Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.
When it comes to advocating change for the profession, there’s strength in unity. Dante De Gori CFP®and Phil Kewin talk about the collaborative work the FPA and AFA are engaged in.
There’s no hiding from the fact that the financial planning profession is currently beset with a number of pressing issues. Some of these include: dealing with the new FASEA standards, compliance, engaging with the next generation of planners, adapting to changing business models, and lifting consumer understanding and trust of the advice process.
They are significant issues which FPA CEO Dante De Gori CFP®and Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) CEO Phil Kewin agree will impact the profession as it looks ahead to the next 5-10 years.
“With the new FASEA education standards coming into play, we can expect to see a reduced pipeline of future planners, at least over the short-term,” says Dante. “So, in terms of how the profession will resolve this impending reduction in planners is a significant issue that needs to be resolved.”
It’s a view supported by Phil, who adds that the FASEA standards and exam requirements have created considerable uncertainty within the profession, including how many planners will actually commit to the journey ahead.
Both CEOs also agree that the inevitable change of business models is also a considerable issue for the profession, as businesses and licensees adapt, evolve and change, as they move from the traditional remuneration models of the past.
“And with all the rapid developments in technology and the way in which consumers use technology today, this is another challenge for the profession to overcome. One of our biggest challenges has been getting consumers to understand what advice is and how to access it. But the way they are now using technology, means we need to adapt our service offering from how we have traditionally offered it,” Dante says.
Phil agrees: “The majority of Australian consumers don’t understand what financial planners do. But if they did better understand what planners do and the value of financial advice, then more people would seek advice. So, this is a challenge and an opportunity for the profession to address.”
And then there is the issue around compliance, which continues to be a pain point for planners.
“If you talk to planners, the biggest challenge impacting them is compliance. It’s a balance between planners making sure they are doing the right thing, but also being able to do it affordably – and so deliver compliant but cost-effective advice to consumers,” Phil says.
“However, it’s concerning that the cost of advice continues to increase, but the average punter who needs advice the most, is not able to afford it.”
There’s no denying these are all significant issues currently confronting the profession – not just for planners but ultimately, for consumers as well.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While it may not be well-known, over recent times, the FPA and AFA have been working assiduously together on key policy positions to present a united and cohesive voice to Government to bring about change.
In fact, over the past 12-18 months, both members associations have worked effectively together on a number of important issues, not least, the advocacy work around the new FASEA standards, including the implementation timelines and exam.
By working collaboratively, both member organisations were able to argue the case, resulting in a much improved outcome for the profession.
For example, prior to the FASEA legislation, there was a push by some sectors of the industry to see all existing planners having to obtain an undergraduate degree, plus sit an exam every two years.
“That meant under the initial guidelines of 2017, 91 per cent of FPA practitioner members would have needed to do a Graduate Diploma,” says Dante.
However, after considerable work over a year presenting the case for recognition of much of the study already undertaken by planners, both the AFA and FPA were able to secure sensible outcomes.
“For FPA members, this meant approximately 50 per cent of practitioners needed to do one unit (the Code of Ethics course), with approximately 15 per cent of members having to do between three and seven units, a further 30 per cent between four and eight units, and fewer than 5 per cent of practitioner members having to complete eight units,” Dante says.
Another recent example of the FPA and AFA working closely together has been with code monitoring, including working out a code monitoring solution for members.
“It was a huge achievement to get six different organisations to come together in support of setting up a Code Monitoring Body for the industry. That definitely took the will and support of all associations to work together on this initiative for the benefit of all members,” Dante says.
According to Dante, for six professional associations to support a code monitoring scheme was a defining moment for the profession in Australia, as it demonstrated a commitment and intention by the participating member associations to lift the ethical and professional standards within the sector.
And then there is life insurance, where a joint AFA and FPA taskforce has been established to make a reasoned case against unnecessary changes to the life insurance sector that will ultimately lead to less people taking out insurance.
“That taskforce has kicked off, with the aim of ensuring we’re in front of the review in 2021, and importantly, ensuring we present the Government with a united voice and message,” Dante says.
For both CEOs, it’s important that the profession presents itself with a united voice when talking to Government and the regulators.
“For all these policy and advocacy areas that the FPA and AFA are working collaboratively on, it’s important that, where possible, we have a shared voice that represents the whole profession,” Dante says. “I believe we are making much better strides in doing that than we have in the past, but there’s a lot more we can do together.
“Getting the message out to stakeholders that we are working together has been an achievement in itself, because when it comes to some specific issues, people are now looking at us for a united voice, like the FASEA exam and life insurance.”
According to Phil, both associations share the same objective, and that is: to ensure more people have access to affordable financial advice. He says the most powerful thing the AFA and FPA can collectively do is advocate together.
“We can have many voices but we need to have the same message,” Phil says. “If we’re delivering that same message, whether it’s together or independently, it’s going to be far more powerful and persuasive.
“Having the same message makes it easier for the Government and regulators to understand what the problems are and the solutions available.”
One message, many voices
With the FPA and AFA representing the majority of planners on the Financial Advisers Register, both chiefs don’t understate the importance of speaking to Government with a united message. Recently, both Dante and Phil met together with the Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology, Senator Jane Hume.
“There’s no doubt that what Government wants to hear from the industry is consistency. The one thing we hear back from Government and politicians is that at times, they don’t know what the view of the profession is because they are hearing different things from different people with different requests,” Phil says.
“So, if the profession is going to be considered seriously in Canberra, and if we are to provide weight to any argument, then we need to be united in what we say.”
And while the meeting with Senator Hume was productive for both associations, Dante adds that meeting and lobbying Ministers together, as member associations, is not new for the FPA and AFA. Both associations frequently collaborate on various policy issues, including working together on many policy submissions.
“For most of the time, our respective policy teams are talking together about the issues and solutions around these policies. However, there is a misconception, both within and outside the profession, that the FPA and AFA don’t collaborate,” Dante says. “So, we are conscious of making this collaboration very visible, because it sends a clear message to all stakeholders that we have a united message, which is advantageous for our respective memberships.”
Phil adds that while there have been times when this collaboration has been more formalised, like meeting together with Senator Jane Hume, as well as the previous Minister, Stuart Robert and backbenchers, the key message both associations want to convey is that they do consistently work together on shared issues, although this might not be evident to the wider membership.
“Some people think the AFA and FPA are competitors and adversaries,” Phil says. “But that’s not the case. We complement each other. And while we have the same objectives, there are times when we need to collaborate, either formally or informally. By doing so, it gives us far more weight when we speak with the one voice with the same message.”
Good policy, good advocacy
So, does this mean both associations work seamlessly together or are there difficulties?
“There are some areas where we haven’t agreed, and that’s to be expected,” Phil says. “But there are other times when one party might realise it’s more important to get passionate about something that the other may not have been previously worried about, like life insurance commissions. In this example, we realised the need to have a very strong and clear message. So, we’ve been able to influence each other in how we approach things.”
However, he emphasises that for both associations, policy is always set at a board level, with a clear focus on what’s best for the profession in enabling more Australians to access advice from qualified financial planners.
“For me, that’s fundamental,” says Dante. “It makes a big difference when you have the support of the board to allow our associations to work collaboratively together. So, that’s a testament to both sets of boards and their respective president and chair, who through their leadership, allow us to do this. Without their support, we wouldn’t have been able to work on these initiatives collaboratively over the past 12-18 months.”
And Dante also acknowledges the importance of both CEOs having a respectful working relationship with each other to enable this collaboration to continue and grow.
“There is a high degree of trust and transparency in how we approach advocacy and work with each other. And if that wasn’t there, then it just wouldn’t be possible to have this collaborative relationship.”
Room for improvement
While both CEOs are justifiably proud of some of their recent collective achievements, is there room for improvement in how they work together?
“It’s a good question,” Dante says. “By working together, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of the level of work that the AFA has been doing. The fact that you do work on these shared initiatives does help you to identify where we complement each other and how we can use that to become more effective and efficient in how we do things.”
Dante believes a key to working more effectively and efficiently together is to better harness the internal capabilities of both organisations – both staff and members.
Phil also identifies member engagement as an area the AFA and FPA can improve on.
“We’ve got members who are involved in the Life Insurance Taskforce. But it’s also about broader member engagement, where we bring all our members along on the same journey. And while it’s left to the board and the leadership team to develop and deliver the strategy for our members, our members still want to know what we are doing for them. In order to deliver on our shared objective of providing more Australians with affordable advice, we first have to look after our members,” Phil says.
“So, we can probably improve in the way in which we engage with our members in explaining how we are working together, how this is benefiting them, and how the objective is the same. Members need to know and understand that what we are doing is in their best interest, which ultimately, is in the best interest of all Australians.”
With a heavy workload ahead for the FPA and AFA, including bedding down the new FASEA requirements, as well as working together on the life insurance taskforce, there always seems to be those additional spot fires that need to be attended to. Does that mean both CEOs are focused more on the now and not the tomorrow?
“I actually have a very clear vision for the profession over the next 5-10 years,” says Phil. “Less than 20 per cent of the population has access to financial advice. So, my vision it to make financial advice more affordable and accessible to a greater number of Australians.”
It sounds great in principle, but how do you achieve that?
The foundations, says Phil, begin with having a strong, vibrant and growing profession that is respected by politicians, regulators and the general public.
“Without that respect, we will continue to experience issues with regulation. So, if we can address the issues around trust and integrity, and improve the public’s perception of financial planning, then we will finally see financial planning emerge as a true profession, with more consumers proactively seeking advice. That would be a great outcome for all Australians.”
Fundamental to this happening, says Dante, is that in 5-10 years’ time, there should be no question mark around the status of financial planners; they are true professionals.
“No longer will we have this question around the status of planners, because the framework the Government has legislated for the profession, would have been implemented. So, I think we have an obligation to hold both sides of Parliament, and the regulators, accountable for respecting and acknowledging financial planning as a true profession,” he says.
Also high on Dante’s wish list for the next 5-10 years is making the cost of advice more affordable for Australians, which includes a reduction in regulatory red tape and finally, making financial advice tax-deductible.
“It would be great to be in an environment within 10 years, where a planner is seen by the public, Government and regulators, as a professional – which they already are – and the industry as a recognised profession. And an environment where planners can provide affordable advice to more Australians, which is tax-deductible,” Dante says.
“Even though we currently have a low percentage of people accessing advice, the demand for advice is huge. Most Australians will tell you they need financial advice but they’re not really sure about the value of advice and how it’s going to help them. So, it’s just a question of converting that need into action.
“There are a few barriers we are currently knocking down, so over the next 5-10 years, we will see the number of consumers accessing advice increase. That will be a great outcome for the profession and for all Australians, due in a large part to the collaborative work the FPA and AFA are engaged in.”
The elephant in the room
When talking to FPA CEO Dante De Gori CFP®and AFA CEO Phil Kewin, there seems to be a lot of synergy between the member associations and the work they are doing together. It therefore begs the question: Why not merge?
It’s a question that takes neither chiefs by surprise.
“That old chestnut,” laughs Dante. “Obviously, you never say never to something like this. But the concentration of the FPA board and leadership team is totally focused on the very significant issues that are currently impacting the profession.
“And our collaboration with the AFA is vitally important to ensure we can make a difference with these issues. Otherwise, we will lose that opportunity to make a beneficial difference to these changes. That’s our main priority.”
Both CEOs agree that ultimately, the way both associations are structured means that any idea of merger is up to the membership. It’s the members who make the final decision concerning constitutional issues like mergers – not the leadership team.
“We have a job to do, and as Dante says, there are a number of pressing issues to deal with now, which is part of our remit. We both have the same objectives. And while each association may have different cultures and ways of doing things, having two member associations for the profession provides diversity in thought,” Phil says.
“This allows us to challenge each other. In fact, in certain areas, we have actually strengthened our respective value propositions, as a result of the work we have done together.
“So, there are times where we need to work together to get the best outcome for our members, which means working co-operatively. This collaborative approach is working and I’m confident it will continue to work in the years ahead.”