John Wotherspoon AFP® is no stranger to winning the occasional industry award. A couple of years ago, the Adelaide-based planner was voted Financial Planner of the Year by his peers, and now, he and his son, Simon, can add the 2018 FPA Professional Practice of the Year Award to their achievements.
Having moved to the financial advice profession in the mid 1980s from a background in civil engineering and management, John founded and grew a boutique financial advice firm, Accumulus. The firm became one of Adelaide’s most respected and successful advisory firms and after several acquisitions, it is now part of Crowe Horwath.
John was a CFP® practitioner from 1992 until early 2007, when he sampled retirement for three years, at which point, with Simon’s encouragement, they started Astute Investing – renamed Wotherspoon Wealth in 2010.
In awarding Wotherspoon Wealth the prestigious title of FPA Professional Practice of the Year, the judges were impressed with the father and son duo building a business “that is the very best out there”. The judges favourably commented on the practice’s critical business decisions and constant exploration for improvement, which were focused on making the client experience the best it can be.
Winning the award is an achievement not lost on Simon Wotherspoon CFP® – director and principal adviser of Wotherspoon Wealth.
In accepting the award, Simon said it was recognition for the hard work done in establishing the practice, which he says is truly independent “in the legal sense of the word”, as well as doing things a bit different.
“Being independent means we receive no commissions on anything, so we are a totally fee-for-service business. And while this is becoming less rare in the industry these days, it was not those many years ago. Being a self-licensed business, I feel that we have helped pave some of the way for others to follow.
“So, it’s been a hard slog, developing all our own processes and systems over the past eight years, without the support of a large dealer group or institution. We believe this award helps to recognise the work we’ve put into our business in delivering the best client experience we can possibly offer.”
Simon says successfully completing the early growth phase of the business was one of the catalysts for entering their practice in the 2018 FPA Awards.
“We feel quite proud of where we are with the business and what we’ve achieved, and so we viewed these awards as an opportunity to benchmark and test ourselves against our peers.”
Point of difference
In an increasingly competitive market, Simon believes the FPA Professional Practice designation provides some helpful guidelines, while also setting Wotherspoon Wealth apart from other planning practices.
For him, it’s third party endorsement by the FPA that the practice is not only compliant with the profession’s highest education and professional standards, but that it’s among the country’s leading firms.
“We strive to be as professional, ethical and reputable as we can be. So, being an FPA Professional Practice and adhering to its rigorous standards, helps us communicate that message to our clients and the wider community,” says Simon.
In addition, Simon says Wotherspoon Wealth’s independence is also a key market differentiator.
“Our independence is very important to us,” he says. “Almost every client who walks through our doors thinks every planner is independent, though that’s simply not the case. So, being independent is an opportunity to discuss that with them.”
Simon not only views winning this award as another means of clearly differentiating Wotherspoon Wealth from other practices but also to help progressively lift the standard for everyone in the sector; a process he is clearly eager to communicate to the wider community – especially in this climate of misplaced trust.
“We’re understandably very proud of this award and are keen to share this accolade with our clients and prospective clients. In an environment reeling from the Royal Commission’s findings, this award will reassure our clients that they are dealing with a practice that upholds the highest professional standards and which has been peer-reviewed. It should demonstrate the sector is improving itself,” he says.
“This award not only provides our clients with the confidence they are dealing with a quality business but also importantly, it provides our staff with the confidence that they are working in a best of breed business, while receiving the recognition they deserve for helping to build this award winning business.”
Behavioural and structural change
However, Simon concedes that without having a dealer group to fall back onto, being independent does come with its separate challenges, with keeping ahead of the technology curve prominent among them.
“It’s always challenging to properly understand the possibilities that technological change can bring to the business, including how to successfully integrate it into the business.”
Another constant challenge for the business is keeping up with the constantly changing regulatory environment, and the subsequent flow on of increased administration and compliance.
But perhaps the biggest challenge Simon identifies is the reputational damage to the profession as a result of the Royal Commission and the media attention that followed.
“While the level of scrutiny has been fair and reasonable, the question now is how does the profession come out of this and regain the trust and confidence of everyday Australians. Collectively, that’s going to be our biggest challenge as a profession, because no matter how honourable any firm might be, we have all been tarnished by the same brush. So, it’s going to take time to repair the reputational damage done to the profession.”
According to Simon, “trust” is the key to repairing this damage.
“There’s no denying that consumer trust has been lost. And so the challenge now is in rebuilding that trust. But how do we do that,” Simon asks. “We can’t simply ask ‘mum and dad Australia’ to trust us again. We need to re-earn this trust through behaviour and good deeds, which will take time.
“And it won’t just be about behavioural change. From both a professional and regulatory perspective, perhaps structural change is required to clearly separate advice and product, as opposed to an increased compliance burden.
“If we change these structural issues, then I believe this is a good foundation from which to rebuild upon.”
The FPA congratulates the runners-up of the FPA Professional Practice of the Year Award: