Michelle Tate-Lovery’s educational background is quite unorthodox for a financial planner.
Her bachelor of arts degree (honours) is not a common qualification among planners, but Tate-Lovery argues it’s surprisingly useful in meeting the multifaceted demands of the financial planning profession.
“I know there is a big push to raise education standards in the industry and I support that, but there are other necessary ingredients that you need on the people side of the equation,” she says. “An arts degree gave me the ability to see the bigger picture and apply it to personal circumstances, to mount an argument and come up with reasons to defend that position and explain why one course of action or belief is better than another.
“You can have all the technical skill in the world, but if you can’t translate it for others, if you don’t know how to communicate, then it’s no good.”
It took Tate-Lovery a while to realise this, however, and she assumed she would become a teacher after she graduated from university. So she was quite surprised when she “fell into” planning.
“I remember feeling awed and asking my bosses at the time whether or not they would prefer someone with a maths background,” she recalls. “They reassured me that they were hiring me for my rapport and the relationships I could build, and the technical side of things could all be taught. And they were right because now it’s part of my DNA.”
Tate-Lovery started out offering financial advice to allied health professionals in her role as a financial planner with the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria.
When she was 24, Tate-Lovery became sick of “Big Brother looking over her” so she left to start her own planning business, where she could build the ethos of the company around her values and run it the way she wanted.
“When you’re that age, you’re young and you are on a mission,” she says of her decision to start a business in her early 20s. “And you just want to do your own thing.”
Her company, the self-licensed Unified Financial Services, has since created its own niche in the industry, with six employees and 150 clients.
“There are firms with bigger client bases than ours, but we are after quality, rather than quantity,” she says. “We find that most clients self-select and that suits us because we want the right kind of clients; those that are rational, responsive, who follow advice, and are keen to reach a destination by a certain time.
“Because what we do changes people’s lives, and clients need to be committed to the process.”
Tate-Lovery believes there must be a greater education campaign, in both schools and universities, to get more people interested in planning.
“I spoke at Deakin University recently and when I asked how many people had heard of financial planning, five out of 40 put their hands up,” she says.
Tate-Lovery also maintains that planning is a “fantastic” career choice for women.
“I’m gobsmacked that more women do not enter the industry,” she says. “It’s intellectually stimulating, it plays to women’s strong communication skills and it involves a great deal of contact with people.”
For her part, Tate-Lovery remains eternally grateful that she, of the arts-degree world, took that first step into a planning career.
“It’s such a natural fit for me, and I have made a life out of something that I absolutely love,” she says. “It’s very satisfying to see people realise their goals. I have been doing this for a generation. So I have seen people start out with an initial plan then progress to being able to retire comfortably.”
Name of firm: Unified Financial Services
Academic qualifications: Bachelor of arts (honours), diploma in financial planning
Accreditations: Certified Financial Planner
Professional association memberships: Financial Planning Association, Association of Financial Advisers
Other memberships: Most Trusted Adviser Network