Having spent part of his childhood in the US and Hong Kong – owing to having a father who was a Royal Australian Air Force pilot – Aussie Brett Evans had an early insight into the then-emerging need for advisers able to help the thousands of Australians who would soon be emigrating around the world over the subsequent decades, as part of a globalisation-fueled diaspora.
Below, Evans explains how his Queensland, Australia-based advisory firm, Atlas Wealth Management, caught this expat wave just as a revolution in cross-border communications, brought about by the creation of the internet, made a centrally-located global advisory business possible for the first time.
When Brett Evans was growing up, he spent nine years living in Hong Kong, after an earlier stint as a small child in the US, as his Royal Australian Air Force pilot father’s career progressed.
Today, although he lives in Australia – in Southport, where Atlas Wealth is based – Evans says he often makes use of his past experiences as an expat when dealing with his clients, many of whom are experiencing the sorts of traumas, realisations and day-to-day experiences he knew growing up.
Much has changed since Evans was an Aussie expat, of course, and he says that there are a couple of major game-changers coming into play in the expat advisory world right now that have already begun to reshape it even further.
The recently-enacted US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is one that he says has caught Australian expats living in the US in particular unprepared.
FATCA’s global counterpart, the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard, or CRS, is another.
Both are regulations that were brought in after the 2008 financial crisis, and both have been conceived as a means of preventing the use of foreign accounts to hide wealth, in order to avoid having to pay tax.
They do this by obliging financial institutions to reveal the details of those who hold such assets as bank accounts, savings accounts and investments in a country other than the one they’re resident in to the tax authorities in the countries where the account holders actually live.
(FATCA affects US citizens and Green Card holders only, as well as – Evans explains – non-Americans who live in the US).
Then there’s Australia itself. “To say that there have been some regulatory changes in Australia recently is putting it mildly,” Evans – whose strong Aussie accent seems unaffected by time spent in any other country – says.
“In the wake of the global financial crisis, the Australian government implemented legislation called the Future of Financial Advice, or FoFA, which was intended to improve the quality of financial advice on offer to retail investors, and to ensure that certain mishaps that occurred in the past could never happen again.”
FoFA’s ‘best interests duty’
FoFA, often described as Australia’s RDR, banned commissions on investment products; established a ‘best interests duty’ for financial advisers, similar to the US fiduciary rule; and introduced a requirement for advisers to notify their clients of the fees they’re being charged, and to give them the option, after a certain period of time, of cancelling their advice contract.
As if this weren’t enough, in February Australia’s lawmakers approved yet more legislation affecting financial adviser, this time aimed at boosting the quality of advice on offer by setting new minimum qualifications for advisers, and establishing a new Code of Ethics that advisers would be obliged to comply with from 1 January 2020.
And then there’s Brexit in the UK, and the recent election of Donald Trump in the US.
Given that Europe, the UK and the US are the three places that Australian expats are most likely to end up – and together around for around 700,000 of the total estimated Aussie expat population of around 1 million – any tightening up on visa requirements or other restrictions in these jurisdictions is likely to complicate life still further for Australians living in these places, many of whom are already beginning to feel increasingly unsettled, Evans points out.
“Despite this, thus far at least, none of our US-based clients has indicated that they are thinking of leaving the country in the wake of Trump’s election”, nor are Aussies rushing for the exits from Europe yet, Evans says.
“That said, we could see changes down the road.”
‘Roots in early 2000s’
Atlas Wealth was founded in 2011, although Evans says its roots date back to the early 2000s.
At the time he launched it, he was joint owner of an Australian advisory firm, Gamma Wealth Management, which looked after Australian clients in the usual way of such businesses.
(Evans had entered the financial advisory profession after studying business at university in Australia, and obtaining a graduate diploma in financial planning from the Kaplan Business School in Sydney.)
Atlas Wealth Management
Founded: 2011, in Southport, Australia
Noticing that he was “constantly being approached by expats looking for specialised advice that pertained to their individual circumstances, as opposed to generic advice”, and remembering his own years in the expat trenches, a business model began to emerge in Evans’s mind.
He chose the name “Atlas” because, he says, “‘Atlas’, to me, summed up what we were trying to achieve, which was to provide Australian financial advice to expats living in all those places in the world that you see when you open an atlas.
“It doesn’t matter what continent or country you’re in, if you have access to a phone and internet, we can provide financial advice to you as if you were sitting in our boardroom.”
That concept – of providing financial advice globally via the telephone and the internet – lies at the heart of Atlas Wealth Management’s USP.
Although he added a Singapore outpost in 2016, and says he’s in advanced negotiations with regulators in at least two other Asian jurisdictions about the possibility of opening additional offices sometime later this year, Evans admits that Facebook and YouTube (there’s even an Atlas Wealth YouTube channel), are what has put Atlas Wealth on the map for expat Aussies.
What’s more, he says, these media don’t just let the Aussie expat diaspora know Atlas Wealth exists, but – evidently because Evans posts a new video every week to YouTube, talking about some financial issue typically faced by Aussie expats – would-be Atlas Wealth clients evidently come to feel they already know him, a fact he says he discovers when he finally talks to them for the first time.
More importantly, though, the numbers that he’s able to reach online are unlike anything he or his team could even begin to do if they relied only on conventional means of reaching out to clients, Evans says.
“If I deliver a talk on an expat financial topic to a seminar in Singapore, I’ll only be reaching the 50 people in that room at that time.
“Compare that with a video I posted on Facebook on the 21st of February, which, by the 6th of March, had already had 1,2000 views.”
As Atlas enters its sixth year, Evans admits that his gut instincts back in 2011 about there being a huge, untapped market of expat Aussies in need of financial advice appear to have been correct.
Assets under advice have almost trebled, to A$55m (£34m) in just two years, he says, while the number of countries in which Atlas has clients has leapt to 18, from eight two years ago.
Having just launched a product just for expat Aussies in the US, the Atlas Wealth Pan Pacific Portfolio, Evans says he is concentrating his attention now on getting the regulatory approvals in place to open those two additional overseas outposts, in Asia, as mentioned, as well as one in Europe.
Because, he says, there is a huge need for Atlas Wealth’s services.
“It never ceases to amaze me where Aussie expats get their advice from, and how much veracity they give to it,” he explains.
“We’ve heard everything from ‘it’s illegal to provide financial advice to Australian expats, isn’t it?’ to ‘if you move any money back to Australia it will be confiscated’, to ‘if you invest in property in Australia it is tax free’.
“Ninety percent of the time the information comes from a colleague or associate who heard the information third hand, or read about it on a website or forum that isn’t credible.
“One of the most popular sources of dodgy financial advice seems to be the flight deck of commercial aircraft. We have many clients who are pilots, and long-haul flights are apparently a popular time for [them] to discuss their finances.
“Some of the information that we hear is being shared at 35,000 feet would make a financial regulator cringe.”
This story originally appeared in the April edition of International Investment magazine.