This month Professional Planner examines the key issues and challenges facing fi­nancial planning, through the eyes of the industry’s key representative body, the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA).

FPA chief executive Jo-Anne Bloch believes the election of the Rudd Labor Government in Novem­ber may be significant for the industry. But whether it’s the dawn of a new era for planners, or a false dawn, remains to be seen.

Call me a cynic (I prefer the term “sceptic”) but I’m not yet prepared to call it a new era. I may be wrong, but I can’t help thinking we’ve been here before.

During the past 20-odd years, I’ve seen the Financial Planning Association (FPA) or its various antecedents – in­cluding the International As­sociation for Financial Plan­ning (IAFP), the Australian Investment Planners’ Associa­tion (AIPA) and the Austra­lian Society of Investment and Financial Advisers (ASIFA) – take two steps forward, only to take one step back (or occasionally shoot itself in the foot).

Sometimes it’s been comical, but more often it’s been tragic. We need a trustworthy and transparent – dare I say professional? – financial planning com­munity. Bloch claims the FPA is now ready to take the final, critical steps towards true professionalism.

It’s just that the distant sound of thunder from a disaffected minority of members leads me to fear that the association does not yet have the unequivo­cal support of its constituency.

If you were at the FPA conference in November, or if you examine the inbox at Professional Planner, you’d realise there are still planners out there who vehemently oppose any change that will upset their cosy little relationships with product providers.

An industry divided against itself cannot stand. Bloch and the board of the FPA still face the task of completely unifying the membership.

Meanwhile, even as the few remaining trog­lodytes dumbly resist change, a major bank has launched a financial planning service that promises to create a whole new generation of consum­ers. This generation will be raised thinking of advice and product selling as being unrelated.

Westpac’s $199 Superannua­tion Health Check is more than just a marketing gimmick. It chal­lenges the bank’s competitors to respond with their own simple, transparent, fee-based offers.

Today’s superannuation ac­cumulator is tomorrow’s pre-re­tirement lump-sum client. These clients have for decades been the lifeblood of financial planning, generating nice fat commission streams as they move into retirement.

But if a new generation of clients is raised on pure fee-for-service financial advice, where does that leave commission-only salespeople?

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Simon Hoyle

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