A decade of challenges and change

07 December 2021

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Reflecting on almost 12 years as part of the FPA team, Chief Executive Officer Dante De Gori CFP®, speaks to Miriam Delacy about how he has seen the profession transform and his role in representing the interests of members throughout.

When Dante De Gori CFP® officially steps down in January, he will have served six years as Chief Executive Officer. Given the extraordinary changes financial planning has undergone in that time,  he is a well-known as a thought leader for the profession.. But leading the FPA as CEO only makes up half his tenure at the FPA. Having spent six years in senior positions in policy and government relations, Dante, at 37, became the youngest CEO appointed to the role and the first selected from within the ranks of the FPA.

“Dante’s appointment to the role of CEO was a turning point for the FPA,” says Neil Kendall CFP®,  Chair of the FPA Board at the time of Dante’s appointment. “For the first time, the FPA had grown its own successor and was also appointing another CFP® to the CEO role. His depth of understanding of the issues facing planners in Australia is impressive and he has been able to add value to FPA members as a result. After an extensive search externally, the Board of the FPA was convinced that Dante was the best person to lead the FPA, a decision that has put the FPA in the strong position it is in today.”

Setting the pace

While Dante’s time as CEO has brought perhaps the biggest disruptions financial planning in Australia has ever seen – the Hayne Royal Commission and the COVID pandemic – he was already used to dealing with the unexpected. With the announcement of FOFA reforms just weeks after he joined as General Manager for Policy and Government Relations, Dante’s work with the FPA has always demanded that he adapt quickly and engage positively with all stakeholders.

“In my first few weeks at the FPA, two things happened that really sharpened my focus,” says Dante. “On 1 March 2010, the Tax Agent Services Act (TASA) regime come into effect and the day after ANZAC day, the Honourable Chris Bowen, Minister at the time in the Rudd Government, announced the Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms. That really brought home to me the importance of the FPA as advocates for our members in the policy space. My purpose and work was to take that on and really engage with the challenges by ensuring the FPA is always part of policy conversations as an informed and positive voice of our profession and members.”

In her recent letter in the FPA’s 2021 Annual Report, Marisa Broome CFP®, current Chair of the FPA Board says she has always valued Dante’s staunch commitment to advocacy and his focus on finding the best way forward. “The role is relentless and he has achieved much for us by ensuring the FPA is always at the table of the decision makers,” she writes. “I cannot express how much tougher things would have been in our regulatory sphere without his rational and logical approach and his way of bringing stakeholders together to work through solutions.”

Extraordinary times

As events of the next decade unfolded, the FPA team and Dante were all doing their part to guide the profession through a time of tremendous upheaval. As Marisa puts it “everyone says that the time they are in a role is the period facing the most change – but there is no doubt that this is true for Dante in both his time at the FPA but specifically in his time as CEO.”

Dante agrees that he has worked for the FPA and led the organisation and its members through an extraordinary period in the history of the profession. “FOFA was right at the start of the journey,” he says. “But it was by no means the biggest challenge we had to face. In my view, there have been two events that have made the most significant impact on the direction of the profession and the pace at which things changed.

“The first of these was the Four Corners episode Banking Bad which aired in May 2014. That really rocked the whole financial services industry and the inquiry that resulted triggered a whole series of very important and necessary reviews including a review into the performance of ASIC and the PJC review into lifting professional, ethical and education standards, culminating in the Hayne Royal Commission. When that was announced it was almost as much of a shock as the whole Commonwealth Bank scandal. As a profession we were just getting to the end of all the inquiries and reviews and starting to adapt to the changes being implemented.”

The announcement of the Hayne Royal Commission enquiry in 2017, the hearings in 2018 and the handing down of the final report in 2019 was a period when the FPA and Dante were under intense pressure and scrutiny. It was a testing time for everyone because of the resources involved and the important role the FPA played in keeping members informed and representing their interests.

“The impact of the Royal Commission on our resources was really significant,” says Dante. “We had allocated about 10 per cent of our entire capacity to it for at least 12 months. There were submissions to prepare, notices to respond to, media interest to manage and so much more. Not to mention to cost pressures, the team, the board and everyone had to take on. There was sustained and intense pressure on both the FPA and our profession.

“Appearing before the commission was one of the most challenging times in my whole career. Attending hearings took three days but the preparations started long before that. Everything else was on pause and I really felt the pressure of what was at stake for both the financial planning community and for me personally and for my family.”

FASEA will be a chapter that will generate a mixed response from many in the profession. For Dante, the purpose and objective of FASEA was correct, but execution and delivery was an issue. While he may have been disappointed with the FASEA experiment, Dante believes the profession will be better off in the long run as a result of having these standards in place and he believes the hard work will pay off for those who remain on the journey.

The final event in the last decade to have forced a step change in financial planning is the COVID pandemic. There isn’t a single industry or individual that hasn’t been impacted by this global event and many people have had to make big sacrifices as a result. However, this has created an opportunity for financial advice to come into its own as a profession with much to offer Australians when they’re facing adversity. “There’s no doubt members will have been negatively impacted by COVID and struggled to adapt their businesses to a new way of working.” says Dante. “But overall, the profession, in most part, is in a boom period now with many practices having to knock back clients and doing their best to recruit enough planners or support staff to meet demand.

“These challenges would have happened eventually with the decline we had been seeing in planner numbers because of the exit of major banks and other larger institutions from financial advice and the introduction of higher education standards. But COVID has certainly fast-tracked things with higher client demand exacerbating this issue of low planner numbers. We’re seeing the cost of advice being driven up by market forces in addition to compliance adding to the time and resources it takes to deliver advice.“

Meeting members’ needs

Although Dante has shown strength in advocacy since joining the FPA in 2010, as CEO he has gone on to guide the transformation of the organisation on many fronts. “A lot has changed in our offer to members, both before and after I moved into the CEO role,” he says. “One of the constants has been our commitment to excellence in education. Our delivery of training and education has always been of a very high standard. While the introduction of FASEA may have taken away some of the momentum in our Certification program we continue to uphold our reputation for maintaining best-practice standards through our CPD program, webinars and Masterclass series as well as our CFP® certification program.”

Another area where Dante and his team have made significant progress is in the area of ‘best-practice’ tools and resources. Through our industry leading National Roadshow program, the FPA has developed and delivered on a large number of best practice tools and guides such as FOFA bullet proof financial planning, TASA: a guide for FPA members, Putting your clients’ interest first, Life Insurance Advice Guide, Fintech Guide, File Note guidance and FASEA Code of Ethics guide to name a few.

While these FPA achievements have delivered benefits to members, making headway with critical legislative reforms has been a big part of the FPA journey that Dante has found most rewarding. “The legislation for ‘financial planner’ as a protected term is a major step forward for the protection of consumers,” he says. “This change is vital if we are to prevent the kind of incidents that undermine trust in our whole profession and deter people from seeking the advice they need from qualified, ethical financial planners committed to making their clients’ lives better.”

Marisa also acknowledges the importance of this change that Dante and the FPA have campaigned and advocated for. “Dante is an extraordinary leader,” she says. “He has led without self-interest or benefit but rather has taken our members, and as a result the broader profession, on a journey to higher standards and professionalism which has seen the term financial planner enshrined in law and the profession being recognised as such.”

The next chapter

With just a few months to go before moving on from the FPA, Dante is still very much involved in the work of the organisation on behalf of its members. He is committed to spending his final weeks continuing to build a profession that serves the needs of all Australians.

“Many of the Hayne Royal Commission recommendations on financial advice have now passed into legislation in some shape or form,” he says. “But with the Quality of Advice review to be completed by the end of 2022, I hope this will bring about legislative reform to support more affordable, high-quality advice that’s available to more Australians.

“Exploring all the changes made to the legislative and regulatory framework for financial advice in the last decade is a great opportunity for our profession. As an impartial objective review of everything that’s happened, good and bad, this a chance to address regulatory impediments that prevent everyday Australians accessing advice.”

Without pre-empting the outcome of the review, Dante would like to see the law changed to separate product from advice and for financial planners to be individually registered and held accountable in the same manner as other professionals. He believes these are some of the changes needed to complete the transformation into a profession and help remove barriers to accessing financial advice.

“Consumers will benefit when financial planners can have choice on the type of business they want to operate,” he says. “They shouldn’t have to charge what they do because the regulatory regime demands it. Giving financial planning businesses the choice to consider whether they want to provide low cost advice to more people or service individuals with a higher net worth, is vital if our profession is to be sustainable.

“Financial planning is of national importance and I’d go as far to say that financial planning is a human right. In a country with our economic status access to financial advice should be something that’s a given. And if we can deliver technology-enabled, human-led advice and thousands of high school students are motivated to choose financial planning as a rewarding and respected career then we will be helping our profession thrive while enriching the lives of many more Australians.”

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