To paraphrase Abigail Adams – wife of the second president of the United States, John Adams, who frequently sought her advice – this is a time we would choose to live in, because it’s at times like this that true character can be demonstrated.

The Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) has a unique culture. It is, and always has been, a culture that is informed and shaped by the fact that it is a professional association of advisers. Written into our constitution is that every member of our board must be a practising financial adviser. We represent only the views of professional advisers, and by extension their clients, and we have a long history of doing just that.

Every year comes with new challenges, which only serve to further strengthen our resolve, develop our culture and strengthen our character. The coming year will be no different.

The 2015-16 AFA board

I am honoured to serve as the AFA’s new national president. Together with  a group of high-calibre professionals who have been elected to the board, I believe the AFA is in a position of great strength. Each member of the board is highly skilled and experienced and every one of them is a financial adviser in a leading practice. We all have a passion for promoting the difference that great advice can make to the lives of everyday Australians. Three women – myself, our vice president, Jenny Brown, and Queensland state director, Dianne Charman – now sit on the board.

The greater representation of women at board and executive levels helps address the issue of gender inequity within the broader financial services industry, and is a reflection of the great work the AFA is doing via the Inspire initiative and the AFA Female Excellence in Advice Award (the award). Jenny, Dianne and I have all gone through the award process, and we are all enthusiastic participants of the Inspire program.

Also on the board are a number of advisers who represent the future of financial advice, including our new treasurer, Steve Crawford, who has been actively involved with the AFA for the past five years in his role as Victorian state director and as a member of the Victorian GenXt Committee. Steve, along with our state directors Jeff Thurecht (NSW), Chris Browne (VIC), Matthew Hawkins (TAS) and Dave Slovenic (SA) are all aged under 45.

Chris, Matthew and Dave have been instrumental to the GenXt program and Jeff is representing the AFA on the AFA/Financial Services Council (FSC) life insurance working group. All are committed to ensuring the best possible outcomes for our members. Their youthful enthusiasm is balanced out by the long years of experience of our other board members, including WA state director James Ford, who has a long history of involvement in the AFA and a passion for mentoring young advisers. This balanced and exemplary team will be crucial to delivering our strategy over the next two years.

Response to ASIC report

In 2015, we will continue to work proactively with government, the regulator and other industry bodies on policy issues affecting financial advice, including the ongoing changes to the Future of Financial Advice (FoFA) reforms. In particular, we will be working with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the FSC on issues arising from ASIC Report 413: Review of Retail Life Insurance Advice (the report). Our decision to work with the FSC to provide a review of the report is based on our belief that there needs to be a united industry response to the matters raised.

It is essential that all key stakeholders unite in order to address ASIC’s range of concerns including product design, remuneration structures and advice quality. The AFA/FSC review will ensure that the industry’s response is both balanced and comprehensive. AFA CEO Brad Fox and former practising adviser John de Zwart, from Centrepoint Alliance, will sit alongside AFA NSW state director Jeff Thurecht on the AFA/FSC
life insurance working group.

We will also be convening our own life insurance working group. A range of experienced risk insurance specialists will be members of the group, and we will be consulting broadly throughout the process, including with our members and licensee partners, to ensure that all views are brought to the table.

Consumer trust and financial literacy

One of the key issues we face is lack of consumer trust and confidence in financial advice. I believe that improving financial literacy is one of the ways we can overcome this. Another is to start promoting the good experiences consumers have with advice.

In 2015, the AFA will share good consumer experiences via our “Your Best Interests” initiative and will also launch a new financial literacy program. The program is headed up by QLD state director Dianne Charman who, like many of our members, has a real passion for financial literacy. We are looking at how we can work together with industry stakeholders such as ASIC to educate the public to make informed decisions around their individual financial situations. This work will be augmented by our work with the Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (the network).

The AFA has been heavily involved in the network since inception; and AFA CEO Brad Fox sits on the committee representing AFA members who wish to provide advice to Australians who most need it but can’t afford it. And finally, we will continue to work at a grass-roots level with advisers to help them address the everyday challenges they are facing in their businesses and with their clients.

At the end of the day – to paraphrase another famous first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt – the AFA will continue to do what we believe in our hearts is right for our members and their clients.

Deborah Kent is national president of the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA), and the founder and owner of Integra Financial Servcies.
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