As a fledgling university graduate with a sports management degree, VISIS Private Wealth Founding Partner Chris Smith had grand plans to play cricket for his country and big dreams to become the CEO of Cricket Australia. But, as with many things in life, Chris’s career path veered.
The dream turned on its heel when he took a job as a trainee financial adviser in 1999 rather than pursuing a sporting career – and at the time he never would have thought it would lead him to where he is now, as one of the nation’s best financial advisers in the pulpit.
Recently listed on the revered Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisers for 2022 list for the sixth consecutive year, Chris has been recognised as the 26th leading financial adviser in Australia in 2022 and the top non-bank aligned adviser in Queensland. That’s not a bad feat for a country boy from Tenterfield in New South Wales who dreamed of sports more than stocks in his youth.
Among the string of national awards and recognitions, Chris was recognised as the SMSF Adviser of the Year and Investment Adviser of the Year at the IFA Excellence Awards in 2018. He’s also been celebrated as a Certified Financial Planner of the Year (National Finalist) in 2018 and Professional Practice of the Year (National Finalist) in 2018 and 2019.
"The biggest challenge was trying to become a businessman at 25. I was naive enough to think I could do it, and ignorant to the challenges of running a business and being a practitioner at the same time."
Chris brings it down to being open to trying something new and allowing life to redirect you – even if you have other plans. "I turned my hand to something else. The combination of my affinity to maths and people was what brought me to financial planning," Chris explains.
Within just a few years of working in financial advice, Chris and his wife Wendy founded VISIS from their Brisbane home. "I spoke to my wife, who was working at Ernst and Young at the time, and we shared a dream of starting a business together," he says.
"When we started VISIS we worked from the kitchen bench, designing our logo, our ethos and figuring out what sort of firm we wanted to be. Honestly, that part came naturally because I already knew what that was."
Starting a business from scratch at a young age with limited experience in people management and just a few years in the business world wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing at the beginning.
"The biggest challenge was trying to become a businessman at 25," Chris admits. "I was naive enough to think I could do it, and ignorant to the challenges of running a business and being a practitioner at the same time."
Chris says he had to learn how to trust staff and empower them to make self-led decisions and set challenges for them to evolve.
"We had to get very good at running a business so that we could grow and employ staff and keep them motivated and incentivised to stay for the long-term so we could share VISIS with more clients and grow to the size we are today and hopefully beyond," he says.
"The biggest thing was making sure I could be a good boss and be a mentor. If you’re genuinely focused on and motivated to share the success that you have with your staff, then it becomes very easy. It’s not me versus them, it’s certainly all about them.
"When staff can grow, you’re going to be rewarded just from the benefits that come with that," he adds.
"People want to come to work and do a good job. I had to apply great self-control to stop jumping on little things which were irking me. You’ve got to realise which battles are the ones worth fighting," Chris admits.
"Having staff members made me become a better person. I’m proud of how good our advisers and staff are that we’ve had for the long-term and what they’ve turned out to be."
He finds balance outside of work, involving himself in coaching juniors at Valley District Cricket Club, volunteering for organisations like Ronald McDonald House and pursuing his love for golf.
Spending time with family is also important for Chris, who spends several weeks each year in Byron Bay with wife Wendy and teenage sons, Oscar and Colby.
This year Chris and Wendy established the Hands for Humanity Foundation, a philanthropic fund focused on enhancing quality of life for the disadvantaged by donating to a dozen charitable organisations operating in Australia and abroad.
"Looking after clients first, looking after their interests and building long-term relationships is key. That’s where our interests really align and trust that we can get things done for them is built."
This balancing act championed by Chris has brought the business far, having celebrated a special 21st birthday this year at Brisbane City Hall with many staff and clients who have been with them right from the beginning.
Looking back over its humble beginnings when the company was founded in 2001, the initial vision to create a private wealth firm that was fundamentally different to traditional financial planning services is a desire that has now been fulfilled.
The firm remains an independent, non-aligned firm that’s grown to five partners, 32 staff and approximately 600 high-net-worth clients with A$1 billion of wealth under management.
VISIS is now recognised as one of Australia’s leading private wealth management firms, with a strong track record of providing sound, smart and successful financial advice to ultra and high-net worth individuals and families.
It is headquartered in Brisbane and has an office in Sydney with plans to expand into Melbourne in the near term, extending the success achieved for clients with more people across Australia.
Excellence, integrity and knowledge
Chris is known for his passion and drive for helping his clients achieve their financial and life goals, and providing independent, expert advice on a range of financial issues, from growing wealth for retirement to generating a high tax-effective income through appropriate structuring.
"Looking after clients first, looking after their interests and building long-term relationships is key. That’s where our interests really align and trust that we can get things done for them is built," he says.
"Through years of working alongside leading business people and high-net-worth individuals and families to manage, grow and protect their wealth, we have a deep appreciation for our clients’ challenges, concerns, hopes and aspirations."
The name VISIS is an acronym of a Latin phrase which translates to "with excellence, integrity and knowledge we ascend". Those three values – excellence, integrity and knowledge – are central to how VISIS provides strategic advice and outcomes to clients.
"We have a never-ending pursuit of excellence. It’s an ethos of ours that we don’t just throw around," he says.
"Once you make a promise and you start to deliver on it and you see how clients respond to that with referring you to more people and trusting you to an even greater level. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as you just keep doing that and you just get better and better," Chris adds.
"Part of our organic growth just came from looking after clients and then those clients trusting us enough to share that with their friends and colleagues.
"That’s not an easy thing to do, to recommend someone to a financial adviser. So, we make sure we’re very conscious of the levels of service that we deliver to everybody."
With high service standards, strong client results, a growing awards cabinet and a strategic push into Victoria on the cards, Chris Smith and the VISIS brand continue to grow their reputation as leaders in Australia’s financial advisory sector.