Hannah McQueen is the founder and managing director of enableMe. Since setting up the financial consultancy in 2007, McQueen and her posse of financial coaches have helped thousands of Kiwis kill their debt and gain control of their finances. Sally Jones talks to McQueen about her “third child” and how a sticky situation led to her taking the helm of a growing business that aims to help people lead happier lives.
Hannah McQueen is a straight shooter. But after one minute of talking to her you know that she probably demands more honesty of herself than any client.
McQueen is the first to admit her personality isn’t suited to her previous career as a chartered accountant. So with early ambitions to own a fish and chip shop, how did she end up as a bean counter?
While scouring the jobs section in the newspaper, she saw an article that said 80 per cent of CEOs are chartered accountants, “so that career path seemed the obvious step to take.” After gaining her qualifications, McQueen landed a job as an auditor at KPMG, which she describes as “the best battleground” to develop sharp skills and a strong work ethic. It was also the first place she really started dealing with people and money.
How did enableMe begin?
By now, McQueen had gone on to work in the mortgage industry, and that’s where her conventional career path came unstuck. One day, she was talking to a colleague who said: “wouldn’t it be great if we can help people get out of debt instead of helping them get into debt?”
This concept resonated with McQueen, who then shared the idea with the pair’s CEO. However, shortly after, McQueen and her colleague were fired for competing against their own organisation.
McQueen says that episode, albeit scary at the time, was the best thing that could have happened to her. “Losing the job was never part of the plan. But because I felt I had already failed before I started, I had an enormous sense of freedom. What more did I have to lose?”
McQueen was now working on her own with a business idea to explore. She was spurred on by the idea of doing something that could change people’s lives. “I wanted to make it count, make it matter and I wanted my job to be part of that.”
At the time McQueen was trying to work out how to restructure her debt so as to pay the least amount of interest. She was convinced there was a formula that could be cracked and so she contacted the Mathematics Department at the University of Auckland, working with Dr. Jamie Sneddon who did indeed find the solution, which McQueen patented. But there was a fundamental condition to making it work – there had to be money left over to pay off the debt.
But McQueen didn’t have any surplus money. She began to wonder if she was the only person in this situation and if people were in denial when talking about money.
It took the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 to kick-start enableMe. “People were given permission to be honest about their money without any judgment,” explains McQueen.
How does enableMe work?
EnableMe’s financial personal trainers – registered financial advisers or chartered accountants – work with clients, typically individuals and couples, to identify financial goals and create a plan to make them happen.
This assessment involves careful consideration of people’s personalities and behaviours. So much so, that the financial coaching focuses less on the numbers and more around psychology. McQueen hand-picks her consultants for their life experience as well as their credentials. She explains: “To a lot of people money is just a sterile topic. But it’s actually emotional and it’s complex and it’s our job to bring that to life for people.”
The enableMe methodology involves a three-way assessment of people’s financial fitness:
1. What is their cash position – are they sinking, floating or flying?
2. What is their life stage – are they starting out, building up or retiring?
3. Are they a shopper or a saver?
What makes enableMe different?
One thing that clearly differentiates enableMe is its independence. According to McQueen, much of the financial advice being given in New Zealand is linked to selling products. “It’s scary when you think this [advice] could impact my family for the next 30 years. I want someone who’s going to be independent and not in the back pocket of the bank or trying to flog me something else.”
The comprehensive service provided by enableMe also sets it apart. You can find individual components of it elsewhere – mortgage restructuring, budget advice, tax advice and life coaching. But McQueen says: “We’re adding all this glue and a process, a proven methodology that no one else is doing, and most importantly we get results.”
What financial aims do enableMe clients have?
Interestingly McQueen says that most of the people seeking help from enableMe are already financially literate. While their circumstances vary, they all share a desire to get ahead faster, but some require a reality check first.
McQueen chuckles, recalling a client who wanted to buy two properties within a year, pay off one in five years and give up work. “I said if we do everything to the best of our ability we can get you mortgage-free within 10 years.”
Difficult revelations can occur between couples. McQueen says it’s not uncommon for one person to be committing “financial infidelity” – incurring debts without the other one knowing. One client confessed to racking up $110,000 of debt to their partner in a first meeting. McQueen says: “This is the environment where they feel they can share it. They’re here to sort it and sort it we must.”
What are clients asked to do?
McQueen says most of her clients’ financial plans are not as punitive as people might think. “We’re always trying to get this elusive balance where you’re living a life you really enjoy but you’re getting ahead at the fastest possible pace for your situation.”
Often clients don’t know what makes them happy and the financial trainer will work with them to identify those things. These are the ‘non-negotiables’. Everything else is classified as ‘fritter’ – money you spend that doesn’t make you any happier, but you spend it because you haven’t had a reason not to or you don’t realise you’re spending it.
Eliminating the fritter is based on the theory of diminishing returns. For instance, McQueen explains how she used to have brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and then reduced that to one brunch on Saturday and a coffee on Sunday. “I was just as happy and that saved me two grand a year.”
But she says she would never have a reason to do that unless she was working to a plan and accountable to someone, “I have to have my own consultant, even though I’m running this programme. My personality needs accountability.”
Clients’ first year with enableMe is the most intensive, putting the framework in place, refining it and building momentum. Once that phase is over, people check in with their consultant to varying degrees – some prefer quarterly, others annually or less often. However, some clients want to continue working with enableMe on an ongoing basis.
What’s on the horizon?
McQueen’s overarching goal is to improve the New Zealand economy and to create an international brand. “I live in New Zealand and my children are going to grow up in New Zealand, so I have a vested interest in making this economy as strong as it can be for the next generation.”
EnableMe’s presence is growing, with 5,000 clients and offices in Auckland, Wellington and Tauranga and another about to open in Christchurch. In the last 18 months they’ve also increased their reach by offering franchise opportunities to financial advisers and accountancy firms.
McQueen has just entered into a due diligence process to set up enableMe in an offshore market. She fields a call every month from someone overseas wanting to buy her business, but she’s reluctant to sell. “I see enableMe as almost my third child. It’s capable of changing millions of lives and leaving something awesome behind. And like your child you want it to achieve its potential and become what it’s supposed to be.”
However, McQueen says there are conditions attached to international expansion. Those come in the form of continuing to be a great mother to her children, Cameron (seven) and Madison (two and a half). “If my family is not thriving or my children are not settled then I don’t have balance.”
Wherever she is, McQueen will be taking a driving role in helping more people to meet their potential. “I don’t feel I have come close to achieving my ceiling on the business front. I don’t know where that even is. You just keep surprising yourself with what you can do!”