Last month James Walker-Powell chalked up 25 years in the business. This is an edited version of a speech he gave at an event to mark the occasion, reflecting on how he came to enter the financial planning industry in the first place

Many people who come into my office look at the certificates on the wall, and proudly there hangs a physical education degree. Usually at the end of the meeting I ask them if they have any more questions, and they say yes – how did you get into financial planning from physical education? This is that story.

Back in 1989, in my second year as a teacher, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. And a friend of mine asked me if I’d like to buy some superannuation. And I said, well, OK – what’s superannuation?

He said, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s these flip charts, and you go around and knock on doors, and someone’s bound to buy one.”

I thought I’d give that a go. I rustled up my old football blazer, and we knocked on a few doors. On about the 11th or 12th door we got to, a fellow said yes, I’ll have one of those $30 plans. So we signed him up, and I forgot about it.

At that stage I was living in Western Australia, and I got an SOS to come back to Sydney, because my mother was very ill, and in fact she died. But eight weeks later, I got back to my little apartment on Scarborough Beach and I was going through my mail, and I found a cheque, addressed to Mr James Walker-Powell, for two weeks’ teacher’s salary. That was the commission on the superannuation policy. Next day I went to the headmaster and resigned.

I was lucky to have a friend, Paul Taylor, who had a National Mutual agency, who said, come and work for us, we’ve got 20 leads a week we can give you, and it’s going to be plain sailing.

You start at A

First day in the job, I travelled an hour-and-a-half south of Perth to a place called Rockingham – anyone who knows Rockingham, in those days it was pretty much the dump of the world. I sat in my chair, with the laminate desk and the phone, I waited for about half an hour, and I said to Paul, where are those 20 leads? He said, “Yes mate – I’ll just go and get them for you”, and five minutes later he came back with the Yellow Pages. He said: “You start at A.” That was the start of the journey to where we are today.

I lasted at National Mutual for about two-and-a-half years in Western Australia, and again I got the call home, because my sister was dying and I had to look after my two nieces. I sold up shop and went back to Sydney – and there I was again, with the desk, with the Yellow Pages, and off I went.

I lasted there, at AMP, from 1992 to 1999, when I came across a group called Associated Planners (APL). It was a visionary place in those days, in terms of having an independent outlook in respect of superannuation and insurance, and it was there I met Ray Miles. I bought shares in APL on Ray’s advice. APL was then sold to Challenger, and as the seventh-largest shareholder I did very well out of the sale. It enabled me to purchase a beachfront house in Freshwater.

I was also introduced to the concepts of consultant Dan Sullivan. One of those was the Unique Process Adviser. The unique process that would eventually become the More4Life process came to me after asking a client where he saw himself in three years’ time.

He divided his goals into five categories: money, family, health, leisure and business.

We built a whole new financial planning approach around these five areas.

Swallowed by bureaucracy

When smaller companies get sold to larger companies they always get swallowed up in bureaucracy. So we decided to get out, and get our own licence at More4Life. That was interesting – it was November 2007. It was the pre-GFC height of the sharemarket. The next 16 months, probably for all financial planners, were very challenging.

Shortly after that I had a bit of a challenge myself, having a mild subarachnoid haemorrhage. Everything I had been advocating came into play at that stage. I was very happy to see how the insurance industry worked in respect of paying a claim.

It was really comforting to know that what I do can make a significant difference in people’s lives, as the investment piece can, as well. And one thing I know people will never want to go through again are the trials and tribulations we had through the GFC.

We’ve searched for a solution, and we’ve come up with the solution of having an absolute-return focus of investing, looking at investing in uncorrelated asset classes rather than having large risk exposures to the sharemarket. So when events like the GFC come through, our investment solutions are built so not all the investments are going to go down at the same time.

I am very proud not only of my current staff, but also the staff that we have had along the way. They are the ones who have given me the time and ideas to create the contemporary financial planning practice we have today.


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James Walker-Powell is principal of More4Life Financial Services, and is a founding member of the Association of Real Return Investment Advisers (ARRIA)