“I remember once walking into the reception area at my office in Richmond, and I noticed someone had changed the flowers in the reception area,” Barton – previously well-known as Tammy May – told Adelaide podcast Rooster Radio, which appears regularly on InDaily.
“And I was like, ‘You can’t go and change the flowers without talking to me first!’
“And then it was like this lightbulb: ‘Hang on a second: you’ve got people who can sort this stuff out…’”
She realised ‘okay, this is starting to get serious’ when the business reached around $10 million in revenue.
In which case, it is now well beyond serious.
According to its founder, Adelaide-based My Budget now has around 200 staff and a turnover of around $34 million a year.
“We’ve helped around 50,000 clients, and have around 20,000 active clients at the moment,” she said.
And the company manages, on behalf of those clients, “close to $1 billion in salaries every year”.
It is a canny endeavour, pitching its credible public face to its philanthropic bent, while appealing broadly to almost anybody in financial stress – which in the current climate is an almost endless prospective client list.
After 17 years, “we’ve gotten to a size where we needed a whole other layer of management”, says Barton.
“So we needed more strategic thinking… maturing the business to get to that point was difficult and [finding] the right people to sit at that executive management level has been challenging.
“And I learnt a few things along that way because we made some appointments without doing the proper amount of homework… finding the most ideal candidates, that’s been a challenge because you’re entrusting people to make decision that you would want made.
“You’re not just handing over who’s going to pick the flowers in the reception area any more; you’re talking about wholesale changes that might be happening within the business or decisions around finances, entrusting the day to day running of it to someone else.”
And meanwhile, Barton has raised her own sights.
“[There’s] always big aspirations,” she said.
“An obvious one is to take the brand global – and our goal is to open to other overseas markets in the next five years.
“Where we are evolving the business to is not just cash-flow management… we have a lot of data that we could leverage to the benefit of our clients, and that could help them save money.
“That’s currently one of the strategic priorities we’re working on today.”
And that’s a sensitive topic in a climate very different from that in which My Budget was forged, when the business grew by word of mouth and referrals, and Barton would “literally drive to Marion with one cheque, with all the Telstra and ETSA stubs” and walk into Australia Post to pay all her client’s bills before “walking around into all the different banks to deposit their living money”.
In an age of internet banking and electronic data, though, “we get to see 360 degrees of the client’s wallet, which means the client’s life”.
“We know… are they expecting a baby? We know are they going to be getting married, do they need to plan to get married? We know how many kilowatts of power all our clients buy every year, and we go directly to the wholesaler,” Barton said.
But she insists “every decision we make is about ‘is this better for our client, does this play into our value proposition for our client?”
“It’s never about ‘can we make some money off of this’, it’s about ‘how can we take this and make our clients’ life better?’
“Because at the end of the day we don’t [just] manage people’s money, we help people’s lives to work out.”
Barton says “with all that data, we want to be like Superman”.
“We want to be the good and not the evil,” she said.
“We don’t want to take that to leverage for our own gain… all of our clients who have mortgages, we know better than anyone else what sort of credit risk they are, because we’ve been managing their money for a number of years.”
Two years ago, when she was elevated onto the influential BRW Rich List with an estimated personal fortune of $26 million, Barton disputed the figure, calling it “subjective and inflated”.
Now, however, she concedes while the number was “unsubstantiated”, it may have been near the mark – or even below it.
“I [rejected it] because if it was true and I had that money sitting in my bank, I’d say ‘well fair enough, and come and talk to me while I’m on my yacht!’” she said.
“But the truth is, they’re valuing my portion of the business and until it sold one day we don’t really know what it’s worth… we can hazard a guess and sometimes I might say it’s worth more than what they said and other days I might say it’s not.
“I don’t really know and I just didn’t think it was validated – I mean, I’m worth more than Miranda Kerr, did you know that?” she laughed.
“They had a formula as to how and why they thought the business was worth that, and to be honest – fine, they’re probably not too far off the mark…
“But it didn’t sit comfortably. Because I’d go across [the road] to Sean’s [Kitchen at SkyCity] for lunch and everybody’s thinking: ‘Oh, it’s that girl who’s got millions of dollars’, when in actual fact the majority of it sits within my business and the value of my business.”
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