Gwen Fletcher AM passed away on February 28, aged 94. Julie Bennett, co-author with Fletcher of Fletcher’s biography, Running Between the Raindrops, remembers her friend and her immeasurable contribution to the development of financial planning in Australia
My friend Gwen Fletcher was unshakeably convinced that financial planning had the power to help people reach their goals, and in so doing to dramatically improve their lives. From the moment she learned of the concept of financial planning, on a visit to the United States, she became a passionate believer and was determined to bring the profession Down Under.
Her journey started in the 1980s. After becoming the second Australian member of the International Association for Financial Planning (IAFP) (US) – her boss was the first member – she played a pivotal role in establishing the IAFP here. She served as IAFP Australia’s first national treasurer and later became national secretary, national president and finally, chair.
In 1991-92, she led the IAFP through its merger with the Australian Society of Investment and Financial Advisers (ASIFA) to form today’s Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA). At the time – and perhaps even today – Gwen was the only person ever to hold all executive roles within a professional financial planning association (the IAFP).
Gwen also launched our first financial planning educational institution (the Investment Training College) and became an executive director of Dalserv Financial Services Pty Limited, the company which held Australia’s first financial planning licence. In partnership with others, she went on to establish some of our first financial planning practices.
The highest standards
Gwen was committed from the outset to the highest standards. Evidence of that commitment is that she agitated for Australia to adopt the highest professional financial planner certification – the Certified Financial Planner and CFP marks. In 1990, she signed the historic agreement with the US to bring the designation to Australia – making us the first country to sign such an agreement. She also played a leading role in organising our first financial planning conventions.
And she walked the walk. She was a financial planner who ran her own financial planning businesses. Her clients, like almost everyone in the industry, loved her. She was passionate about financial literacy and became principal adviser to the FPA Education in Schools Project. She was founding president and the first life member of the Association of Financial Services Educators (AFSE) and the co-author, along with US-based CFP, Larry Krause, of the book Sleep Tight Money.
It is a remarkable journey for a woman who was born in the era of the Model-T Ford and began working in the accounting industry when it was unfashionable for women to have a career. She worked for the US Army in Sydney during World War II and, once the war was over, for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). After her post-war marriage, she and her husband moved to Orange, NSW, where she worked in politics, as electorate secretary to the Federal Member for Calare, John Howse.
She went on to hold a variety of positions across Australia in a number of fields including insurance and investment. During the 1980s she spent time (and her own money) travelling the world promoting Australia as a land of investment opportunity. She also helped organise investment conferences in Australia and for her efforts was awarded the Ambassador of the Year Award by what was then the NSW Government Department of Industrial Development and Decentralisation.
Gwen became a role model not only for our own profession but for all Australian women. She was a mentor to members of Women in Finance and spoke on various aspects of investment across the US, Asia and Australia.
Gwen’s contribution to the financial planning industry was formally recognised by the FPA Australia in 2005, when she was awarded lifetime membership. In 2010 she was made inaugural patron of the Future2 Foundation and in 2007 became the first person outside the US to be awarded the FPA (US)’s Heart of Financial Planning Award. But the highest honour came that same year, when her country made her a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).
Warm and welcoming
Gwen’s lifetime of achievements might make her sound remote – but she was anything but that. She was warm and welcoming; a firm hand in a velvet glove to be sure but for all that a gentle person with a kind heart, a winning smile and an impish sense of humour. A woman who really cared about improving the financial future of everyday Australians; a woman who constantly pushed past politics to remain true to that goal.
It goes without saying that I, like possibly thousands in our profession in Australia and around the world, will miss her both personally and professionally. My greatest wish however is that she was not one of a kind because, quite simply, our profession desperately needs many more just like her.
I can’t remember when I first met Gwen but it was probably about 20 years ago. I do remember her, aged well into her 70s, publicly and politely challenging someone at a conference on something they had to say that she didn’t agree with. Always polite, but never afraid to challenge. I loved that about her. She also had a mischievous sense of humour.
My husband Bruce and I last saw her on Feb 5. She was in fine form that day, which was a nice surprise because she hadn’t been well. We told her of our plans to visit the US in April and meet some of the American financial planning colleagues she had introduced us to by phone/Skype. She pouted. I knew she really would have loved to come with us but she knew her travelling days were done.
I tried to cheer her up by saying, “We’ll send you a postcard.”
She replied, “Big deal!”
It was the last big laugh we shared together. I’m glad we left her with a smile.