Turbocharging growth through acquisitions

An ambitious strategy of growth through acquisition has seen Findex acquire more than 45 businesses since 2000, making it the largest privately owned financial services group in Australia and New Zealand. Spiro Paule, who started the business with his brother Terry in the late 80s, shares his growth strategy.

In 1987, Spiro Paule started a business with his younger brother Terry. It is now the largest privately owned financial services group in Australia and New Zealand. The group is now looking at expanding into South-East Asia as part of the longer-term ambition of establishing a global footprint.

“Did we set out to have 3000 employees, 200,000 clients and $17 billion of funds under management?” muses Spiro Paule. “Well, we always had ambitious goals. If it wasn’t $17 billion of funds under management, it would have been $10 billion. Or at least $1 billion.”

Paule launched Financial Index Australia (now called Findex) with the aim of bringing lawyers, accountants and financial advisers together under one roof. The business enjoyed reasonable organic growth in its early years. But it’s been the 45 acquisitions undertaken since 2000 that’s turned Paule’s enterprise into one of Australia’s biggest business success stories.

“From around the mid-90s we put a lot of focus on creating systems,” Paule says. “Then we brought in digital developers. They created databases and processes for things such as workflow and document management. Once standardisation guaranteed consistent quality that freed us up to get new clients. Not one by one but hundreds at a time by buying businesses where the owners were looking to exit the industry. That strategy allowed us to establish the largest accountancy footprint in Australasia.”

Buying the right culture

Over the past 15 years, Paule acquired Crowe Horwath Australasia, Centric Wealth, Prescott Securities, CIVIC Financial Planning, MBP Advisory, MOVO, Analysis-One and Pinnacle Same Day Tax Refunds.

So what does one of the world’s most acquisitive CEO’s regard as a good buy? “Culture is important; you want a place that holds onto good talent and where clients feel well looked after,” he says. “But the only real measuring stick is whether it’s going to provide a good return to our shareholders and stakeholders. The business either has to be making money already or have the potential to make money.”

Paule has had more experience than most in navigating integration challenges. The secret, he says, is mutual respect. “The acquirer needs to realise they are buying the company for a reason beyond scaling up,” he says. “There is always some know-how or talent that the company being acquired possesses. Conversely, the company being acquired needs to understand the acquirer has had some success on its journey. If both parties accept that they don’t know everything and try to understand the way the other goes about doing business, then that’s a good starting point.”

It was that philosophy that informed a major restructure and rebrand Paule announced in late 2015. The group was rebranded as Findex. While the companies Findex owned retained their distinct brands, “Part of Findex” was positioned next to each of their logos as part of an endorsed model. And all the businesses in their group, regardless of their specialty, began offering a wide range of financial services.

“We didn’t want to mix all the brands into one master brand,” Paule explains. “People have developed trust for those brands so why destroy that trust? But by making it clear that those brands are part of the Findex group we reassure clients there’s a big organisation standing behind the individual businesses; one able to provide the best products, competitive pricing and high-quality service. And we allow the adviser who a client trusts to introduce them to all the financial services Findex can provide.”

Findex has been a customer of NAB for the past six years, initially as a client in the specialist professional services banking unit and shifting over to NAB’s Institutional Bank as the business grew through acquisitions.

“We were first referred to Findex because of our specialisation for professional service firms in the business bank. Our approach has always been to support their growth strategy including providing product and ideas for them and their clients,” says Robert Wildig, Director, Client Coverage – Funds, Global Institutional Banking at NAB.

>Tips for growing your business

So what advice does Paule have for others looking to grow their business through acquisitions?

“Do best, middle and worst-case scenarios. If you’re not still going to be satisfied with the outcome even should a worst-case scenario play out, then don’t do it. Also, if you do go ahead with the purchase, have a Plan B and Plan C prepared because things never go according to plan.”

While counseling caution about acquisitions, Paule is enthusiastic about encouraging obscene ambitions. “Launching a business takes money, patience and vision,” he says. “It’s always fraught with danger. But digitisation has made it easier for entrepreneurs to chase their dreams and I’d urge them to do that. That’s what drives innovation and evolution.”