After the Financial Planning Association Professionals Congress in Hobart in November, I’ll be spending some time continuing my deep-dive due diligence into some of the boutique whisky distilleries that have sprung up around the Tasmanian capital over the last few years.

This is all in the name of research, I hope you understand, after I was asked how much I knew about a small company that’s been set up to invest in the boutique distillers and eventually market their produce in areas of major interest, including China. I had to admit that I knew very little.

Whisky and the FPA congress are fast becoming synonymous, after a group of colleagues and I located a wonderful whisky bar not far from the Brisbane Conference and Exhibition Centre. I think it was the FPA. It might have been the SMSF Association. It was definitely Brisbane though. Or Perth. But it was certainly whisky.

It was in this bar that through a guided tasting session I learned that I’m into big smoky, peaty single-malts, and that ‘my’ whisky is Ardbeg’s Uigeadail – a name that has the unique distinction (or perhaps the Scottish distinction) of being easier to pronounce when drunk than when sober.

Before I invested the time and the effort to find out, I really hadn’t given much thought to what whisky I prefer. I just drank it. I suppose I was vaguely aware that some tasted better than others. And before I’d spent time visiting the distilleries around Hobart, I hadn’t really given much thought to how it’s made. It had something to do with barley, and malt, I knew. But now I have a far deeper appreciation of both the process and the product. I’m an informed and, therefore, much more appreciative and discerning consumer.

A meaningful connection with the consumer is a critical part of business success. It’s not enough just to have a great product, although the product must be great. It also has to have a personality, and there has to be some sort of story that resonates with its target market. For whisky distillers, it’s easy. I defy you to visit the Shene Estate, Redlands or Lark distilleries, for example, and not feel a connection with the craft, the passion and the sheer joy of those who run them.

The industry has had its share of bad apples, too, mind you. The Nant barrel fiasco is a case in point; investors paid $25,000 upfront to have a barrel filled with spirit, matured, and bought back by the distillery four years later for $36,000, only to find hundreds of barrels were never filled, had been sold to more than one investor, or had gone missing. Investigations into the whys and wherefores are continuing.

For providers of financial planning services, connecting with a consumer like a whisky distillery is a difficult task, even though there are a couple of tenuous similarities between the industries. Distillers and planners both do things today that do not pay off (and can’t be assessed for quality) until years later. OK, well, that’s the only similarity I can think of, if you exclude the potential for rampant alcoholism in both industries.

When you look at whisky distillers, while their product is obviously critical, often they focus on the craft of distilling and the melding of art and science to produce the product. It’s the inputs, rather than the result: the quality of the raw ingredients, the skill of the distiller and often the backstory of the distiller or the location of the distillery itself. Shene Estate, where Damian Mackey is the head distiller, was built in 1819 by the grandson of King George III after he was granted land by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It’s a great yarn (and it might be about a great whisky, but it’s very hard to get hold of a bottle to find out*).

Financial planning tends to focus on outcomes: specifically, meeting clients’ financial goals and objectives. That’s understandable but, as with distilling, there’s no iron-clad guarantee of the result. Only the quality of the process and the raw inputs can be guaranteed and, also as with distilling, financial planning is a combination of science and art, whose results depend greatly on experience and skill.

Focusing on these things has worked for the Tasmanian whisky industry. I wonder how consumers would respond if financial planners did the same thing?

*Dixon can be contacted on – and if it’s you, Damian, he’ll send you his postal address for deliveries.

Dixon Bainbridge may be contacted by email only since his phone was disconnected - and it's best to try in the mornings. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Professional Planner, and not even necessarily grounded in reality, to be frank.
Leave a comment