Advice leaders should be cognisant of the mental health of their direct reports and actively promote mental health well-being, according to AIA’s Justine Marquet.

Marquet, who is a senior technical manager at AIA’s technical education centre of excellence (TECE), says she has “very strong” views around the role of managers and principals in advice.

“If you’re choosing to lead people in your business, whether that’s as a principal in an advice business or a manager in a larger business such as AIA, we all have a responsibility to care for our people, to promote their well-being and ensure they’re supported,” she says. “I think that’s what leadership is, personally.”

Paying attention to the mental health and welfare of staff doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of other business drivers, Marquet adds. Rather, looking after staff is also in the best interests of the business. “Sure, you’re responsible for profit and the success of the business, but it’s only the success of the people that will get you there,” she says.

Marquet will chair a panel called ‘Mental health and vitality – mission critical’ at the Professional Planner Best Practice Forum in Sydney on July 30 and Melbourne on August 1, where industry leaders will discuss how managers can equip themselves to handle mental health issues.

It’s an important time to be talking about it, she says. A “confluence of factors”, including scrutiny from the Hayne royal commissions and new education standards, have put pressure on advisers and called into question their reputation. “We really need to work hard to maintain our resilience and reiterate personally that the work we’re doing is valuable to individuals and businesses,” she believes.

“It’s a real shame because the vast majority of financial advisers – and certainly the ones that I’ve worked with over the years – have their clients’ best interests at heart,” Marquet continues. “Unfortunately, though, mud sticks.”

The stress is compounded, she adds, by the declining value of advice businesses and evolving remuneration models. The upcoming removal of grandfathered commissions, and the potential excise of life insurance commissions, have increased the pace of change and level of uncertainty in the industry, Marquet adds.

“It can take a few years to transition to a different model and get the pricing right,” she says. “Not everyone makes it.”

With all these factors at play, Marquet believes resilience will be key for advisers and financial services staff – something that business leaders can assist with by facilitating mental health programs and giving staff “any support we can give them”.

The industry has already come a long way towards bringing these issues to light, Marquet stresses.

“I think it is changing,” she says. “I’m fortunate enough to speak at and attend a lot of [professional development] days and increasingly I see spots that are dedicated to people telling their own stories, opening up the conversation and generally improving awareness around mental health. I’m pretty positive about that.”

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning.
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