Views from the front line

We spoke to three advisers who recently featured in the Barron’s top 50 financial advisers in Australia and asked them for their views on the advice industry, what they thought their best achievement was, and whether there was anything they would do differently if they could have their time again.

surfer preparing for a big wave

The advisers who generously gave their time to answer our questions were: Nerida Hicks, Bridges Financial Services; Tony Catt, Catapult Wealth; and, Tim Donohue, PMD Financial Advisers.

What do you think the greatest challenge is for your business and the broader advice industry?

Nerida said, “I think the greatest challenge at the moment would be for financial planners to ignore the legislative changes relating to their required educational standards. Not taking the necessary steps now, while there is still time, could mean that practices will disappear or pay dearly. More generally, I believe the threats to our business are limited and are not in our control, for example, legislative changes are inevitable, as are downturns in investment markets”.

Tony said, “For me, my challenges are attracting and keeping the best talent, creating a sustainable future for my business and ensuring that we maintain the personal touch to financial advice and not become too efficiency driven. Clients still crave personal, tailored and proactive advice – we need to continue to maintain resourcing levels to deliver this”.

Tim believes that, “For my business, it is how to grow sustainable profits – is this via acquisition and/or organic growth, and what capital might I need to do this? Also, financial planning is very labour intensive so improving processes is critical. That said, the financial planning industry has fantastic upside and I am more excited by the future opportunities than ever!”.

In terms of challenges for the broader advice industry, Tim said, “The focus on historical hidden fees and fallout from well-documented advice industry problems has made clients more sceptical about engaging advisers but I do believe new clients expect to pay for personal advice and service. A large percentage of Australian’s do not get advice, that’s primarily because a large percentage of Australian’s have very little savings so they cannot afford advice. For these people, I think robo solutions will be huge for them in the longer term”.

What is one of your best achievements in terms of helping people by giving them financial advice?

Tony said, “Ensuring people are curious about the fees they pay versus the services they receive. We’re also very proud of developing a strict fee-for-service model that is completely transparent”.

Nerida said her greatest achievement was, “The quantity of loyal clients we have built up over a long period of time. We’ve managed to do this by challenging the ‘norm’, thinking differently and offering a service that is friendly and simple, but effective”.

Tim said, “retaining significant clients over very long periods – that’s 20 to 30 years in my case – and a healthy proportion of our clients continuing to refer new quality clients to us”.

If you could travel back in time to see your younger self, what would you tell them to do differently?

Tony said his advice to his younger self would be to, “do a life coaching course because it would have taught me to ask better questions, be a better listener and most importantly be more curious about people and situations. The whole premise is to ‘coach’ the client through the process and let them come up with options rather than do what our natural tendency is, which is to provide all the answers from the outset”.

Nerida said, “I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of woman who sees the world through rose-coloured glasses. I look back at my journey now and say ‘thanks’ to my younger self. Thanks for making the decisions you did, thanks for taking me down the path you did, and most importantly, thanks for what I am experiencing now and sharing with others.

Tim’s advice would be, “always do the best thing by your clients – funnily enough, we did not need a regulator to tell us that!  But my advice to younger advisers is to avoid high-cost investments and new fund managers that claim to be doing it better. If you protect and watch the client’s investments like it was your own money, you will have clients for the rest of your lives!”.