Gold Coast-based financial adviser Felicity Cooper knows what it’s like to juggle a million things – career, family, friends and the succession of curve balls life throws your way.
But there is one ball she makes sure she always keeps in the air.
“I never, ever, drop the ethics ball,” says Cooper who won the National Financial Planner of the Year Award at this year’s Money Management Women in Financial Services Awards. “If you drop that, it shatters and then you’re done.”
It’s a lesson her father, also a small-business owner, passed down to her.
“He taught me that ethics is about owning up to any mistakes you make, not never making a mistake,” she says. “He also taught me to value clients’ money. When you see your own family work hard and sacrifice things for money and the hours they have put into making it, you see that money has a story behind it and it needs to be respected.”
Cooper also knows what it feels like to make in-roads in a male-dominated industry, having started her career some 20 years ago as a stockbroker.
“It was very much dominated by men,” she says. “Back in those days, I was sent home for wearing a pantsuit to work.” Cooper emphasises this was in the 1990s, not the 1960s, when women were routinely frowned upon for wearing “men’s” business clothing, rather than skirts.
“I think I was most annoyed that I had bought this pantsuit that I could never wear.”
These days, Cooper, who is a finalist for the Financial Planning Association’s Financial Planner of the Year award, wears whatever she likes to work, having left stockbroking to establish Cooper Wealth Management at Isle of Capri, Queensland, three years ago.
That’s not to say she bears a grudge against her former industry – in fact, quite the opposite.
“I loved it. I loved talking to clients, I loved the strategy of not just choosing the stock, but putting a whole portfolio together and risk managing it all,” she recalls. “But in the end, it felt like such a small part of someone’s potential and not everyone is in direct shares. So you’re missing this bigger universe of how to help someone get to retirement.”
Cooper Wealth Management employs five people – including one other adviser – and charges a fee-for-service with no commissions on products, except on insurance.
“I wanted that non-aligned business model, where we don’t have a badged product and no commission on brokerage for a client,” she explains. “And the only way I could do that was to have my licence.”
Which is why she thinks the wealth divisions of banks should be separate businesses, due to the inherent conflict of interest in pushing inhouse product.
“Whenever you have product owned by the company that owns the planner, essentially, there is a conflict, because it’s a distribution network for the banks’ products,” she explains. “And the only people we should serve is the client.”
Most of Cooper’s clients are pre-retirees aged 45 and upwards, who don’t necessarily have grand ambitions of retiring at 50, but want what most of us hanker for: work we enjoy but not too much of it.
“Many clients say they would like to take more time off or gain more flexibility,” she says. “Many also say they want to do something because they love it not because they have to. People want an experience-filled life and money helps pay for those experiences.”
Name of firm: Cooper Wealth Management
Time in the industry (previous jobs?): 22 years; (prior to launching Cooper Wealth Management three years ago, Cooper worked as an investment adviser at Goldman Sachs JBWere, Macquarie Bank and RBS Morgans).
Academic qualifications: master’s degree in financial planning; bachelor’s degrees in business and arts; graduate diploma of applied finance; diploma of financial planning
Accreditations: Master practitioner, Stockbrokers’ Association of Australia; Accredited Derivatives Adviser Level 2.
Professional association memberships: FPA, Stockbrokers’ and Financial Advisers’ Association