Financial Planning

The power of unity

26 August 2019

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

The leader of today is responsible for many diverse management tasks, as additional pressures continue to mount in a rapidly changing and challenging environment. Ray Albrighton CFP® talks about what leadership means to him.

The one constant in financial planning is ‘change’. It’s something you just can’t hide from. But the consequences of change can be far-reaching, affecting individuals in different ways. While some revel in the opportunity that change can bring, for others, it can be particularly stressful – affecting their health and emotional wellbeing.

But that’s where leadership can help, says the Head of Infocus Financial Planning, Ray Albrighton CFP®, who currently manages a team of 40.

“The profession is going through a period of significant transformation, as it deals with the new FASEA education standards, the Royal Commission recommendations and regaining the trust of Australians. However, we need to embrace these changes, if we are to emerge as a stronger and more valued profession,” he says.

And that’s where leadership kicks in, says Ray.

“For me, leadership is about putting yourself last because ultimately, it’s your front-line staff who make the clients happy. So, my job is to empower our people who deal directly with our clients across the group. Whether that’s providing the leadership, the guidance and the mentoring, or whether it’s removing bottlenecks and interference, it’s all about helping our team to better help their clients.”

Yet, a day in the life of a leader comprises many management tasks. So, how does this CFP® professional deal with the challenges and changes facing the profession?

“It’s an interesting question,” he says. “I believe the best way to manage change is to unite. At Infocus, we don’t operate in silos. We’re all about uniting all our teams, whether it’s the compliance team, the back-office team or the frontline team. Managing change means being open and honest about what’s happening, and then uniting together to work towards a common purpose, which is delivering quality advice to clients.”

It’s an approach he says is working, even when it comes to dealing with the complexity of managing different generations who have different life/work balance expectations?

“If you look at clients, their lives aren’t linear. They get sick, they get married, they have children, they receive inheritances. Things happen in a non-linear fashion. As planners, that means we have to be flexible and available for our clients when they need us – whether that’s after-hours or on the weekend.

“So, we’re creating a workplace that is more flexible and sensitive to the work/life balance needs of our staff. We’re encouraging our staff to manage their time around the needs of their clients.”

Ray says greater workplace flexibility has been a symbiotic fit for the business, allowing it to better adapt to the lives of both staff and clients.

Creating a community

When working with staff and clients, particularly through these times of change, the ability to build trust, engagement and connection is a critical skill set required at the leadership level. It’s a point not lost on Ray, who says open lines of communication are absolutely essential in building trust, engagement and connection within the business.

“The sharing of knowledge is extremely powerful in our profession, regardless of where somebody is located. Just because you might have a senior planner based interstate, that doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas or insights to share with the next generation of practitioners,” he says.

“So, we’re using technology, both in-house and external, to engage across geographical boundaries. It’s about creating a community for our advice team and being able to share that in an open forum, where staff can debate, share ideas, share their wins and their learnings.

“Providing this flexibility to share knowledge is an important part of creating a community within the advice team.”

Health and wellbeing

However, Ray concedes that while change provides new opportunities for businesses, it can also increase the stress of those working within the business. He tackles this head on by ensuring Infocus takes the health and wellbeing of all its staff seriously.

“When it comes to the wellbeing of our staff, the management team leads from the front,” he says. “Our team ethos is: healthy, wealthy and wise. We provide a range of team activities that staff can participate in, which is great for team bonding and staying engaged, while also keeping fit.”

These activities range from basketball, volleyball and soccer competitions, to distance running events, like the Sydney Half Marathon and the City2Surf fun run.

“We’ve even got a young team member who is currently in training to swim across the English Channel for charity. Supporting and encouraging these types of activities not only have a beneficial effect at work, but the benefits also ripple through into an individual’s personal life.”

Ray believes that if you’re mentally and physically healthy, then that feeling of wellness flows through to the home environment, as well as spilling through to the lives of clients.

“Our clients are very aspirational. When they see their planner working on their health and wellbeing, it also provides them with the motivation to work on their own personal wellbeing. So, our business ethos of leading by example is very important at Infocus.”

Ray is also a convert to wellness programs, like the AIA Vitality program, for not only managing his own personal health and wellbeing, but that of his staff, too.

“We were one of the early adopters of the AIA Vitality program. It’s been a great staff engagement and awareness tool that I would recommend any business adopt,” he says.

The AIA Vitality program provides participants with points for completing various health assessments to help them better understand their current health status, with advice on how to improve it.

This includes a range of activities that are designed to get users in better shape – both inside and out. By earning points for their participation, users can build up their AIA Vitality status and access a range of rewards, such as discounts on insurance premiums, through to discounted gym memberships, clothing and movie tickets.

According to Ray, the Infocus staff are actively involved in the program, enabling the business to conduct fun and non-intrusive in-house competitions, such as the highest number of steps gained in a week by a team member using their Fitbit.

“These competitions are a bit of fun but it also allows us to get together in a supportive environment to talk about any issues affecting us, while also enjoying the benefits of the program as a group, such as accruing points for travel, shopping or even movie tickets. The AIA Vitality program is a great way for the business to show it cares about our staff’s health and wellness, which flows through to our clients,” he says.

“It’s been an important part of enabling us to create a culture of heath and wellbeing, which we are integrating across the group.”

However, Ray is acutely mindful of the significant changes happening within the profession, with mental health being particularly critical at this time. In order to deal with these changes, he says it’s essential that planners are supported and heard. He applauds industry initiatives, like FPA Wellbeing, as being a good start to support planners with their mental health.

“Our leadership team, from the managing director Darren Steinhardt through to our regional managers, are taking our team’s mental health very seriously. We’re putting programs in place to assist team members and being openly available to our staff as we go through these changes,” he says.

“As a profession, as we move ahead with all these changes, we can’t neglect the mental health of practitioners.”

Time to embrace change

Whether at a management level or leading their clients to a better financial future, all planners are leaders. So, what advice does Ray have for the financial planning profession when it comes to taking on a greater role with embracing change – both for themselves and their clients?

The CFP® practitioner believes the best way is to create a community of like-minded professionals who openly share knowledge in a collegiate environment.

“When we get to share our experiences and knowledge, it’s not only your networks and peers who benefit, but it’s also the next generation of planners coming through who benefit,” he says.

“We are all part of one of the most privileged professions in the country. We are the custodians of people’s goals, dreams and aspirations. The more that we can share the successes of the great work we do – and not just amongst ourselves but also with the wider community – the better off we will be by restoring trust in financial planning and growing this great profession.

“So, as leaders, let’s step up, take on this change and build a better future. Our clients wouldn’t expect any less!”