DFM Financial Group, Chris Kirkaldy

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Chris, welcome to Business Minds. Tell us how you came to call the Coffs Coast home.

The Coffs Coast has been my home since primary school, when my parents moved here in the early ‘80s to become the inaugural teaching staff at John Paul College. However, for many years before that, we would come to the Coffs Coast for school holidays, so my fondest memories are those of caravanning, fishing and surfing around Coffs. While I moved away for university and early in my working career, I have always had strong ties to Coffs and when my wife and I decided to start a family, the Coffs Coast was the only place we considered raising our children.

How did you come to be a financial planner? 

After a decade in the hospitality industry, I realised that I had a passion for building relationships and helping people. My love of finance led me to a career change into an area where I knew I could combine all of these passions.

DFM Financial Group have been in Coffs for a long time. Can you please share with us a little more about the business?

DFM Financial Group, which started as Duncan Financial Advisers 30 years ago, was founded by Rees Duncan. It was solely a family business providing financial advice to the Coffs Coast, until I was able to join the team in 2010. Since then DFM Financial Group has expanded from Kempsey to the Gold Coast, offering a full suite of financial services, such as Accounting, Mortgage Broking, and most recently NDIS Plan Management. The other two Directors of the DFM Financial group are direct relatives of the founder, and we still consider our business as holding a family culture.

What have been the highlights to date?

There have been so many: from winning several Coffs Coast Business Chamber Sunny Awards and licensee Practice of the Year Awards, to helping Cancer Council NSW with Pro-bono work for cancer survivors. The greatest highlight personally has been seeing the spark in my clients’ eyes when I can tell them the dream of a comfortable retirement can now be achieved. 

Share with us some of the challenges you’ve encountered running a business?

Like all SME [small to medium enterprises] business owners, the greatest challenge is the balance between spending time in the business versus on the business, while managing to find time out of the business to have a life. This constant juggle can only be achieved with the support of both my work family and my home family. 

This especially is needed when challenges such as the acquisition of a new business is being integrated into our existing service offer. This can be a trying time, as two business cultures are melded into one. 

Another challenge has been the ability to allocate resources into our newest service offering, that of NDIS Plan Management. This is a completely new industry, and we have been one of the first in the Coffs Coast to specialise in this part of the NDIS. This means that we had to develop and train every new employee, as prior experience in this field was non-existent.

Being in a professional services business, customer loyalty and experience are paramount. What is your approach to managing this?

I believe that customer loyalty is not gained by offering discounts or specials, but instead by providing an exceptional experience, every time. This experience is gained through interaction with the right people, so my approach to managing a client experience is ensuring that I employ those who align with our business values. DFM Financial Group prides itself on helping people with money, and we believe that everyone can experience financial freedom. I know that we cannot change what we cannot measure, so we use Net Promoter Scores to continuously improve on the service we provide. 

We survey our clients regularly, to ensure they are receiving the level of service they desire and to ensure that they know the areas of financial services we can help them with. In fact, it was through a client interaction that led us to investigate offering our NDIS Plan Management service in the first place. 

For those budding investors or people just looking for a starting point with financial planning, where would you start?

Building wealth, for most of us, does not happen overnight. Making small changes to how you spend and what you save, as early as possible, will have huge rewards in the future. Many Australians, in my experience, do not know simple financial facts such as how much they spend each week, how much interest they pay on their mortgage or car loan, how much they have in superannuation, or the benefits of compound interest. The best place to start for budding investors is investigating what you have, what you earn, and what you owe. From there, set your goals and map out an action plan to achieve them.  

For some, the action plan may start with saving a little more then you currently do, while others may need the services of a professional to reach the larger goals in life, like buying a home or planning for retirement. We believe that everyone can experience financial freedom, so it may be worth seeking professional help to achieve these important life goals.

What marketing activities do you find most useful? 

I believe that in professional services, word of mouth (WOM) referrals are the most effective. People need to trust that the person providing the financial advice, accounting information or loan recommendation is looking out for them in the best way. So those seeking a service like this will most often ask their family and friends for a recommendation on who can look after them.  While this probably doesn’t answer the question around marketing activities, I have found that while building brand awareness is important, it is more of a buyer re-enforcement and therefore secondary to the usefulness of WOM.

Finally, what is your favourite part about the Coffs Coast?

My favourite part of the Coffs Coast is the diversity of the environment. Where else on the East Coast of Australia can you walk through a rainforest, swim in a freshwater creek, go for a surf and see the migrating whales on the same day? For someone who has just explained that it is a balancing act to find time to enjoy life outside of work, when the pendulum swings in my favour, the Coffs Coast really does provide endless options that are so close at hand.

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