Caroline Bell has been part of FinMarie as a co-founder since mid-2019. Extremely successful after over 28 years of financial advice experience in Australia, she sees FinMarie as an opportunity to also help women in Europe to gain more control over their finances. After working for many years for the global tax consultancy Arthur Andersen (now Andersen), specializing in individuals and expatriates, she founded her own firm in Australia in 2006 , which quickly developed into one of the fastest-growing financial advisory firms in Australia and had a waiting list for new clients after a short time.
Caroline loves to see her clients achieve their lifestyle goals. She lives what she preaches by successfully traveling the world, and living on two continents (Australia and Europe).
Thanks Caroline for taking the time out for this interview, we are super excited to have you here with us! Please tell us a little....
Please tell us a little about yourself/ your journey from graduate to now.
It is a long time since I have been a graduate! I knew when I was a teenager and my grandfather taught me about stocks, that having money and knowing how to use it meant having choices and independence, which has always been important to me. The concept of a financial adviser didn’t exist back then, so after graduating with a Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne, I joined the tax practice of Arthur Andersen (which later became Andersen), and specifically asked to only work with individuals. I have always liked working with people and seeing what a difference you can make to their life by helping them better manage their money.
During my time with Andersen, I worked with expats and was one myself, also working in the London office. But after nearly 10 years with Andersen, I was approached by another firm to join their financial planning team and after two years with them, was approached by another firm.
After 2 years with a smaller firm, I decided I wanted to establish my own firm - so I did. I was on my own with my own licence as Summerhill Financial Services - as I knew back then, that I did not want to be tied to any specific institution and have the freedom to implement the advice that I thought was best for my clients. I had 5 clients who came across with me, but I experienced strong growth during a short period of time, including during the global financial crisis and am still grateful to those clients who are still with me, but joined when I just started.
Back in 2016, I decided I wanted a change in my personal life, so I moved to Berlin. I continued to run Summerhill Financial Services from Berlin with the support of my team. I would go back regularly to Australia for face to face meetings, but had implemented online meetings years ago, so it was not a huge transition. Even during COVID-19, nothing has really changed for my clients.
In 2019 I was introduced to Karolina Decker who asked me to join as Co-Founder of FinMarie. I really liked the concept, and after over 3 years in Europe, could see that there was still so much progress to be made in terms of women achieving financial confidence and independence. We offer a hybrid financial advice solution - with clients being able to access professionally managed investment portfolios without advice, but we also offer one on one financial coaching advice for those that need some extra help to get started.
And then at the start of 2020, I launched Summerhill Invest, based on the changing financial advice landscape and wanting to make financial advice more accessible to more Australians.
So, I am based in Berlin, running three businesses, on two continents in two languages. It keeps life interesting!
What are some of your challeneges/ experiences of glass ceiling and how did you manoeuvre your way around it?
I chose to leave corporate life relatively early in my career so I have never experienced a glass ceiling. I certainly never experienced it at Andersen and was a relatively young Senior Manager before leaving back then. Of course, I have experienced condescension and being patronised, but that just made it more enjoyable when I experienced more success than those who were being condescending or patronising.
What are you most excited about in the industry?
I love change. And I find it fascinating to watch the changing financial advice landscape and adapt my businesses to this. In Australia, it is dealing with the rising cost of financial advice, mainly due to regulations and compliance (which most Germans don’t realise is even more extensive than in Germany). It means that good financial advice is just too expensive for a lot of Australians to afford. That is why I created Summerhill Invest - to adapt and make financial advice more accessible.
In Europe, it is the same trend in terms of making financial advice more affordable and accessible, but the other development is that people are realising that they cannot rely on the government for retirement like their parents or grandparents could and they need to have control over their own financial independence. This means that the demand for good financial advice is increasing in Europe.
What are you doing in the D&I space?
The whole concept for FinMarie came from the D&I space in terms of it is not about excluding men - but helping women gain confidence about their money and their financial future. This is a passion of both mine and my business partner, Karolina Decker and we look forward to seeing the difference that we can make on women’s lives over time, just like I have seen in Australia.
How did you make sure you stood out of the crowd?
Careerwise, I have always done two things that have helped me stand out of the crowd. Firstly, is listening to the advice of others but always doing what I know is best for me, even if it is against the advice of others. I know what works for me, and it has often led to career development or advancement that would not have been otherwise available. I take advantage of opportunities. It is one thing to recognise an opportunity, but then doing something about it is another thing.
What was the most important thing that helped you land your current role?
Experience. Without question, after nearly 30 years in tax and financial advice, 14 years of which has been running my own business, I am where I am today as a result of my experience, which is a culmination of all the choices I have made in my career, as well as a genuine desire to want to do the right thing for my clients.
What advice would you offer to others interested in doing a similar role as yourself?
Focus on your clients and not yourself and you will be rewarded 10 fold. Clients know when you are sincere or not and at the end of the day, financial advice is about people.
What tips would you offer those looking to climb the ladder?
I have never wanted to climb the ladder, so I may be the wrong person to ask. For me, having control about how I work in terms of being able to travel and have flexibility in terms of when, how often and how I work was more important to me. Also, being able to do what I want for my clients was more important to me than following rules in a corporate environment.
How do you make sure you have a good balance of home and work life?
That is a continuous work in progress! Because they are my own businesses and I work from home, I don’t always achieve a good balance, but my friends keep me in check as much as they can. Before COVID-19 and after it ends, I have a fairly good balance with meeting friends and enjoying travel and Berlin. The balance is a little out at the moment given the amount of time I am spending at home, as well as the support that clients need during such a volatile period.
What's next for your career?
Just continuing to develop Summerhill Invest and FinMarie! Both are important to me, as well as fun, and have no other career goals other than continuing to develop and grow both businesses and watch the impact that they have