We chat with Nicole Johnston who has over three decades of experience in trust accounting and property management and brings a wealth of insight into the evolving world of Real Estate finance. Nicole’s journey into trust accounting was an unexpected twist after a brief, unfulfilling stint in property management. Her knack for administration and numbers soon became apparent, leading her to specialise in trust accounting—a role she’s passionately pursued ever since.

After honing her skills and a stint at a commercial agency in Melbourne, Nicole ventured into consultancy, navigating the pre-cloud era where onsite visits were the norm. This hands-on experience primed her for the digital shift, culminating in the founding of her own consultancy, now known as Trustd Figures. Over the years, Nicole has weathered rebranding, partnership changes, and the integration of her husband into the business, all while building a robust team across Australia.

For Nicole, the end of the financial year is less about stress and more about preparation. She advises property managers to ensure bills are paid, reports are meticulously planned, and client contact details are accurate—an often overlooked compliance issue. Her pragmatic approach emphasises using cloud-based software to automate processes, a far cry from her early days managing thousands of properties single-handedly.

Discussing software preferences, Nicole highlights the nuances between industry giants like PropertyMe, PropertyTree, and ConsoleCloud, each offering distinct advantages depending on user comfort and needs. She acknowledges the emergence of “trustless” software solutions like Kolmeo and Managed App but cautions that traditional trust accounts and audits remain indispensable, despite claims of automation.

Nicole’s expertise extends beyond software, touching on critical trust accounting pitfalls. She emphasises the dangers of unchecked adjustments and urges to be cautious in resolving discrepancies promptly. Her advice on managing unknown payments and unclaimed funds underscores the importance of meticulous record-keeping—a testament to her commitment to integrity in financial management.

Looking ahead, Nicole embraces technological advancements while cautioning against overreliance on AI in tasks like tenant management and financial reconciliation. Her proactive approach encourages industry professionals to stay ahead of evolving software features and regulatory changes, reinforcing the need for continuous adaptation in a rapidly changing landscape.

Nicole addresses another common pitfall: manual fee management. She stresses the risks of relying on spreadsheets for tracking agency fees and recommends the use of automated systems within property management software like PropertyMe or Console. By setting up automated fee triggers, property managers can eliminate errors and ensure timely collection of fees, enhancing financial accuracy and operational efficiency.

Nicole’s expertise extends to the benefits of outsourcing trust accounting. She emphasises cost-effectiveness and expertise, noting that outsourcing to seasoned professionals like those at Trustd Figures can streamline operations and ensure compliance with varying legislation across Australia. With a dedicated team based locally, she assures personalised service and comprehensive support, integral to seamless trust management.

Personal development also is something Nicole applies in her approach. She encourages continuous learning and networking outside the industry through diverse resources and events. Stressing the value of personal growth alongside business, Nicole recommends attending non-industry-specific conferences and engaging with mentors to gain fresh perspectives and enhance professional resilience.

Nicole’s advice resonates with the complexities and challenges faced by property management professionals. Her insights into trust accounting, automation, and personal development emphasises the importance of efficiency, accuracy, and ongoing learning in navigating the dynamic landscape of property management.

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Nicole Johnston