Like many a financial planner before her, Lisa Haley gave accounting a red-hot go during the early days of her career.

She had always been strong at bookkeeping in high school, but after studying accounting for one year, she concluded that the world of taxes and returns was a little too dry.

Until that point, Haley had worked in the fitness industry, helping run gyms while teaching classes, but had longed to start her own business.

“An acquaintance of mine was a planner, so I gave him a call and asked him what it involved, what the work was like,” Haley says. “We ended up talking for 45 minutes and it sounded like something I could really get my teeth into.”
Not long afterwards, Haley saw an ad for a planning firm that specialised in ethical investments, and it struck a chord with her.

“I figured, if they were advertising their ethical investments then those kinds of ethics would extend throughout the company,” she says.

She made a few cold calls and eventually she was led to the door of United Financial Services, where, 13 years on, she is still happily ensconced.

But it’s not just an ability with numbers that keeps her there; Haley genuinely enjoys helping people get on the right financial track, especially women, who often have paltry superannuation balances compared with men.

“There is a confidence gap when it comes to men’s and women’s finances,” Haley says. “When I was hiring young women for roles in gyms in Melbourne, I would be stunned by how many did not ask what their hourly rate would be. Others were unaware that they were entitled to receive superannuation.”

It was especially startling to Haley because of her mother’s example.

Her mum, a deputy public school principal, was also keenly involved in women’s charities, including Soroptimist International, which helps educate women and girls in developing nations.

“My family has always been involved in charity work and Mum was a real example,” Haley notes.

A client approach informed by charity

 The charity work has informed her approach to clients to this day. She is strictly a fee-based practitioner, as are all of the planners in the firm, and she doesn’t push products.

“A lot of our clients, probably more than 50 per cent, say the thing they like most is that we are fee based,” she says. “And about the same number come to us after they have had a negative experience with a planner.

“They tried to seek advice but when it became apparent that they didn’t have complex financial needs, and couldn’t be sold anything other than maybe a term deposit or some insurance, the planner lost interest in them.”

Haley says these are the very clients she welcomes, and counts many union employees among her base of regulars. She is aware, however, of the importance of charging fees in order to say afloat.

“We can’t be too cheap; we try to strike a moderate fee level,” she says. “We try to keep costs low for the client by keeping our overheads low. For example, we don’t have a fancy office.”

Each client receives a minimum of two meetings a year. The first meeting is highly detailed and sets out the plan for the year, while the second, six months later, is an update on finances.

“Then there are those clients who need and want greater contact between those two key meetings and some people we see much more regularly than others,” Haley says. “It’s quite amazing how involved you become in other people’s lives.”

 Lisa Haley 

Name of firm: Unified Financial Services, in Victoria

 Time in the industry (previous jobs?): 13 years; previously fitness  instructor and manager of gyms

 Academic qualifications: Bachelor of applied science (exercise  rehabilitation), graduate certificate accounting, DFP

 Accreditations: Certified Financial Planner

 Professional association memberships: Financial Planning Association

 Other memberships: Most Trusted Adviser Network



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Johanna Roberts is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist with more than 15 years' experience in news, features, lifestyle, property, finance, books and arts journalism, across both digital and print platforms. She has worked at both Fairfax and News Corp publications in Australia, as well as in digital roles in London with The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.