Meet Antoinette: The adviser who combines emotional support with finance

Sara Allen

Livewire Markets

It’s not just about numbers. Financial adviser Antoinette Mullins believes in the power of relationships and offers her financial strategies with a side of emotional support. The ability to listen is an important part of her toolkit.

“As an investor, I listen to my head. As an adviser, I lead with the heart – I believe empathy and compassion are the best tools in an adviser’s toolkit.”

This is hardly surprising when you consider her background. Antoinette originally graduated with a degree in youth work and trauma counselling but found herself instead drawn to try something else. This turned out to be financial advice when she was interviewing for a range of roles and found a boss who saw her potential and mentored her in her journey.

One of her passions is to increase women’s financial literacy – a known challenge in the industry – and she has not only partnered with another strong female financial adviser, she has built up a client base of strong professional women. In keeping with this, one of her favourite client moments comes from a retiree in her 60s who started out ‘clueless’ on finance but recently emailed her with great excitement about activity in BHP – quite a transformation.

It’s easy to see she’s working to build the world she wants her daughters to live in – one where they are not only financially literate, but can be and do whatever they want.

In this Meet the adviser profile, Antoinette shares how her biggest investment mistake shaped her philosophy with clients and her top picks for clients (which she also uses herself – talk about putting your money where your mouth is!)

Financial Adviser Profile

  • Name: Antoinette Mullins
  • Company: Steps Financial (Director and CFP Adviser)
  • Licensed under Australian Investment & Insurance Group (AIIG)
  • Years working as an adviser: 15 years
  • Investment goals: If you had asked me a few years ago, I would say having a comfy lifestyle and travel is more important than investing all our money for the long-term. Having a late and surprise baby number 2 has changed things a bit. I’m more focused on long-term by being debt free earlier than planned and creating assets for my girls. The post-Covid world has also changed my views to reflect the uncertainty in the world: build assets that ensure security long-term and a have a strong cash backup.
Antoinette's family. Image supplied.
Antoinette's family. Image supplied.

Why did you choose this profession and how did you get started as a financial adviser?

I fell into it but have never been sorry! Economics was my least favourite subject in school because I didn’t like the teacher, but I loved Biology and History for the same reason. I love stories and piecing them together to understand the why and how of things.

Fast forward to 2005 and moving to Sydney (from South Africa via London), my first job was as an adviser’s assistant. What drew me to the role was the adviser who I would work for, saw potential in me and promised to be a good mentor.

I soon realised that being an adviser isn’t (only) about maths…it’s about people, strategies and helping them build their own story. 

 Within 2 years I had graduated from the NAB Adviser Scholarship Program and completed my ADFS. I moved into an adviser role and never looked back.

With FoFA I chose this profession all over again, as I had to do extra studies to remain an adviser – I really had to choose whether it was worth it or not. Now I own Steps Financial with an amazing partner, Tanya Oddo and have decided that I’m in it for the long haul.

Do you have a particular speciality in the types of clients you typically work with?

My university studies and background are in youth work and trauma counselling, so I love working with clients who need more emotional support. Clients like widows, divorcees, or late-planning retirees – I feel I really make a difference because of the extra hand-holding and emotional support I can provide.

I want to help women improve their financial literacy and ability to manage their own financial world, so over the years I’ve built a strong client base of professional women, as I enjoy the connection and have a strong female-focus in my brand.  

Can you share a bit about your process for building portfolios and selecting investment products? 

We use Brad Matthews for our model and investment research, so he’s a great source of knowledge and bouncing ideas off.

Although Steps have some model portfolios, I do adjust portfolios based on clients, so we’ll use the Core/Satellite approach. I have clients who love tech, so I’ll include tech stocks, clients in the medical profession, so I’ll include healthcare funds. Products to me that stand out, are ones where they don’t over-promise and under-deliver – they know their own weaknesses and admit it freely.

Can you share two of your “go to” funds with us? 

Our portfolios consist of a blend of active and passive managed funds selected with the client’s timeframe and objectives in mind.

Allan Gray Australian Equity Fund is a fund we use in most models, though it might not be the Core fund. Given the concentrated and contrarian approach of the manager, this fund is expected to perform materially differently to the general Australian equity market. As such, the fund complements the index allocation of the portfolio, providing diversification and a differentiated return profile.

We’ve recently introduced Capital Group New Perspective to most of our models. Although last 12 months returns have been hit hard, it’s a well-resourced fund with a proven process that has a long track record of meeting objectives. Their investment process also has a strong focus on environmental, social and governance issues applying to each company in the portfolio. The focus of the fund on the impact of changes in business environment, differentiates it from the style of other funds in the portfolio.

How would you describe your personal investment philosophy?

As you’ll read in my ‘worst investment’ question below, my experience early in my career has shaped me a bit. Hearing some client’s stories, about losing money during the GFC or having had a bad investment/advice experience, has made me conscious of investments aimed at client’s risk tolerance and goals.

I have a strategic philosophy in my own portfolios, but I will tweak the satellite funds every now and again. I feel that as a mum to two young girls, it’s only natural that my risk profile changed when I had them – suddenly I’m more risk averse than before. 

 I’m quite focused on being debt free and having a cash backup than ever before. The risks I do take on now, are much more more calculated risks that I can live with. 

I do have a much bigger Small Cap allocation than I would ever give a client – it has paid off in previous years, but the last 6 months certainly has been turbulent.

Could you please share your top three holdings in your personal portfolio and tell me a bit about why you hold each of these positions?

Apart from holding both Allan Gray Australian Equity and Capital Group New Perspectives mentioned above, my top three are:

iShares S&P Mid-Cap ETF (ASX:IJH) – index global small companies. I prefer Betashares as an ETF provider and use them extensively, but this investment is certainly one of my Core funds.

Fidelity Australian Equities Fund (FID0008AU) as well as Fidelity Asia Fund (FID0010AU) are in my portfolios – excellent fund manager and these two are part of my Core funds in their respective asset classes.

What was your worst investment? How did you deal with this falling position or fund?

Oh, this is easy and has shaped how I advise clients: It would have been 2005 or 2006, I’m a new adviser, learning everything from scratch. There’s really strong growth in the share market and I have disposable cash, so I start a small, geared share portfolio using internally geared share funds. Risk on top of risk. I was a greedy 25-year-old, wanting to beat the market.

When the GFC starts, my shares fall, and drastically too because they’re internally geared share funds. I did not have the cash funds to prop up my investment until markets recovered, so had to sell at significant losses to repay the margin loan. I learnt such valuable lessons:

  • Emergency cash funds are always crucial.
  • When you have any sort of borrowing against investments (investment properties, geared share funds etc) having cash is even more important.
  • Don’t copy other people’s investments – I followed this strategy because others did, not because it was what I understood or what I was comfortable with at the time.
  • Don’t be a greedy investor – don’t invest with emotion at all. Listen to your head, not your heart.

Today, I am very reluctant to put clients in a margin loan as a result and use any type of borrowings with my clients only after a thorough discussion of all the risks and having Plan B’s (and C’s and D’s) in place. As an investor, I listen to my head. As an adviser, I lead with the heart – I believe empathy and compassion is the best tools in an adviser’s toolkit.

Can you share one of your favourite client success stories?

My stand-out one is from a woman in her early 60’s who came to me for investment advice on a small inheritance. She admitted being ‘clueless’ about investments and low-risk to the point of wanting to keep the funds under her mattress! After a few years of working together to improve her financial literacy and understanding of investments and risk, she sent me a message on a Sunday that said something along the lines of “There’s big movements in the resource industry and I know I have BHP in my Super…exciting times”. She went from having no interest or knowledge of investments, to reading Sunday papers and translating that into how her portfolio could perform. A great win!

I’ve seen how the confidence that increased financial literacy brings spill into other areas of my client’s lives and that’s the best possible outcome for me!
Antoinette speaking at a conference. Image supplied.
Antoinette speaking at a conference. Image supplied.

What three conversations are you most frequently having right now with clients? And what is your answer to these questions?

With the current volatility I’m often asked whether they should invest more or get out of the market. People want a crystal ball answer and it’s just not something advisers should do. Of course, we’ll review the portfolio and make adjustments where needed, but if it’s just about allaying their fears, here’s how I respond:

Something I tell my girls is the first thing: Run your own have specific investment goals and reasons for investing, and your portfolio is designed with that in mind. So, ignore what Sharon or Barry are investing in, as their portfolios aren’t right for you.

Tune out the noise – a Shane Oliver favourite saying that I adopt freely. Don’t listen to your friends at BBQ’s or your work colleagues’ thoughts on the market and when to get in/out. Hold the line and ensure your own discipline when it comes to your long-term strategy.

What are the two most common mistakes you see in the portfolios that you inherit and how do you go about fixing them?

Haphazard investments which clients have selected over many years, which don’t complement each other, such as holding similar (or sometimes exactly the same) assets, or where the investment styles conflict or are too highly correlated.

Unless there’s a tax reason to hold onto the portfolio, we can just consolidate some investments, sell off some assets, or if there’s more funds to bring into the portfolio, we can diversify that way. Really understanding each asset, style of investment and underlying holdings is important, so that you can design a cohesive portfolio that flows well together and brings about real diversification aimed at reducing investment risk.

Can you share a personal passion or ambition you have for your future? 

I hope that my girls (Ava is 21 months and Zoe is 8.5) grow up in a world where they are not held back from doing or being anything; that they earn the same as the person next to them, regardless of gender or race. That teaching practical financial life-skills is part of the school curriculum, and they are encouraged by society (and not just me) to manage their own money and wealth. Not exactly my future, but they are my world.

I’d love to have more adventures with my husband and girls, travel more and one day (maybe soon!) escape Sydney and go somewhere quieter and calmer.  

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Sara Allen
Content Editor
Livewire Markets

Sara is a Content Editor at Livewire Markets. She is a passionate writer and reader with more than a decade of experience specific to finance and investments. Sara's background has included working at ETF Securities, BT Financial Group and...

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