Ten years ago, I had hair, a partner who loved me, and a clear sense of purpose. I suppose that a decade down the track, two out of three ain’t bad, even though one of them definitely isn’t coming back.
It was a different world in many ways. We were unencumbered – relatively – by regulation, and it was easier back then: Financial Services Reform was a thing of the past and FoFA was merely a gleam in Bernie Ripoll’s eye. We’d get to the office on Monday morning, be briefed by the boss on
what products we were going to sell this week, then go out to find clients that fit the profile.
And, if I’m honest, some that didn’t fit as well, but could be contorted into the mould with some gentle coercion.
The good times couldn’t last, though, and things began to change in late 2008, when the morning news bulletins started carrying increasingly hysterical stories about the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US, and something to do with jingle mail and subprime mortgages.
Instead of us making calls to sell things to people, people started making calls to us to sell things. It was a pretty hairy time, and thank goodness the entire global banking system has now been completely and totally sorted out and as a result a repeat of that experience is utterly unthinkable.
Today, I work with some people who weren’t even in the business when Lehman existed. Their only interest in tech in the early 2000s was the new PlayStation 2 (or Nintendo 64 for the cool kids) and getting their hands on Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. Some of them weren’t even born when the Asian financial crisis struck in the early ’90s and the so-called ‘capital stable’ funds we’d been so enthusiastically selling proved to be anything but.
Sometimes I wonder how someone works in the industry today with no direct experience of the events that shaped it. Then I remember that the same was true of me. Even though I clearly recall the morning in October 1987 when the Australian sharemarket followed the US’s lead and tanked, I was not working during the various economic and political crises of the 1970s, and those that preceded them.
Fortunes are made during good times, but character is forged during bad times. Early in my career, I worked with a gentleman who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. He was a character, all right – with the word ‘character’ uttered through gritted teeth. The only thing his experience seemed to have taught him was someone else should always pay for lunch.
I’m not saying the current generation of advisers is soft, because every generation has its own challenges and its own crosses to bear. But I am suggesting that if the most we have to complain about is too much regulation too fast, then we’re probably doing OK. After all, a period of regulation will create a foundation on which a trusted profession can be built, and an environment in which advisers and advice businesses can really fly. But I wonder what sort of characters are being forged during the travails of the current period.
In 10 years, the advice business will look as different from today as today looks from 10 years ago. It will be better, just as the industry is better today than it was in 2007. It might go through a few rocky years in the interim, as colleagues decide higher standards are not for them, and opt to leave.
But that’s healthy and it’s part of a necessary renewal process.
Let the rest of us just make sure those who decide to depart are able and allowed to do so with our thanks and our respect for what they’ve contributed to the industry. At least let them leave with more dignity than was afforded me by the departure of my hair.