The Switzers’ journey to king, and queen, of SMSFs

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(Pictured: Peter Switzer and Maureen Jordan)

Peter Switzer is a well-known commentator and presenter in the financial world, and an important influence on the investment behaviours of SMSF trustees through his financial planning business and SMSF newsletters. His wife, Maureen Jordan, is less well known but just as important in building and maintaining the Switzer brand. PENNY PRYOR spoke with them both about their journey.

The purchase of an Olivetti typewriter while travelling and working in London in the early seventies was the beginning of a formidable collaboration between two former University of NSW students. Peter Switzer is the name that is instantly recognisable but that’s because a partnership of equals between Peter and Maureen Jordan has allowed it to be so.

‘The Clintons without the scandal’ is how one media commentator, who credits the pair for ‘making him’, puts it. But back in the 70s, when Peter and Maureen returned to Australia after some publishing success in British newspapers, neither of them set out to create a business. They just wanted to create a place that was pleasant to work.

“The first thing that we ever did was buy a typewriter. It was a blue portable typewriter that cost around 15 or 20 pounds at the time,” Maureen says. “We then had this freedom to write and we just loved that so much. That was probably our first business investment.”

On their return from London, they both taught in secondary schools but also tutored students. Then, on the advice of a parent of one of the students, they set up a company – Switzer Coaching School – and a business, which has spanned custom publishing, television and financial planning, was born.

Although in the initial stages they say they didn’t have a plan, it’s obvious that at many times during their long careers in small business, both Peter and Maureen have been prepared to take risks and think outside the box.

They understood the importance of sponsorship before many in the industry did and have always been cognisant of building and maintaining a brand.

“Maureen understood the concept of the brand Switzer. In a sense, she was a Svengali, she realised she could use me and at the same time grow this brand called Switzer. She’s smart and so switched on, being a solicitor by profession, she’s been such a great asset,” Peter says.

When Peter went back to study his PhD at UNSW in the late 80s Maureen worked to support the family. The flexibility also allowed Peter to become a more hands on Dad.

Around the same time, Peter pitched an education supplement to the Telegraph to compete with what the SMH was doing. That led to a regular column in the paper on a Wednesday against Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald, which in turn resulted in an approach for a radio documentary on Triple M.

During a successful stint at the Triple M network, both Peter and Maureen did economic and finance updates.

“Triple M was great for a few years. We had more money than we’d ever dreamt about because there was just so much money around in radio at that time,” Maureen says.

Although the money ran out when the radio station hit financial difficulty, Peter asked to remain on air to keep the Switzer brand in people’s minds.  He also knew that, as a finance commentator, he’d be one of the easiest people to get sponsorships for.

When he put that to radio management, they, perhaps foolishly, said he could keep whatever sponsorship he was able to bring.

“So Peter went and got the Fin Review, signed them up for two years at more money and we kept it,” Maureen says.

CommSec then came in with its sponsorship and its own economists and eventually nudged them out.

But during this time, Maureen had been leading the custom publishing side of the business, learning more about building and maintaining a business from a small business magazine the group had acquired.

“That really made us start thinking about an entity, rather than just Peter Switzer,” Peter says. Maureen says once they felt their two sons were financially secure they really started focusing on business growth with a long-term strategic plan that is constantly being reviewed and updated. 

The move into financial planning came via osmosis as well. As the company grew, and Peter took on new gigs like ‘Talking Business’ for Qantas, they started fielding more requests from listeners and readers for help with their financial situation. 

When Maureen was asked to edit an American book about building wealth for an Australian audience, she was shocked by the naivety of some people with regard to their finances.

“One lady said to me: ‘you sound like a really nice person. I’ve just come into $750,000 would you look after it for me?’” she says incredulously.

Initially they passed on these kinds of requests to people they knew in the advice industry.

“We started to realise they were passing people on to other people within their business so we weren’t necessarily sure those people were being looked after the way we’d have liked. So we thought we better do it ourselves,” Peter says. 

Slowly but surely, they began to understand some of the “unusual practices” in financial advice.

“We decided to do the opposite, so we wanted to rebate commissions, charge flat dollar fees and just be different from everybody else,” Peter explains.  “We actually started because we got worried about what was out there,” Maureen adds.

It’s been a slow burn for the financial planning group, which was started in 2002, probably because of its focus on fee for service. But now, with all the right systems in place, it has really started to make significant contributions to revenue and staff numbers have doubled in the last 12 months.

In an interesting twist of fate, their former nemesis at CommSec during their radio days, founder and chief executive Paul Rickard, became a significant shareholder in their financial services business – which includes the Switzer Super Report – three years ago.

“I’d been starting to notice all this interest in self managed super funds,” Peter says.   “So we thought it would be a good idea to do something just for them.”

After operating out of Woollahra for the past two decades, the business is about to move into a fitted out city office, which has plenty of room for expansion.

And with two sons in the business – Marty and Alex – there’s an obvious focus on succession planning. Peter and Maureen do plan to gradually phase out their involvement – the hard part, for the pair, is working out when that will be.

NOTE: Penny Pryor edits the Switzer Super Report.

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