The development of trust has been at the heart of Isherwood’s booming residential property advisory business since its inception. It’s an uncompromising commitment to integrity that’s driven results for CORE, and for clients – drawing in some of the biggest names in Australia’s corporate landscape.
“Our business is completely based on trust. Our clients are referred to us by some of Australia’s most trusted wealth advisers. So we’re not just entrusted with our reputation, but theirs too,” says Isherwood.
In 2012, he made the bold move of ‘closing the doors to the public’ and adopted a private client-only model, relying solely on referrals from CORE’s strong relationships with Australia’s leading wealth advisers.
Today, CORE is the only buyer’s advocate in the country that’s not open to the public.
In a reflection of Isherwood’s background, CORE’s performance stems from a rigorous, systematic funds management approach. “Fundamentally, we have taken a corporate approach to an amateur segment. In comparison with the ASX this is a highly inefficient market, generating systematic opportunities to create value for clients.”
“Risk management is the backbone of our process. We control quality using an investment committee process, which means that a single property has to pass through five different experts to be approved, versus the industry norm where individual agents act alone on behalf of clients”, says Isherwood.
Former AMP CEO and now Westpac and Telstra board member Craig Dunn agrees with this assessment, saying: “The process that CORE uses to identify properties to invest in is what you would expect from a professional asset manager who’s managing any asset class, whether it’s bonds or equities.”
Dunn has engaged with CORE as a client and also come to know the firm in more detail since then. He’s clear in his view of them as a premium partner. “They’re always going to put your client’s interests first. They’re very mindful of your relationship with your client, and the importance of working with you to get the best outcome for your client – but also for you as an advisory practice.”
Alongside Dunn, CORE’s client list reads like a who’s who of corporate Australia as well as some of the most prominent family offices. While that could intimidate some advisory businesses, Isherwood is confident in his data and analysis. “Our style helps drain emotion out of things. We simply focus on the numbers,” he says. “Our clients are CEOs and board chairs, but they’re generally not property experts.”
Christopher Zinn is a client with the potential to make any business nervous. Known as Australia’s top consumer campaigner, Zinn is Director of Campaigns and Communications at Determined Consumer, as well as Adviser Ratings – an organisation focused entirely on providing transparency for consumers seeking competent and trustworthy financial advice.
Zinn has had firsthand experience of CORE as a client buying investment property. He says: “In so many markets now, data is really the key. And that’s something CORE has a great competency in. Not only having the data and accessing it, but looking at it dispassionately in the way that the individual buyer may never actually be able to do.”
For Isherwood, the success of CORE is not just a stroke of luck. Seven early-career years in Bain & Company gave him the analytical skills, thinking and rigour needed to start and grow a business. Further experience was gained in private equity with Pacific Equity Partners, and then as a fund manager. It’s a rare skill set in the residential property industry, which has proven an advantage for CORE’s clients.
But to focus purely on returns is to overlook CORE’s clear focus on people. “Some of the best advice I ever received was to just go and build trusted relationships,” Isherwood says. Dealing purely with private clients has allowed CORE to do this, based on the age-old premise of quality over quantity.
“We’re not about serving the masses or taking over the world. We don’t want a thousand clients.”
With no online presence, I liken CORE to the almost invisible but highly exclusive Qantas Chairman’s Club. Isherwood agrees with that comparison.
“We don’t want to be visible … we just want to work with people who share our values. We’re quiet achievers and don’t seek public recognition for our work. Whether it’s buyer’s advocacy, or providing advice on portfolio construction or intergenerational wealth transfer, we’re discreet in every way – just like many of the families and individuals we work with.”
Isherwood still meets with each client personally, no matter which of CORE’s four national offices they engage with. “We’re a high-touch, high-service business,” Isherwood says. “We are ultra-diligent in everything we do.”
That attention to detail and focus on the client even comes through in staff remuneration. Unlike most competitors, his staff are paid on a fixed salary rather than commission, ensuring decisions are always made solely in the best interests of clients.
It’s a point that stands out, and leads me to my final question: What’s the secret at the heart of CORE? Isherwood doesn’t hesitate. “It’s doing the right thing, every time. By clients, by advisers and by our team.”
That’s how to build a business on trust.