Jen Purnell on creating community and connections at Kearney Group.
Jen Purnell is standing at my front door with an arm load of pamphlets, maps and publications all about Melbourne and her thumping cultural and artistic heart.
“I heard you’re pretty arty farty, so got these for you,” she says as she hands me a stack of information about my new city. She flashes me my first of what I now know is a notorious JP smile – fire engine lipstick, a twinkle in her eye that makes you feel like she’s about to let you in on a big secret.
I’d only just arrived in Australia days earlier and Jen was already on the case – finding me things to do, communities to connect with, interesting people and places to visit. This was the first time I’d met the woman, and yet here she was, unloading hours of effort and research and reconnaissance into my arms, for no other reason than welcoming a friend-of-a-friend into a new world.
What I soon learned was that in a profession not always known for its humanity, Jen was a bastion of loyalty, empathy and true connectedness with others. She went to extraordinary efforts to outwardly express genuine care and great kindness, both in her work and in her personal life.
At the time, Jen was actually BDM for Kearney Group’s Private Wealth licensee. We, her client. Later, she became a client of Kearney Group as well – seeking out financial advice from the team of advisers she’s been supporting for so many years. And then, when an opportunity arose for her to join Kearney Group, we jumped at the chance and have never looked back.
Today, Jen is the Group’s Business & People Partner. It’s a role that’s been designed specifically for her so she can use her unique talents daily. In this blended position, Jen is responsible for welcoming new clients to the firm, bringing aboard new staff, and supporting our existing team members as well.
As our worlds have become even more entwined over the years, I’ve seen her wield her secret superpower time and again – a laugh at her own expense to make others feel more comfortable; sharing her wisdom and mentoring young professionals no matter how busy she gets; championing the success of others without a sniff of self-congratulation; inviting colleagues to her home for Christmas dinner when they’re far from their own families.
And, just like that day she turned up on my doorstep 12 years ago, Jen is still taking care of me, making me feel ‘seen’ and appreciated and supported.
At Kearney Group, one of our core values is to create community and catalyse connections between people and ideas. If Jen isn’t the embodiment of this, I don’t who is.
So without further ado, I bring you a one-on-one with the one-and-only, Jen Purnell.
Spotlight on: Jen Purnell
Annie: You meet with lots of different households and business owners in your role. What’s something they’re dealing with that you hope to address through your work?
Jen: The vast majority of the people we meet with tell us they’re looking for financial advice that helps them leave a positive footprint on the world. They’re looking to live well, and build a better future for the next generation.
In advice, we have a really important role in helping people understand their options (like responsible investments) and also, that there are many interpretations of ‘wealth’.
Unfortunately, many advice firms still aren’t reading the room and haven’t advanced their old ‘at any cost’ concept of accumulation and ‘wealth for wealth’s sake’ mindset.
For some, ‘wealth’ might actually be a big pile of cash. But for many others, our job as advice professionals is to help our clients uncover new or more personally meaningful definitions. Good health and wellbeing, fulfilling work or a sense of purpose, community impact and legacy, even time (as a finite resource) and how we choose to spend it, are all different ways to measure the same thing – a wealthy life, well lived.
Too often people wait for a crisis or until they’re older to get advice. The number one thing I hear is that people wish they’d come sooner – that the peace of mind they get can’t be understated.
Jen Purnell, Business & People Partner
AL: What do you do at Kearney Group?
JP: I work with people who are considering getting advice with Kearney Group; first, to understand their needs and also, to help them understand what financial advice can really do to improve wellbeing.
I also work directly with our team on engagement, and their own development and growth. I help with coaching and also run the ongoing review and staff development program.
If you’re thinking about joining our team, you’ll also likely speak with me early on, as I head up recruitment and onboarding for the business.
AL: What tips do you have for someone who’s considering financial advice?
JP: Get advice, and get it soon. Too often people wait for a crisis or until they’re older to get advice. And the number one thing I hear is that people wish they’d come sooner – that the peace of mind they get from getting good personal or business advice can’t be understated.
If you’re ready to get advice, it’s important to be really discerning and ask lots of questions in your introductory meeting. Ask about the advisory firm, their approach, their team and their values. Advice is a relationship and you’ll need to make sure your values align.
Beyond that, you’ll also want to figure out whether your shortlisted advisers are actually able to give you the right advice for your needs, as they change over time. For example, if you’re a business, can they support you as you start up? Or grow? Or wind up? Do they have the expertise and organisational structure to support your business and your household in a unified, integrated manner? If you’re an individual or a household, are they able to provide you with a robust financial strategy or are they niche specialists interested in selling a specific product (e.g. insurance or an investment).
These are all important things to consider when embarking on the financial advice journey.
AL: What’s your favourite part of your role?
JP: I love people; whether it’s working with our talented team, finding new people to join us or speaking with potential clients. It is a privilege to understand what makes people tick, what matters to them and how we can help them grow.
I also love the fact that Kearney Group is organic; we are growing, changing and always evolving into better versions of ourselves as individuals and as a business. Our exploration of solutions that create real value for people, and yet are kind to the world around us, is awesome. I love that we are intentional and impactful with our clients, our team and our broader community.
AL: What’s unexpected about your background? What did you do before joining us?
JP: Immediately before coming to Kearney Group, I worked in a really innovative business, run by visionaries and storytellers.
I originally started as a PA. I was hungry to grow. So, I kept asking what I needed to do to advance and then furiously worked toward what I’d been told. In time, I moved into a marketing role, then into sales and later, after finishing my MBA, I took on the State Manager role responsible for Business Development.
Ultimately, the business I was working with had been so successful the big end of town swooped in and purchased it. Unfortunately, over time the culture changed – as it so often does – so I was ready to look for a new challenge.
AL: How did you come to arrive into your current role at Kearney Group?
JP: Kearney Group had actually been a client of mine for 16 years. I was Business Development Manager to the firm, so I knew the business, Paul and the team well before I eventually joined the practice. That’s the thing about immersing yourself and investing in your networks: you just never know what opportunities arise and what your relationships will become in time.
AL: What attracted you to join the Kearney Group team?
JP: Working so closely with the team as BDM, I saw the integrity of what they were doing, the quality of advice they designed for clients.
I was attracted to the culture, people and pioneering approach, founded on unflinching ethics.
Paul is a visionary who searches for a better way and is curious beyond the obvious. The firm’s investment in its service to clients and the team, in ‘people before profits’, made Kearney Group stand out from the many other practices I worked with. This made joining the team an easy choice.
AL: What’s it like to work for Kearney Group day-to-day?
JP: It’s a cocoon of possibilities, with a group of professionals who aspire to great things.
There is a really strong developmental focus so you can truly explore your potential. Ideas are shared, encouraged and built upon to create great futures – for our people and our clients.
Our culture of collaboration and trust across the team really allows us to become the best version of ourselves.
AL: What are the core values that drive you? What inspires and helps you ‘show up’ each day.
JP: Things that drive me are:
- Engaging great people (our team and clients)
- Being optimistic and positive
- Belief in the power of advice and the difference it makes to people’s lives
- Understanding what matters to people, beyond the obvious – and how we can address that
- Sparking community and connection
- The awe and wonder found in nature
- The power of possibility
AL: Thinking back to who you were at the outset of your career, how have you grown and ‘transformed’? What insights would you like to have given to 20-something you?
- Growth = self awareness + time + experience + mistakes
- Connection and collaboration are the foundation stones for success
- Strong EQ is just as important and valuable as IQ
- Listening to the right people is important
- Pioneering is hard but fulfilling work, and there are many ways to do it
- Creating time for regular self-reflection is very helpful
- Sharing wisdom is wonderful
- Being curious is rewarding
- If you ever think you have arrived, you are mistaken
AL: It’s been a long time since we’ve been in our actual office. What do you miss most?
JP: I really miss the people-energy; the daily, informal interactions you have with people when you share the same space. We moved really quickly to WFH arrangements when COVID first hit. We’ve done really well for our clients overall during this period. But I do miss the banter and the opportunities for serendipity you get with a shared space.
Also I just miss our space in the Skipping Girl building… I will always remember, when I was growing up, driving past Little Audrey in the family’s Holden station wagon and looking up in wonder. I love that I am part of the history of Little Audrey now.
AL: Cruel I know – but if you were allowed to travel anywhere, right now, where would you go?
JP: Straight to the Maldives – without question. It’s the most exquisite, natural environment. The ocean is just teeming with the most incredible sea life. Being in the ocean, with my family, is my total happy place. What I wouldn’t give to be there now…
AL: What would you tell someone who’s looking to land a great role in professional financial services / as an accountant or financial adviser?
JP: If you’re looking to land a great role as an accountant, financial planner or lending adviser / mortgage broker, the best thing you can do is to get qualified and get connected. Growing firms that value their people will actively create opportunities for those who are hungry, self-reflective and willing to do the work to grow.
It’s crucial to start your job hunt based on values. That means you’ll need to spend some time to consider what matters most to you. Then, you’ll need to actively look for a firm that aligns well with your criteria. You and your future employer don’t have to agree on everything – but like any long-term relationship, you’ll want to ensure you’re on the same page for the most important stuff. If you’re keen to find a career (vs a job), you’ll also want to know your employer has the ability to push you to grow over the long run. This could be a unique service offering, a formal development program or some niche knowledge you’d like to develop in time.
Before you embark on your job hunt, I’d also suggest taking some time to really consider the reputation you want to be known for amongst your peers and the profile you want to put out into the world. Whether you like it or not, everyone has a “personal brand” and it’s better to understand that early so you can hone yours and put your best foot forward for your future.
And last of all, have courage. Reach out to people or firms you’re keen to work with. Find ways to connect with potential employers. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes.