-based machine to a fully integrated cloud-based platform that does most of the things that consultants can expect from an Xplan or Salesforce.
“We don’t want to be a software provider … It’s not our main business and we’re not big enough,” he explains. “But we’re good at developing software for our business, so we developed an end-to-end system.”
Belief in technology is a constant topic for Steinhardt. Two of the group’s IT staff have been with the company for over 20 years.
But not everything went smoothly here either. In the early days, Steinhardt outsourced the coding for the CRM, which, as he later found out, meant that the system did not actually belong to the company. “You live and learn,” he says.
High touch, full service
Medium-sized licensees like Infocus have held their own after the collective withdrawal of the banks. While the number of advisors has declined, well-positioned groups have survived by downsizing their advisory cohort, sharpening their offering and, in most cases, raising their price point.
Steinhardt says Infocus had to go through its own streamlining project when it acquired two companies – Patron Financial Advice and Announcer – in 2014 and 2017, respectively. A large number of consultants who were not the right “culture fit” left the company or retired.
Infocus is also expensive, and outrageous. For Steinhardt, however, value is a much better metric than price.
“We are a high-touch, full-service provider and we price accordingly,” he says, adding that the luxury of running a clean model comes at a price.
“We went through the process of adjusting prices based on resolving conflicts and cleaning up product subsidies,” he says. “That was difficult at the licensee level because we were in a leading position and we were probably out of the market for a while.”
As you see it
The CEO knows the industry has its challenges but is remarkably positive.
A few things still annoy him. Other licensees who try to undermine their offerings and poach consultants “still frustrate me to death,” he says.
The current lack of affordable professional indemnity insurance is also a struggle most licensees can relate to – especially those who are low on scale. “I don’t want to be smaller when I’m going through the dance of professional liability insurance right now.”
The “Red October” reforms implemented this month are “worrying,” says Steinhardt, as they could lead to further price increases across the board. However, as an optimist, he hopes that some of the rough edges of reforms will be smoothed out over time.
“I like the decision not to report and I expect we will have a few more changes when the regulation goes into effect and people see that there is some handover,” he says. “There are a lot of bright people involved in providing feedback.”
However, these problems are all temporary and Steinhardt seems to be long-term regardless of the circumstances.
“I love the consulting industry,” he says. “I know there is turmoil, but it all depends on how you look at it. There are changes, but to become a profession it has to happen and more is to come. “