There is an entire network of peer groups and subgroups in the advice industry that is having a tremendous impact on the business health and mental well-being of financial planners.
The spectrum of these groups is wide; while the grassroots end of the sector is proving to be both beneficial and enduring, larger groups are becoming increasingly popular and are happy to trade off an intimate atmosphere for scale and a broader network.
The Alpha Group, a Melbourne-based collective of 17 mostly self-licensed practices, has been around for 21 years. By its current chairman’s own admission, the group “runs on the smell of an oily rag”.
David Page also runs his own advice firm, ABPhillips, but says it was his turn to “step up to the plate” and chair the group, which has no staff or premises. There is a charter somewhere, however this is due to be updated, Page admits. The website, he notes, is also in dire need of a refresh. “Someone will volunteer for that,” he ventures.
Any fees the Alpha Group charges members are only to cover expenses. One of the members usually takes care of the administration but most of the tasks – like organising an annual conference that took them to Japan last year – are shared between members.
There’s little fanfare or promotion, which is exactly how the collective likes it. Nor do they plan on growing.
“Members need to be introduced by a referral from two existing members, and it doesn’t happen that often,” Page explains. “I’ve been involved for five years, and in that time two new firms have come in. We’re not out there canvassing, there’s no benefit for us in banging our chest or beating the drum.”
The group exists to provide a collegial environment for their members to share knowledge, discuss the challenges their facing and learn from people facing similar issues.
Occasionally they’ll use their collective scale to find a good deal from providers for services, but Page insists its not a primary focus. “There has been some relationship pricing based on scale but it’s not overly common,” he says.
Michelle Tate-Lovery, who has been with the Alpha Group for 20 years, says she was introduced by a friend who noticed she was having a tough time.
“Someone knew of this group and said ‘you’re going through challenges and could do with some peer support’,” she reveals. “They took me into the fold.”
Tate-Lovery says she likes the feeling of solidarity and comradery. “I don’t think any owner or licensee can be in a cocoon, there’s too much going on,” she adds.
Page reckons the intimacy of The Alpha Group is what makes it special.
“It’s a very different environment, but that brings a lot of charm I think,” he says.
While there is a common thread that runs between advice support networks, The Alpha Group is vastly different from the Boutique Financial Planning Principals’ Group (BFP).
The BFP started in 2002 and has 85 self-licensed businesses with 175 individual advisers in the fold. Its members must also hold membership in the Financial Planning Association.
Tate-Lovery is a member of both The Alpha Group and BFP, and says she gets value from both.
Where BFP differs from the Alpha Group is its focus on growth. President Angela Martyn says it’s currently looking at how they can improve their member services. BFP is also keen to utilise its group purchasing power to get subsidised pricing for members.
Otherwise, the main purpose is the same; collaboration, support, knowledge and contacts.
“Having a small business can be a bit lonely,” Martin tells Professional Planner. “It’s nice to be able to tap into ideas and share issues.”
The mental health of advisers can only benefit from community, she argues. “It’s very valuable in these unchartered times to be able to share concerns we all have and ways in which to manage them.”
The secret sauce
Going further up the spectrum, XY Adviser has tapped into a slightly younger subsection of advisers with a ubiquitous presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.
XY was founded by over six years ago as an advice blog and now numbers 3500 members. It runs 12 events per year and their Facebook page – which had 150,000 page visits last month – will soon be upgraded to a dedicated platform. The average age of members is 42.
The group has carved an almost cult-like following from advisers who get value out of the hub-sites hosted by XY where they can converse and share with industry peers.
The group also does advocacy, yet selectively. The only thing they’re fighting for right now is the tax deductibility of upfront advice, says one of the four founders, Clayton Daniel. “We don’t want to become a lobby group,” he adds.
XY is a company, and a more commercial venture than many advice support groups. They have 3 full-time staff and work out of a share office in the Sydney CBD.
Daniel, himself an ex-adviser, says XY never set out to be profitable. “It’s become a successful business in its own right but that was never the intention.”
Unlike many other groups, XY admits non-advisers to its group. The group is designed for advisers, Daniel explains, but anyone who can contribute – such as an advice coach or a superannuation fund employee – can join.
“The secret sauce is that we don’t let people promote themselves or their company’s products or services,” he says. “It’s about sharing ideas and resources within a community.”