Trust in leadership

25 October 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.

Already a recognised leader in financial planning Michelle Tate-Lovery CFP® joined the Apt Wealth Partners team in 2020. She talks to Miriam Delacy about how the values of the practice align with her own approach to leadership and client-centred excellence in financial advice.

Michelle Tate-Lovery CFP®

Position: Senior Financial Planner

Practice: Apt Wealth Partners

Established: 30 years ago

Financial Planners: 28

No. of Staff: 60+

Having run her own financial planning business Unified Financial Services for almost 30 years, Michelle Tate-Lovery CFP® has abundant experience both as a leader and mentor in the profession. Bringing her whole team across to Apt Wealth Partners in December 2020 was something she’d been planning for years, but it took time for the right partnership to present itself.

Michelle had long known that following a new path in financial planning would help her continually improve the advice experience for her clients. “Financial planning is part of my DNA and I’ve been doing it for a long time,” says Michelle. “I firmly believe in the future of advice and for my own practice to thrive and deliver the best possible experience to clients, we need to be sustainable and have scale.

“We’d reached a level with our advice that was incredibly satisfying in the quality we delivered, but to maintain that and expand our practice through organic growth wasn’t going to happen fast enough to be sustainable. Being both a licensee and a financial planner with all these changes occurring in the profession meant wearing a lot of hats. If I really wanted to do the best thing by my clients and my team, I needed to explore merging with a like-minded partner.”

This strategy to deliver on her commitment to excellence for her clients and her own growth as a leader and financial planner was not a new idea for Michelle. Through her own business improvement journey, she had already placed a strong focus on building more value and less risk into her business model.

“Our journey to joining Apt Wealth began 20 years ago when I started a business valuation process and used the findings to support my business improvement strategy and goals,” she says. “Being a client-centric profitable organisation was always the primary goal, and to keep achieving that consistently I implemented an internal succession plan to mentor leaders within the practice. But ultimately, the responsibility for delivering to clients and regulators and driving the business forward fell to me.”

“To avoid key person risk and have an enduring offer for my clients I had to search for an appropriate partner,” adds Michelle. “It was a welcome process, but took time as there were important, critical criteria for the partnership I was seeking. It needed to be a self-licensed operation with the size and vision to offer a comprehensive service, while having an advice philosophy that puts the client at the centre of everything.”

A positive transition

The opportunity for Michelle to bring her business across to Apt Wealth Partners came in 2020, in the midst of the widespread disruption resulting from the COVID pandemic. Amidst all the upheaval, the Apt Wealth partners and Michelle managed to complete their due diligence to move things forward. In December 2020, Michelle and her team joined their new financial advice family and it’s been a transition that has delivered significant value to all stakeholders.

“It’s been less than a year since we came across and it’s been a very positive change from everyone’s perspective,” says Michelle. “We’ve gone from a team of six to 60+ and it’s been great to become part of something bigger that shares the same purpose we’ve always had. There is strong alignment in our advice philosophy – life centred advice and helping clients live their best life by living for today and planning for tomorrow.

“This is what we imparted to our clients when telling them about this strategic decision to join Apt Wealth Partners. At a time when everything has been changing around them, it’s been very reassuring for clients to know that this move is towards a more sustainable future for our working relationship and their financial plan. Our clients can continue to feel a sense of security and confidence knowing they will enjoy that same focus on quality advice for their unique situation but with the backing of a much larger operation. They’re going to benefit from the greater efficiency and technology advantages that are possible with a larger practice. This helps keep their cost of advice affordable, and provides them with the potential to access specialised services as their advice needs change over time.”

In bringing their own proven approach to client-centred financial advice to the table, Michelle and her team are adding value to the broader Apt Wealth business. “We’re still integrating with how things are done but I’m already enjoying the advantages of getting really absorbed in the advice process for clients,” says Michelle. “The growth mindset in the organisation is very appealing, and I can feel myself growing more in the advice space already.

“Without the pressure of running a business you feel liberated. I’m bringing my very best work to each client without the noise in the background. We have a safety net for everything now with an operation that provides extensive peer reviews of our advice as well as taking care of everything from marketing, cyber security, integrated systems and technology and HR to regulatory reporting.”

With this ability to place her focus solely on the advice journey for clients, Michelle can continue in her commitment to changing her clients’ lives for the better and supporting her team. “The best advice always puts the focus on clients but it’s more than that,” she says “Financial advice is life changing. I never take on a client without treating them as someone I’ll serve for the rest of their life and that means a commitment to helping them become more empowered and confident. When they experience the positive impact of informed decision making that’s a reward you can all enjoy.”

Putting people first

While care for clients and their finances may be at the centre of the Apt Wealth offer, delivering on this commitment comes from an equally strong focus on the wellbeing of their 60-strong team. In both the culture and the career options the practice can offer their people, Michelle believes they can continue to balance scale with a personalised approach to advice.

“Apt Wealth are definitely positioning as a key player in financial advice and being an employer of choice is an important part of that,” says Michelle. “There are several components to the value employees get from working for this practice and we’re really getting it right with good corporate citizenship, a safe environment, to encourage a growth mindset and the wellbeing of the team. The fact that we embrace innovation and expand into different areas of advice means we can offer diverse career pathways and that’s essential for attracting and retaining high calibre people.”

“We really care for our people and I don’t say that lightly,” she adds. “We treat people like we’re in the best kind of family environment, where everything is transparent and we’re encouraged to communicate openly. We’re also striving for improvement because we want to bring everyone on this journey of growth together. That means we invest in people and foster a workplace where everyone collaborates to resolve problems and bring new ideas to life to enhance the client experience.”

Michelle points to two key indicators of this success in creating a culture of care and excellence. In 2021 Apt Wealth Partners were ranked fourth out of 700+ organisations in the Australian Financial Review BOSS Best Places to Work list in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services category. “There is clear evidence of how well we support our team in the response we’re making as the COVID pandemic continues to put limits on business operations and delivery of advice,” she says. “Wellbeing of our people has been at the forefront as we’ve mobilised to make sure everyone has what they need to maintain both their focus and work/life balance throughout.”

Diversity multiplied

The transparency and openness Michelle values in the Apt Wealth workplace culture helps foster innovation as well as the sense of acceptance team members need to do their best work for clients. She describes a sense of curiosity as well as safety that comes from seeking out diverse views.

“In a larger organisation you might expect there to be a mindset that this is how we’ve always done it,” says Michelle. “But diversity of thought is something leaders at Apt Wealth encourage from the team. Shifts in perspective might not come easily but they are so valuable in making sure each client has the best experience and the best advice for life.”

Gender diversity in financial planning has always been important to Michelle. She continues to play an active role in the Financial Planning Association’s Women in Financial Planning program and has mentored many women, within her own practice and across the profession. The fact that more than 50% of the Apt Wealth team are female, with more than one third of their financial planners being women, definitely influenced her decision to join the business.

“More women in client-facing advice roles is really critical to being a competitive advice practice,” she says. “Female planners are very much in demand, with both male and female clients, so it’s important that we’re making sure women in our profession are building their skills and securing satisfying career opportunities like those on offer here at Apt Wealth.”

Diverse career paths for all team members at Apt Wealth are not limited to financial planner roles. “We have an Innovation Manager as part of the group and there’s a lot of activity and investment going on in the technology space,” says Michelle. “We also have a strong philanthropic and ESG focus as well as a private wealth division and we work on lots of financial education content for consumers. There is so much momentum here and it’s wonderful to know that you’re a part of something that’s growing and thriving and will keep on doing that long after I’ve come to the end of my career.

“All these parts of our service offering are important in alignment with our culture of delivering the best to our clients as well as providing career paths for our people. This practice has the infrastructure and variety to help people discover where they want to be and allow them to work to their strengths. This is a real requirement for having people performing at their best to help clients achieve what’s possible. So maybe you join with the intention of becoming a planner and achieve success and satisfaction in an entirely different area of the business. That investment in supporting people to reach their full potential is only going to lead to more innovation, collaborative thinking and improvement in our client service offering.”

Mentoring for self-leadership

This open and inclusive approach is certainly developing what the Managing Director of Apt Wealth Partners, James McGregor calls ‘corporate IQ’ within the practice. This focus on encouraging peer-to-peer learning also enables many informal mentoring moments, for experienced members of the team and those coming to the practice fresh from their formal studies.

“Regardless of whether a team member is newly qualified or has delivered financial advice for decades, all our perspectives are valued,” says Michelle. “Everyone brings their own skills, education, experience and wisdom and that means we can all offer ideas and insights on our processes that can enhance the client experience. Plus, we all see that when changes are put forward they’re acted upon, so we know senior leaders are listening and want to solve things so we can all benefit from working with the best model of advice moving forward.”

While there is a strong focus among Apt Wealth senior leaders on coming up with the best solutions, Michelle says this is balanced by the accepted wisdom of giving team members the space to find their own way through a challenge or problem. “There is a very deliberate way that Apt Wealth leaders go about fostering self-leadership in each member of the team,” says Michelle. “It’s been my own experience that stepping back allows your people to bring more of themselves to the client experience and whatever issue they might be trying to resolve. It’s a habitual thing for leaders to be solution focused, but at some stage you’ve got to trust that you’ve spent enough time sharing your knowledge and experience to allow them to find those answers themselves.”

To be an effective leader and mentor who empowers a team to perform at their best, you need to trust in their competence and ability to use their initiative. “Solving all the problems yourself is not going to help your people think outside of the box” she says. “You need to get out of their way and empower them to run with the task at hand by trusting them to be resourceful enough to deliver. If you haven’t left enough breadcrumbs for them to follow when setting them up for the task, you also have to trust that they’ll let you know they need more to work with.”

As someone who has mentored many in the profession, through her own business and formal mentoring programs, Michelle is passionate about the value mentoring offers to both people involved. “You can help people achieve their potential which is a huge reward but you also learn a lot yourself,” says Michelle. “Mentoring here at Apt Wealth has already given me the opportunity to work with some highly educated younger planners and support them in making the best use of what they’ve been studying, connecting the theory to practice and providing constructive feedback. In some cases, that can come from journaling their advice work. You encourage them to write down the story of the client they helped today and what they learned from that experience, identifying the value in pieces of advice, which helps develop their conviction and deepens their communication skills with clients.

“Another mentoring approach that is really effective for building both skills and confidence is to formally co-present to a client with a more junior financial planner. This can help them find their own way into the whole financial planning process which can seem very complex and overwhelming to begin with. When I see them integrating their learning and making progress it feels really exciting to be creating this environment where high calibre next generation financial planners can thrive in their work and deliver the best experience for our clients.”

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