A director of the financial planning firm at the centre of a dispute with the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) has spoken out about what he describes as attempts by the FPA to bully it into silence.
Gavin Murphy, a director of Bannister Mansfield Financial Services, which is not a member of the FPA, says despite the association’s success last week in having the firm cease running newspaper advertisements critical of the FPA and its chief executive, the FPA failed in its effort to “obtain a gag order to shut us up”.
Murphy and Bannister Mansfield consented in the Federal Court last week to orders made by Justice Annabelle Bennett that they be restrained from publishing the advertisements, and the matter was adjourned until February 23.
The advertisement ran twice, once in the Sunday Telegraph and once in the Daily Telegraph. In a statement on Friday, the FPA said it had “engaged solicitors and asked Mr Murphy to stop running the advertisement, after it appeared in the Sunday Telegraph this week”.
“However, when the advertisement appeared in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, the FPA and Ms Bloch had little choice but to apply to the Federal Court in Sydney for an injunction against Mr Murphy and Bannister Mansfield Financial Services,” it said.
In an alert sent to members last week, the FPA said: “Mr Murphy’s offensive advertisements besmirch the reputation of our CEO Jo-Anne Bloch, the FPA and its members by comparing them and/or their conduct to disgraced former US Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
“The advertisements question Jo-Anne’s and FPA members’ professional integrity and honesty,” it said.
“It suggests attempts by the FPA and its membership to put client interests first are not genuine. It is offensive to all financial planners.”
Murphy says Bannister Mansfield consented to withdraw the ad “to avoid further acrimony”, and that the FPA has indicated that Bannister Mansfield and Murphy will be sued for defamation.
Murphy says the ad was placed “not to target the FPA, but to acknowledge the current public opinion of the financial planning industry and to highlight how Bannister Mansfield’s longstanding clients first approach and its services can remedy some of the shortcomings that led to loss of faith in the industry”.
Murphy, represented in Friday’s proceedings by Sydney barrister Kate Traill, says he is surprised “about the vigour with which the FPA has responded to [my] comments”, and says “many in the industry have called and emailed” him with support for his views.
“They tried to obtain a gag order to shut us up but the Judge kicked their application out of court,” Murphy says.
“We look forward to any further court action by the FPA and Jo-Anne Bloch. We will not be bullied by either of them and we relish the opportunity to have our day in court”.
Before the FPA’s legal action, Murphy told Professional Planner that the firm did not understand why the FPA was “so upset with the ad. It merely states the obvious”.
“I would have thought the FPA has better things to do with their members fees, like restoring faith in the industry, rather then trying to quash dissent,” Murphy said.
“It is interesting to note that in a recent [newspaper] article…FPA Chief Executive Jo-Anne Bloch claims that the [new code of ethics] ‘demonstrates to members, clients and key stakeholders that our members stand apart from other financial planners who have not made appropriate commitments to professionalism’.
“Doesn’t that mean that prior to adopting the new code, the FPA’s members also lacked ‘professionalism’?
“By saying ‘FPA members stand apart from other financial planners who have not made appropriate commitments to professionalism’ Jo-Anne Bloch is clearly insinuating that non-FPA members are ‘unprofessional’.
“That seems to be acceptable for her to say, yet any criticism of the FPA itself then becomes an apparent cause for legal action. Don’t non-members have the right of reply?
[They are] essentially bullying planners into becoming an FPA member. If you don’t or if you disagree, the FPA seems to think they have the right to publicly discredit you.”