The war for talent. Plugging the skills gap. Tackling the planner shortfall.

The headlines (and the industry, for that matter) all scream for a need to top up the shrinking and rapidly ageing planner talent pool.

The FPA has set up a council to address the issue; the Future Financial Planners Council is specifically targeting university, vocational and other students and graduates in a bid to attract younger people into the profession.

Griffith University has partnered with numerous practices to offer paid work experience as part of two new degrees to encourage students into the discipline.

Yet late last week, Westpac Financial Planning announced plans to cull half of its ‘entry level’ or ‘foundation’ planners – its most junior financial planners – and increase its experienced, senior planners by more than 200 over the next three years.

Call me a cynic, but it seems counterintuitive for one of the industry’s major institutions to cull the very people the planning profession is trying to attract.

Westpac plans to reduce the number of foundation planner positions from 115 to 70, according to a BT spokesperson, with about 50 of the planners in that category “suitable for promotion” both within BT and the broader Westpac group.

It is understood that the other 20 will remain at entry-level within Westpac’s Partnership Program.

Westpac says the move will reshape its business to meet the current and future wealth needs of customers, and has nothing to do with market conditions.

Mark Spiers, Westpac’s general manager of advice, says that by 2015, there will be a fundamental change in the advice needs of Australians, as the pre-retirement market (age 55-64) grows by around 30 per cent and the retirement generation swells by 65 per cent.

He says the changes are about aligning Westpac’s advice footprint to ensure the right mix of planners to meet the needs of customers – particularly those seeking more complex advice solutions.

“There are still plenty of the new guard and young planners who are already in the business who are looking for the next step up,” he says.

“Age isn’t a criteria, it’s about experience, and that’s where our focus is – on the planners who have experience in dealing with the needs of the market segments on which we’re focusing, [which is] pre-retirees, retirees, personal advice; the segments where there’s demand for more complex financial planning but also the need to have the advice tailored.”

It is true that there is a lack of senior financial planners in the industry.

It is also true that as the Baby Boomer generation heads into retirement, the demand for advice is likely to soar.

But this seems to me like a bandaid solution that will do nothing to help solve the planner shortfall in the long term.

If the industry is to meet the mounting demand from consumers for advice it must grow planners organically, from the bottom up.

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