How Darren Smith FCPA builds financial wellness

Darren Smith FCPA, founder of Financial Advice Matters and Financial Wellness Matters. Photo: Luke Marsden.

Darren Smith FCPA delivers financial wellness programs to employees to reduce the cost of stress.

At a glance

  • Darren Smith FCPA is the founder of Financial Advice Matters and Financial Wellness Matters, which help individuals gain knowledge and confidence in managing their financial affairs.
  • Employers choose from 16 education modules, such as goal setting and retirement lifestyle planning, delivered to employees across mining, retail, airline and not-for-profit sectors.
  • Workshops are fee-for-service, and Smith soon hopes to be able to deliver financial education sessions in schools.

Bolstering financial wellness for individuals and employees has helped Darren Smith FCPA build a profitable and diverse finance business and fulfil a personal mission.

“Wellness has many dimensions, including financial,” he says. “About 2.44 million Australians suffer from financial stress, costing businesses an estimated A$31.1 billion a year in lost revenue.

“A report by the Consumer Policy Research Centre found COVID-19 has also amplified the vulnerability of consumers, because of the scale of job loss and financial concerns.

“On a personal level, I have seen the impact of mental health struggles – I lost my brother to suicide 20 years ago. Although it was not connected to finances, it was a strong driver for me to help people improve financial wellness, which has been identified as one of the larger contributors to suicides.”

Increasing financial literacy

While Smith has worked in the financial advice field for nearly a decade, six years ago his Brisbane-based firm Financial Advice Matters created a separate brand, Financial Wellness Matters.

Of the firm’s 32 staff, 13 operate as financial advisers. The business has a dual focus – to deliver holistic financial advice and coaching, and to deliver financial wellness education.

“Setting up the new business structure and brand in 2015 gave us the opportunity to reposition our values to include financial education, motivation and, ultimately, wellness,” says Smith, who began his finance career in 1989 as a trainee accountant for Commercial Union in Melbourne.

He has a masters degree in business from Deakin University and experience in the insurance and sales fields.

“We had a group of existing clients who joined us on our journey, and we also approached HR departments about running financial wellness programs for their staff,” he says.

“We are now growing by referral, with 1200 private clients and a list of companies and organisations Australia-wide engaging in the area of financial education, including Qantas, Glencore, The Motor Trades Association of Queensland, Wesley Mission Queensland and the New Hope Group.”

Through a multi-module, structured education program, Smith and his team provide practical tools and skills participants can use to make more informed financial decisions.

“It’s about giving people the energy and enthusiasm to take control of their finances, as well as assisting them with financial literacy,” he says. “When you actually get into a session with 20 people, you realise how poorly many people are managing their money.

“A corporate wellbeing program that ignores financial health will have a limited impact, as our finances impact so many other elements of our wellness.”

Income stream diversification

While Smith and his team personalise programs to each company he works with, he says there are many common areas to start from.

“We find a lot of basic things appeal to many different age groups and workplaces. For example, one of the most popular sessions we have is ‘Words to use with your bank to get a better deal’. A high percentage of people take action and get an outcome.”

There are 16 modules in total, ranging from debt management to investment and estate planning.

“We also do a lot of work with National Seniors Australia, helping people understand their choices in retirement,” says Smith.

Workshops are fee-for-service, stand-alone and not used as leads to engage clients or sell them financial products. “Often people do circle back to us, but that is not the primary aim,” Smith says.

An increasingly important part of the offering is the flexibility of remote delivery and licensing supporting financial wellness content.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, we converted all our programs to be able to be delivered digitally and used for a set period on a company’s intranet.

“When you are running a diverse business, you are continually reassessing how you can make improvements, as well as whether you have the right tools and team members.”

Opportunities for other finance professionals

“We think we are in the leading pack in financial wellness education, but, also, there is a great opportunity for accounting and finance professionals to bring skills to help others, as well as diversify their income stream.

“Every session I do, I realise we can really make a difference. I am thinking, how do we scale up, how do we get our message out more broadly?

“We are currently trying to expand our reach to schools, having focused on teachers initially. I would do this every day of the week!”

One piece of advice

“Decide which areas of your business or service you want to lead in and find ways to build a team and process that continually feed your energy and passion, as that will inspire others.” Darren Smith FCPA

December/January 2022
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