Last week I was voted Financial Services CEO of the Year by the Women in Finance. And one would think that getting up on that stage and receiving this award was the highlight of the evening.
There’s no doubt it was a very special moment, but for me it was overshadowed by the incredible support of the men and women in the room for each other and a determination by the sector to rebuild trust between the financial community and its members and investors.
Perhaps, as an industry, we talk far too much about our accomplishments and not enough about the challenges we’ve had to overcome to get there. Curriculum vitaes are, by their very nature, written to highlight our accomplishments to others. When I started OneVue, I didn’t have many believers – and even fewer supporters.
The good news? It tested my fortitude. The bad news was that it was a lonely place for a very long time. When I saw Dr Catriona Wallace, CEO of Flamingo AI, up there on the podium at the Women in Finance Awards event , I felt like I was peering through a rear-view mirror. Catriona, if you’re reading this, there is nothing wrong with you; many people are simply unable to see past the status quo.
And I can think of so many things I would have liked to tell my younger self. For one, I would say that OneVue is a fintech, but that doesn’t mean I will lead either a financial services or a technology business. The greatest strides I will make are through remembering that I am first and foremost running a people business, and that I should never, ever create a five-year plan, because I might miss opportunities emerging in front of me along the way.
Importantly, I would also remind myself that Amazon’s turning point will not be made by selling more books, either in print or digitally – or, in fact, by selling any product – but that their real breakthrough will occur when they seize the opportunity to share an in-house service (AWS) with the world at large.
Most people don’t know that when I started OneVue, I worked for five years without a salary. I knew if I was going to afford to pay others to help me build OneVue, I couldn’t afford to pay myself. For many months, I wondered how I would make payroll. We had two significant clients, Australian Unity and what was then called Aviva Investors (now Antares), total revenues of $1.2 million, and expenses … well, let’s just say more than $1.2 million.
Had either of those clients walked away from OneVue we would have ended up insolvent. I can never forget those people who didn’t forget me. 11 years later, with 330 employees, money in the bank, over $50 million in revenues and no one client representing more than 7 per cent of revenue, both Australian Unity and Antares remain special clients.
I undertake the induction training at OneVue myself. It not only grants me the opportunity to meet our new staff, but importantly, it also gives me a chance to remind OneVue employees how important our original clients and shareholders were and are to us.
Sometimes over the years, things get lost in translation. It worries me when an employee talks about money more than our vision, or has never made a real sacrifice for something they’ve really believed in. I probably understand better than most the need to keep moving forward, but we can never forget who we are or what we stand for as we progress.
Many advisers know this. They have chosen a path constantly under scrutiny, with regulators on one side and nervous clients on the other. I have chosen to write to remind you that you are not alone. Those that know me well know I prefer to remain out of the limelight, but sometimes it’s important to stand up and be counted.
With FASEA fast approaching and limited MDA changes all in the aftermath of the Royal Commission, remember this: there is nothing wrong with you. It’s just difficult out there. And like I did at the Women in Finance Awards, celebrate those small special moments that serve the purpose of reminding us why we do the things we do and what our higher purpose is.
Shoulder to shoulder,
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14 February, 2019