Today, Midwinter Financial Services announced the appointment of its first chief executive officer. In a Q&A that covers friendship, fintech, future plans, family, formative years and ceramic pineapples, we talk to Midwinter's co-founder Julian Plummer and the person - Jeff Hall - who has stepped into his rather large shoes.
Midwinter Co-Founder and Executive Director
At what point did you realise you had moved from start up to mature company and what did that mean for the three founding directors?
We've known it for a while and we've been chasing Jeff for two years. It was always going to be big shoes to fill but Jeff had the exact knowledge and skill set needed to lead the firm as CEO.
What has always set us apart from the pack is our financial advice pedigree and it is important for us to not lose touch with that. So, with Jeff on board, the three founding directors will be able to remain grounded with client expectations without worrying about the weight of managing the company - which can wear you down after a while.
How did you and Jeff come to know each other?
Working on the first phase of the StatePlus Future Operating Model - which served as the blue print for much of what we see in the industry today. It was the first "choose your own stack" enterprise advice project with CRM, modelling and registry API integration. Jeff was the E&Y lead consultant on that project, and while I probably couldn't stand the sight of him at the beginning of the project, we came out very close friends by the end. A lot of what we were doing was very much unmapped territory and was quite stressful - so our friendship was forged over that (and ceramic pineapples). Every day was an adventure in uncharted waters!
What was the particular impetus for bringing in Jeff in an executive managerial role?
It was obvious at the out-set that Jeff "got" advice, and he also spoke our language when it came to the provision of quality of advice.
We were after a master persuader - someone who can motivate employees and who was a good cultural fit for the business. We got very lucky with Jeff. He is also great with clients and extremely good with messaging a narrative.
"What you don't want is to bring in a highly-paid CEO that has shot the lights out in a previous company, only for them to come over and rest on their laurels or past successes."
Is it difficult to hand over the reins? How do you mentally prepare for it?
Not difficult at all, more like a relief!
We all have a lot of trust in Jeff, so the transfer over is easier with that in mind. With Jeff we were confident in his ability to learn all the idiosyncrasies of the business as he went along.
Does it make a difference bringing someone you're familiar with into the fold?
It does make a difference. What you don't want is to bring in a highly-paid CEO that has shot the lights out in a previous company, only for them to come over and rest on their laurels or past successes. I've seen it happen so many times. Jeff has hit the ground running with no fuss, and by day four was already into the nitty gritty of our billing systems and workflow. Not bad at all!
How will your day to day role change? What will you be freed up to do?
Spend more time with clients and make sure we have our fingers on the pulse of where the industry is heading.
Talking more with advisers, super funds, other fintechs - we will position the company to be able to deliver quality advice services in five years' time. The challenge with fintechs is that the landscape is constantly evolving, so the company's direction must be constantly "finessed" in order to stay relevant.
Where do you see the future of the company and its place in the financial services landscape and why is this strategic appointment a part of this vision?
Midwinter will remain a vital part of the advice fintech ecosystem, and Midwinter is well placed to lead in an API-first, mobile-first, digital-first financial advice landscape. What we have to do is improve on our lead and ensure our clients have access to a modern toolset to achieve their requirements.
Jeff knows where we are going in the short and long-term, and is ideally placed to lead us there.
"The challenge with fintechs is that the landscape is constantly evolving, so the company's direction must be constantly "finessed" in order to stay relevant."
Who do you most admire, and why?
I most admire Douglas Engelbart, the American engineer and investor. Douglas took far-fetched ideas like hypertext, computer mice, desktop windows, graphics, and dynamic file linking and brought it to life. I'm told that anyone who watched his 1968 "mother of all demos" thought it was like watching a "UFO land on the White House lawn". How he managed to dream up all that and then deliver it as a cohesive vision is something we can all draw inspiration from.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in a town called Collie in South West WA, before moving to Hong Kong for my school years. Moving from a working-class coal-mining town like Collie to Hong Kong was a real eye opener, but the entrepreneurial drive from Hong Kong left a lasting mark with me. The friendships I have with my Hong Kong school mates have lasted the test of time and they're always good for a laugh.
What is something that people wouldn't know about you?
I'm a bit of a book lover, and tend to go on book shopping sprees on Amazon, resulting in bookshelves filled with books I haven't gotten around to reading. Apparently, the Japanese word "Tsundoku' means the act of buying books and then letting them pile up in your house unread. So I have a bit of a problem with that, which I realised only just earlier this morning.
Midwinter Chief Executive Officer
This is your first time in a CEO role, what does that mean for you?
I'm delighted to be making the next logical move in my career with a uniquely innovative organisation and with people who share the same vision. I'm looking forward to being fully accountable on delivering this strategic vision and the targets of the business.
How do you feel about venturing back into a tech company after spending extensive time at one of the big 4?
Venturing back into the industry is something that I was always going to do. Drawing upon lessons learnt and skills from consulting is something that I am looking forward to applying to this role.
What does the next 12 months look like for you?
I'm coming to Midwinter with quite a broad range of experience from places such as Accenture, Macquarie, COIN and most recently EY and I plan to leverage the knowledge gained from this to invest in our organisation and people to achieve sustained growth. Most importantly, my goal is to free up the right resources to concentrate on strategies, innovations and alliances that will ensure our clients both large and small, receive the best possible user experience.
"Venturing back into the industry is something that I was always going to do."
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Wollongong up until the age of 23 when I made my move to Sydney. Wollongong was a great sporting town, where I played a lot of sport including basketball, running and in particular, cycling - which I still love and actively participate in. It was definitely a lot quieter than city life, but a lot of my family still live there and I do enjoy going back to visit frequently.
Who do you most admire, and why? And what is something that people wouldn't know about you?
I'm going to flip the order of these questions because they go hand in hand for me. What some people may not know about me is that I am the father of five daughters (aged 12 and under), whom I absolutely cherish and adore. Which leads me to who I most admire, which may sound corny but the truth often is - that is, my wife. She runs everything in our lives including myself and I would be nowhere without her.