When Tracey Sofra started the financial planning arm of her and her husband’s accounting business, she was well-qualified, degree-educated, but distinctly nervous.
It was 1999 and still very much a salesman’s industry, but Sofra was humbled by the trust people were placing in her.
“I was used to dealing in absolutes as an accountant, figures that were concrete and on the page in front of you and no one can argue with it,” Sofra says. “But planning was different, it was an evolution of the role into one giving advice and recommendations.
“I would stress about making sure I gave the right advice and I took it very seriously.”
Sofra laughs when asked how the profession has changed since her early days in planning, pointing to the cavalier attitude of some of the planners who were opening offices back then.
“It has done a complete 360,” she says. “When I first came onto the scene, there were no rules and no SoAs (statements of advice).
“I was doing them myself, but there was no obligation. Since then it has been continual change in the industry, change has been the one constant.”
She recalls a gala dinner she attended in 1999, in which she was shocked at the lack of experience of one particular planner.
“I asked him how long he had been in planning for and he told me six months,” she says. “I thought, ‘OK, fair enough.’ But then I asked him what he was doing before and he said a mixed business.
“I was shocked. How does he know what he was even talking about? Planning is complex.”
Sofra is, unsurprisingly, thrilled by the new degree requirements, which she thinks will have a revolutionary impact on the profession.
“The industry needs to get rid of the old ‘lifers’ and salespeople,” she notes. “There is a momentum now in planning towards greater education and I think that is the key.”
Sofra’s passion and commitment to her profession have been recognised in recent years.
She won Planner of the Year at the Women in Financial Services Awards this year, and was a finalist in 2015.
This year, she also was a finalist in the AFA Female Excellence in Advice Awards and she published her first book, Finding Financial Freedom, last year.
Sofra and the business she runs with her husband, Terry, are based in the Victorian town of Shepparton – a place she grew up in and loves, but one that in the past has made her feel isolated as a businesswoman.
“I remember waking up one day and thinking how I wished there was more support for women in business in regional Victoria, so I told myself to get over it and do something about it,” she says.
In 2015, Sofra founded WOW Women, consisting of a group of like-minded business, professional and entrepreneurial women in regional Victoria who attend seven events a year for support and camaraderie.
“At my debut event, there were 350 women in attendance and 72 members signed up, so it greatly exceeded my expectations,” Sofra says.
Sofra also hosts her own two-night financial retreats for women who need to get on track with their finances.
“It’s really important that women get across their finances,” she says. “We have got no limitations now, but with that freedom comes responsibility. You need to sit at the table with Bob and understand the money because Bob may leave, or you may leave Bob, or Bob may die.
“I once heard of a woman who gave power of attorney to her accountant, can you imagine doing that? And guess what, he gambled all of her money away.”
Name of firm: Sofcorp Financial Services
Name of licensee: Consultum Financial Advisers
Time in the industry: Accountant (CPA) for 27 years, financial planner (CFP) for 18 years
Academic qualifications: CPA, CFP, degree qualified
Professional association memberships: ASCPA, FPA
Other memberships: Financial Planning Association of Australia, Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants, Authorised Representative of Consultum Financial Advisers, Australian National Committee for UN Women, Consultum Financial Advisers – Board of Advice 2016, European Women in Business, Executive Women Australia, LBD Group