The Aussie expat helping expats find their feet: Brett Evans

Growing up as an expat child, Brett Evans is no stranger to the idea of living overseas and the experience of new culture and challenges that come along the way. His personal story certainly is a catalyst that leads to the birth of Atlas Wealth Management, a consultancy providing wealth management and financial planning services for expats.

As Managing Director, Brett helps his overseas based expat clients to make informed decisions to better manage their investments whilst simultaneously realising their career ambitions on the global stage.

And in May 2019, Atlas Wealth Management’s globality has reached another level, with a new office established in Dubai, providing on the ground support and advice for more Aussie expats.

The experienced financial planner and leader of one of the leading independent wealth

management firms, talks about his exciting move, vision and backstory of the business and what he has learnt from living overseas.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.

How did you wind up in Dubai?

Due to our global client base of Australian expats Atlas Wealth Management has always had a vision of setting up offices overseas. In the past we have worked with our clients digitally over Skype and Zoom calls combined with in country visits.

However we wanted to raise the bar on the service levels to our clients and allow them to come into our office so we can sit down and discuss their financial circumstances. When providing financial advice to Australian expats it can get quite complicated and explaining the moving parts is often easier in person.

Why did you choose Dubai over other cities?

We have been investigating the options for an offshore office for a number of years, but we wanted to ensure that two things were maintained. The first was to be able to maintain the continuity of the services that we provide to Australian expats in the new offshore office. And the second was to be able to work with a regulator that was cognizant of our existing licensing and regulations requirements with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC).

The establishment of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) enabled Atlas Wealth Management to achieve both of those requirements as it is unique in that it operates under a common law system as well as having a working relationship with ASIC back in Australia.

How long did it take for Atlas Wealth Management manage to embark on an international journey? What were the biggest challenges?

The time frame from our initial investigations and meetings with the Dubai regulatory authorities through to receiving our in-principle approval was a period of 7 months.

The biggest challenge was investigating the different options available from a company structure point of view and then determining which one was the most appropriate for Atlas Wealth Management.

How did the concept of providing wealth management services for Aussie expats come about? Was there a pivotal moment?

I have been working in financial services and wealth management in Australia since 1997 and due to my background of being a former expat I was approached regularly by friends and colleagues who lived overseas and were finding it difficult to obtain financial advice that took into account the unique requirements for Australian expats.

In 2011 I decided to start Atlas Wealth Management whose sole purpose was to provide Australian expats with customised and specialised financial advice that they require to navigate the financial aspects of a life overseas. The timing was quite fortuitous for expats as in 2012 (and repeatedly since then) the Australian federal government has been amending the tax laws and financial regulations for expats which makes it very complicated for expats to keep track of the changes and how they affect them personally.

What do you like most about your job?

The best part about the job is the clients. We get to work with the most amazing people in over 28 countries and I never get sick of hearing their stories and what they have achieved in their expat journey.

Australian expats work in the most varied of fields and are at the top of their game on the global stage and you can’t help but be motivated personally by their achievements.

How do you see the expat financial services industry in Dubai and what do you predict for its future?

I see many positives for the financial services industry in Dubai. Unfortunately, there has been a stigma about financial advice in the region due to so called “financial advisers” selling financial products with little to no regard as to whether it is suitable or appropriate to the client. These products haven’t been sold in markets like Australia or the UK since the 1990’s due to their high running costs, penalty periods and lack of flexibility.

One of the reasons we decided to setup in Dubai was to provide Australian expats in the region with a financial planning service that actually provided financial advice, not product sales. This is a service that no one in the region was delivering on the ground.

With the booming popularity of the DIFC the best financial services firms from around the world are establishing offices here and the level of professionalism and credibility that they bring will shine a very bright light on the incumbent providers who haven’t done a very good job in the past.

Besides Australia, where did you live and work before moving to Dubai?

Previously I lived in both the United States and Hong Kong in my earlier years as my father was in the Royal Australian Air Forces and then worked with Cathay Pacific.

This was a great experience for me growing up as it enabled me to develop a wider perspective on the world and it is something that I still draw upon today. I am looking forward to watching my daughters also gain the same perspective in their new life overseas.

Before Dubai I was living on the Gold Coast in Queensland where the headquarters of Atlas Wealth Management is. I guess you could say I have moved from the beach to the desert.

 What’s your favourite city and why?

My favourite city would have to be Hong Kong because even though I haven’t lived there for many years it still feels like home when I go back after having lived there for 10 years.

The passion and optimistic attitude of the Hong Kong people has always captivated me and inspired me to work on the world stage. The city brings together so many cultures and nationalities that enables you to appreciate many different parts of the world in one place.

I believe the United Arab Emirates shares the same spirit of growth and prosperity as Hong Kong which is what attracted me to the UAE.

Biggest lesson you’ve learnt from living abroad?

Do not bring with you either preconceived ideas or notions on how everything should be done. Respect the fact that you are in a different country with a different culture and they may have different ways of doing things.

You may not agree with those ways but to save yourself from getting a heart attack don’t fight the change, just work with the new system and find a better way to navigate it.

What are your future ambitions?

With over 1 million Australian expats living overseas Atlas Wealth Management has its work cut out for it in trying to educate and deliver world class financial advice to the Australian diaspora.

In the future we could see an Atlas Wealth Management office located in each of the major expat hubs providing Australian expats with a local solution to solving their complicated financial concerns.

What was your first impression about Dubai? What’s your favourite thing about the city?

My first impression of Dubai was one of aspirational change. Having grown up in Hong Kong we learned about the development of the Asian colonies (Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai) in the 1800 and 1900’s and those times of change always fascinated me. It is very rare to find a location in today’s age that is going through such rapid change as Dubai.

What I love about Dubai is what they have achieved in almost one generation. It’s amazing to think that in the time that that current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has been alive it has gone from a few huts on Dubai creek (Sheikh Mohammed was born in 1949 in an adobe house by the creek which had no running water or electricity) to what it is today.

Your recommendation for great coffee in Dubai?

Luckily Australians café culture has been one of the greatest imports into Dubai. There is a wide array to choose from, Common Grounds, Boston Lane and Tom & Serg to name a few.

If you’re after something with a local flavor, then definitely have a look at the Emirati Coffee Co.