Blood, booms and ‘barefoot millionaires’: The Anthony Menico story
For Anthony Menico, financial advice was in his blood whether he knew it or not.
Growing up as the son of John Menico OAM, a legend in the Cairns area as both a financial adviser and a community volunteer, the younger Menico was destined for a place in the finance industry, but he didn’t quite know exactly in what role.
Working initially with large super funds, ranging from government defined-benefit funds to private oil companies, the younger Menico advised trustees on regulation, investment, insurance and strategy. When his father wanted to retire, Menico returned to Cairns from Sydney in 1994 to take over his practice. He completed his financial planning qualifications and in 2000 established the business that is now MTP Financial Services, with long-time business partner Jo Tuck.
“After working as a tractor salesman, my father became a life insurance adviser, and I saw from a young age the tangible difference that he made to clients’ lives, even though he was seen as selling product back in the 1980s,” Menico tells The Inside Adviser. “My passion, essentially, is helping people achieve their goals and secure their financial futures. I see it as good karma, letting them get on with what they are good at, by helping them understand and minimise the worry around the financial stuff.”
The MTP philosophy on wealth is that it should be managed wisely to provide security, achieve life goals and create a meaningful legacy. “It’s not just about accumulating money, but also about using it effectively to enhance your life and the lives of those you care about,” Menico says. “It’s different for everybody, and you need to dive really deeply to understand that on an individual level.”
Technically, the investment philosophy is active growth, but in practice it is based on a small cohort of fund managers that the firm has got to know over 20 years. “We filter based on benchmark outperformance above all, but also simple things like size of the fund, and years the portfolio managers have in the game, to prove they can survive a liquidity event like the GFC. No-one high-fives you in a bull market, but when markets go down, you need to have done your research. We believe in a diversified and disciplined approach that aligns to a client’s risk tolerance, time horizon and financial objectives,” he says. “And consistent risk management is fundamental.”
Advice is a relationship, first and foremost, Menico continues: working with people to help them gain an understanding of their own unique circumstances, so they can make informed decisions.
“You have to be objective, honest, and act in the client’s best interest. Sometimes clients don’t want to hear what we have to say, but that goes with the territory. If they don’t want to proceed, which is rare, we know we’ve done our best, and we move on to those that embrace the opportunity.”
Running an advice business in Cairns has a lot of unique aspects, he says. “Our client base is pretty evenly split between Cairns locals and those who live further afield; and not just in Queensland, we have clients in all the Australian capital cities. But we deal with a lot of locally-based HNW individuals that we refer to as ‘barefoot millionaires’.”
These are people who epitomise the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” he says. “Often, they turn up for meetings in a clapped-out old ute, wearing high-vis and thongs, but they are very financially savvy, and they’re straight-shooters. These people often come from really humble backgrounds, farming families, local manufacturers or tradies, but they’ve successfully ridden the many waves of boom and bust that Cairns has seen over the past 40 years or so.
“They have lived many of the stories that form part of the local folklore of Cairns. They also know each other from school days, so discretion is the better part of valour! And then there’s the sea/tree changers who’ve arrived in Cairns more recently, but all with stories to tell of what brought them to Cairns, and how living in the tropics ticks so many boxes for their life goals and objectives in itself.”
Where 20 years ago, a local HNW client might have “felt the need for a southern adviser,” that thought has largely gone, Menico says. “My business partner Jo Tuck and I both appeared in the Australian Financial Review Top 100 advisers list, to prove the point. We continue to offer the easy-going, family-oriented approach locals enjoy and expect from their advice professionals. That said, we are very intense when it comes to the advice process, so our more sophisticated clients don’t feel they need to source advice from a capital city practice. And technology has really solved any tyranny of distance.”
Menico’s firm views personal individualised service as its over-arching differentiator. “Most new clients are referrals from existing clients. I feel most advisers in regional areas would have a similar story. Our operating costs are generally lower than for capital city firms, so I feel we’re actually in a sweet spot.”
After a tough decade, Menico believes the advice industry is in “the best position I’ve ever witnessed” – on the basis that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
“The regulatory pendulum swung way too far, and now is swinging back to a more centred approach that better balances the need for protection with the flexibility required to effectively assist in such a broad range of client circumstances and needs. Those who are still in the industry or entering it now are doing so because they want to help people, they understand that it’s no longer ‘all about the money,’ and they are striving to demonstrate transparency and trustworthiness,” he says.
“The profession will succeed by embracing the legislative and technological changes that are presenting themselves now.”