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This month sees a changing of the guard at the FPA, with Sarah Abood taking the reins as CEO. Sarah caught up with Jayson Forrest to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for the profession.
After six years at the helm, Dante De Gori CFP® has passed the baton to Sarah Abood, who officially joins the FPA this month as its new CEO.
While Sarah’s education credentials are impressive – a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD), an MBA, and a BA (Economics and Government) – it’s her industry experience that members will find particularly reassuring. She has over 25 years’ experience working in financial services, providing her with a deep understanding of the contemporary issues confronting financial planners and advice businesses.
“I joined Profile Financial Services back in February 2010, just after I completed my MBA, and I was there for almost a decade,” Sarah says. “Working at a privately owned and self-licensed advice business, like Profile, was a great growth journey for me. My time there has equipped me with great relevant experience for taking on my new position as CEO of the FPA.”
Sarah’s remit at Profile was clear: to ‘stay true to the values’, while growing the business. It was a strategy that worked well, and she is keen to bring a similar approach to her role at the FPA.
“As a professional association, I believe it’s absolutely essential that the FPA stays true to its values,” says Sarah. “This includes strong advocacy on behalf of members, assisting financial planners to grow sustainable businesses, while upholding the best interests of consumers at all times. As professionals, we need to stay true to our values when serving the needs of clients and the broader community.”
Transformation and change
Sarah accepts that the position of CEO can be tough, particularly in a professional association, but it’s a challenge she relishes.
“I really didn’t need any motivation or convincing to apply for this position” says Sarah. “An opportunity to work in your dream role doesn’t come up too often. That’s because I have a genuine belief in the importance of financial planning, and the way in which good advice can change people’s lives for the better.”
Having worked closely with the financial planning team at Profile, as well as using her own personal financial planner, Sarah has firsthand experience of the difference financial planners can make in the lives of their clients.
“We may be a new profession, but the transformation we have endured over the last 10 years has taken other professions hundreds of years to achieve. That’s something to be proud of,” she says. “And while there are still many challenges to navigate, I won’t be backing away from any of them, because this profession is vital for the financial wellbeing of all Australians. Our ability to truly transform people’s lives for the better is something that can never be underestimated and needs to be celebrated.”
Sarah acknowledges that with the handing down of the Quality of Advice Review later this year, as well as the continued implementation of recommendations from the Hayne Royal Commission, she will be hitting the ground running. But she remains committed to speaking with as many members as possible, in order to get a clearer understanding of what members’ priorities are.
“Despite the many challenges facing us, first and foremost, the FPA is a member-led association. I therefore want to ensure that the FPA remains very close to all members,” Sarah says. “Members need to know the FPA is there for them, and will continue to advocate strongly on their behalf. That’s very important for me.”
A culture of respect
For people who have worked with Sarah, they know she brings a consultative approach to her style of leadership. Other important qualities Sarah believes she will bring to her role as CEO are ‘a sense of curiosity’, ‘learning’, and the ‘exploration of new ideas’.
“I love investigating new ideas,” she says. “I think it’s important to aim high and be willing to find new ways of achieving goals. And although this can be hard at times, it’s also important that we focus on improving everyday by getting the little things right.”
One of the strongest qualities Sarah brings to the table is her willingness to listen to what other people have to say. She believes open conversations are essential, because they often lead to other pathways for achieving goals and objectives.
“To be effective, these types of conversations also need to be respectful, she says. “I want to create an environment within the FPA where everybody’s voice can be heard and people feel comfortable speaking up. Of course, it’s a two-way street, and people expressing opinions need to be doing so in a courteous and respectful way! That’s a great environment where people are good speakers and good listeners.”
Having recently run an FPA Professional Practice, Sarah remains enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead for the profession.
“We definitely need to reset the narrative around the benefits of financial advice,” she says. “We need to showcase the important role financial planners play in adding value to their clients’ lives.
“I also view reducing the cost of advice as an opportunity. There are many opportunities to do that, including rationalisation of regulation and reduction in red tape. Technology innovation will play a big part in addressing some of the inefficiencies we see in the delivery of advice, which will help make advice more affordable. And then there’s making financial planning advice tax deductible, which we continue to lobby for.
“All these opportunities will make advice more affordable and encourage even more consumers to seek the services of a financial planner.”
Sarah is also confident that there will be an easing in the number of practitioners either leaving or retiring early from the profession. Indeed, she anticipates many more new entrants joining it. “And these new entrants won’t just be from university graduates, but also from career-changers who have great life experience.
“Ultimately, my goal is to see financial planning becoming mainstream. I want conversations around the water cooler to change from – ‘do you have a financial planner’ to ‘who is your financial planner’ – in the same way everybody talks about their doctor. There are so many opportunities for the profession to be excited about over the next 5-10 years.”
No time to rest
Sarah doesn’t disguise the fact that she expects the first six months in the CEO’s chair to be a huge period of adjustment, particularly as she hones in on all the intricacies of the FPA’s policy and advocacy work, as well as connecting with as many members as possible.
Not surprisingly, it won’t leave the mum of two much downtime. But as a self-confessed ‘home body’, who likes to indulge in some “really boring old-school hobbies”, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
“I actually enjoy knitting and crocheting, which I think became cool again during COVID – at least that’s what I tell myself,” she laughs. “I find knitting and crocheting quite therapeutic, and a good way for me to destress and deconstruct the day.
“I just hope I won’t be turning to my needle work too much in the months to come!”
Welcome onboard, Sarah!
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