Making work-life work
Wairarapa-based financial advisory business RIVAL Wealth uses workplace flexibility as its primary growth strategy. Not only is it quickly driving success, it’s also winning them awards. It’s fair to say that small and medium businesses were a distinct minority amongst the entries at this year’s Diversity Awards NZ. Large companies, NFPs and government departments all […]
Wairarapa-based financial advisory business RIVAL Wealth uses workplace flexibility as its primary growth strategy.
Not only is it quickly driving success, it’s also winning them awards.
It’s fair to say that small and medium businesses were a distinct minority amongst the entries at this year’s Diversity Awards NZ. Large companies, NFPs and government departments all featured prominently through the victory speeches at the gala dinner held in the Cordis Auckland’s main function room on August 29th.
So when the night’s final category award, the Work Life Balance Award, was announced, it was a very surprised Tim Fairbrother who made his way to the stage to accept the award.
Tim, along with wife and business partner Carissa Fairbrother, head up RIVAL Wealth – a holistic financial advisory business with its headquarters in Masterton and client base across New Zealand.
Although up against stiff corporate competition with deep pockets in the Work Life Balance category, RIVAL Wealth was a standout winner. The business has taken workplace flexibility to a whole new level in order to grow – in the process attracting the best people by giving them complete control over how to balance running their lives with doing their job.
In the words of Rachel Hopkins, chief executive, Diversity Works New Zealand: “It shows that flexibility can be implemented in all organisations, not just large businesses.”
Tim and Carissa had been encouraged to step forward because even though there were many large corporations entering, small businesses are not disadvantaged. As Tim points out, the entry process is designed extremely well.
“The application process is completed online which is the same for everyone; so no big fancy marketing budget can make the application look visually more appealing.
“Apart from the actual written content, it puts every applicant on a level playing field.”
The couple have strong connections with the Wairarapa region. Tim grew up on the family farm that dates back to 1878. Carissa was raised in Upper Hutt and the two met in Wellington after being introduced by a mutual friend. Tim was an investment business development manager back then, Carissa a risk insurance adviser, and both working for corporates – so they already had much in common.
In 2005 the couple embarked in an overseas working holiday, spending two years in Ireland, where Tim was head of business development for Oppenheim Investment Managers, overseeing the introduction of retail investment products to the Irish public.
But 2008 was a watershed year, when they moved back home to the Wairarapa and used their savings from Ireland to set up RIVAL Wealth.
Three weeks after launching the business they were married and moved into their first home.
With three children all aged under three in the early days of the business, Tim and Carissa quickly learnt about the challenges of “calendar sharing” and the sacrifices involved in balancing family responsibilities with business commitments.
It would prove the catalyst for their award-winning ‘family first’ workplace policy.
“We found a traditional nine-to-five business day wasn’t going to fit the business model,” recalls Tim. “When our kids came along, we looked outside the square, and the solution became clear. Flexible working hours, offering an excellent work-life balance, and creating an exceptional supportive workplace environment, was going to be key to our success.”
Almost 11 years on, RIVAL Wealth has 3000 clients (50 percent outside the region), 18 staff (either salaried or contracted, including one in Wellington and another planned for Auckland), as well as a ‘client-focused’ attitude. Tim is full-time in the business, split between managing the team and operating as an authorised financial adviser and certified financial planner, while Carissa, in addition to speaking engagements, maintains 25 hours per week as an authorised financial adviser.
“As a team we designed ‘Our Rules’ which are displayed on our office wall,” says Tim. “They are a wonderful reminder about what makes us unique and why we’re not afraid to look outside the square. As our business grew, we found that getting staff to use initiative and including them in day-to-day business decisions gave them a vested interest in the business.
“By offering flexible working hours, it naturally creates an ideal work-life balance. The positive flow-on effect means you end up with a team that truly feels like a family.”
The business set up ‘pods’; essentially backups for everyone’s roles. These pods let other members know about any key information they may have missed.
All staff work Tuesdays for a regular catch-up – coordinating to address clients’ needs, business strategies, workflow, planning, results and celebrating milestones.
A high-quality CRM system allows staff members to see what has been done for each client.
All of this is part of a wider culture that aims to support people who need flexible hours.
Tim says this was especially highlighted when their beloved office manager Arja van der Kooy began her lengthy battle with cancer – which required six months off for treatment, and other staff members stepping in to cover for her. “Because we’ve set up a buddy system, there is always a person in the office who can cover someone else’s role.”
Sadly Arja lost her battle with cancer, but her inspiration lives on today. Tim and Carissa will always be grateful for the legacy she left on the business’s culture and team spirit.
“We made Arja come to work for that last year for two hours a day so that she continued to have a purpose and receive support,” says Tim. “Even when she went off for her last round of chemo we kept her job open, knowing there was always a part to play there if she wanted it.”
In the Christmas holidays after she passed the team came together to build Arja’s Garden at the offices – a paved and planted area with a picnic table to have lunch in remembrance.
Now when friends or relatives go through health issues, team members have a much better understanding of how to deal with it. And if someone goes on holiday or is absent for an extended period, the rest of the team steps in.
Business and family-friendly wairarapa
Tim and Carissa say the Wairarapa is a magnet for people looking to combine work with lifestyle.
They list the sense of community, the parks, the mixture of coast and mountains, lack of traffic (“if there’s a traffic jam there’s usually a couple of sheep involved”) and the proximity to Wellington as definite assets. A $150 million upgrade to the Wellington-Masterton railway line is expected to bring Wellington even closer in the coming years.
“But don’t tell too many people,” laughs Tim. “Because we love the way things are now!
“Housing is more affordable here and it’s just a brilliant place to raise a family,” he adds, pointing out that Masterton was judged the ‘Most Beautiful City in New Zealand” last year by Keep New Zealand Beautiful; the judges praising the town for its focus on community projects. Down the road Greytown won the small town category.
“Job creation in this region is very important to us as a couple and with today’s technology it’s easy to keep in touch with clients, no matter where they’re located.
“We’ve had several staff join our team after moving from Auckland, Wellington, and even overseas, looking for better work-life balance. It gives staff the choice and ability to work part-time, particularly as travelling distances around the area are so small. That’s especially important if they have younger children to be running around.”
More ups than downs
Of course, no business journey is ever smooth. There have been challenges, lessons and celebrations over the past ten years for the couple.
“Starting a business right at start of the Global Financial Crisis was our biggest challenge,” reports Tim. “However, even through those really tough times, people needed financial advice more than ever. In the early days Carissa and I worked on average 13-hour days, with little cashflow and even less downtime. But we stuck at it and have always been very clear that clients are not just a number to RIVAL Wealth.”
Dispelling the myth that financial advice is just a luxury service for those with money can be a constant battle, he says. “Unfortunately, some people deal with money worries by burying their head in the sand, when in fact they just need to speak to an expert to make a plan.”
The perception that all financial advisers are trying to push products can be frustrating too, he says. “That is certainly not the way we roll. Most of the industry is focused on people and their needs, not product-pushing.
“It is a small number that let us down by being focused on themselves, and this is a short-term view. Most of our industry has figured out that with the right morals, integrity and honesty, you’ll have success.”
It’s all about having high standards of processes too. RIVAL Wealth has that in spades after, in September 2015, the business was granted a Discretionary Investment Management Services Licence (DIMS) by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA).
“This was a significant achievement because there are still only 52 financial businesses in New Zealand that can offer this service,” explains Tim, “including all the major banks and stockbroking firms.
“The FMA not only approved our directors as fit and proper people, but they have looked under the hood and completed due diligence on our process for investing client funds.
“We received particularly favourable comments from the FMA that our processes are of a high standard.”
There have been other celebrations, in addition to the Diversity Award. In the past two years RIVAL Wealth was a finalist in the Wellington Business Gold Awards for the Emerging Services category (2016) and Team Award (2017).
“This was a huge achievement as the judging process meant only five businesses made it to the final nominees at a gala dinner of 1,000 for the entire Wellington, Kapiti and Wairarapa regions,” says Tim.
Today the company manages around $100 million in total across all the investments it looks after, including its DIMS portfolio, mostly for ‘mum and dad’ investors.
It offers a free financial planning service, which is always popular, and not surprising in light of the fact that 50 percent of Kiwis have no life insurance and 50 percent have no will.
Services also cover cash management, debt management, estate planning, insurances, succession advice and maximising Kiwisaver.
Making work-life work
A successful work-life policy is all about having all your staff prepared to work flexible hours, says Tim, as there will always be times when you need others to fill in for someone’s job. Whether it’s to cover annual leave, sick leave or just a high workload, knowing how other roles work within the business is key, he adds.
“Excellent communication is crucial, so you may find you have more meetings. But if you keep meetings short and to the point, they’re very effective ways to keep all those concerned informed.”
Investing in the right technology, such as the CRM system, also plays a major part in a successful flexible workplace, he says.
Tim emphasises that, as manager of the team, a large part of the success of flexibility is not sweating the small stuff – such as hours completed each week or when team members are absent from the office.
“We have six-monthly performance reviews and an open forum for discussing issues,” explains Tim, “as personality types can share in different ways.
“Carissa and I fully understand that individuals cannot always perform at peak the whole time, and that micro-managing productivity out of people isn’t going to give us better results.”
The absolute focus on work-life balance seems to be a winning formula – as is having a clear vision for growth and, in Tim’s words, “being greater than ourselves”.
The purposeful transition from a ‘mum and dad’ SME to a small corporate was helped by the introduction of an advisory board in 2012. The board includes compliance expert Barry Read, management consultant Marcus Morrison, accountant Simon Moor, and industry expert Fred Dodds.
In 2016 an extension to the Masterton headquarters was opened to accommodate extra staff. “This was directly in line with our strategy to expand throughout New Zealand with numerous satellite offices,” says Tim.
In June this year an add-on business, RIVAL Accounting, went live.
Led by chartered accountant Simon Moor, RIVAL Accounting operates under the same flexible working philosophies as RIVAL Wealth.
“We have since employed another senior accountant who works full-time three days a week, says Tim. “So flexibility is already working extremely well in this new venture.”
The dream that began in 2008 for Tim and Carissa is still alive and well, and growing on the back of true workplace flexibility and employee well-being.
As team member Michelle Simms explains; “I am so grateful to have found a workplace that not only supports work-life balance, but has it written into the rules.”