There is a cohort of licensees, large and small, that are working together to both help themselves navigate the industry and figure out ways to advance the cause for advisers. But you probably haven’t heard of them.
They’re called the Licensee Leadership Forum, and they’ve been meeting for several hours every quarter since 2019 with little agenda other than to talk.
The genesis of the forum is closely tied to Professional Planner‘s Licensee Summit in Katoomba, where in 2018 CoreData’s Simon Hoyle, who was then editor of this publication, proposed the idea of licensee heads creating their own collegial group.
The widely respected Tim Steele, who was then general manager of NAB Financial Planning, took hold of the concept and got it off the ground in 2019. Others gravitated to Steele’s clarion call for a regular meet-up to discuss pressing issues and mutual challenges for the groups that sit behind Australia’s advice network.
In early 2020 Fitzpatrick Private Wealth CEO Matt Fogarty took the reigns. Together with Nathan Jacobsen, the Paragem CEO who was elevated to the leadership role at Easton Investments after the latter acquired the former, the forum has formed not only an esprit-de-corps for licensee executives but a loose charter of principals to guide the group’s activities.
Speaking at this year’s summit, Fogarty explained them.
“We’re focused on the business of advice, on positive advocacy for businesses and advice across all models and approaches, and we are unified in our approach to restoring trust and advice,” he said.
“We encourage diversity of thought and professional courtesy and respect in the way that we work together and other stakeholders. We are accountable, and our willingness to contribute may involve executing actions that we’ve taken on,” Fogarty continued.
“The final point was that we are raising standards to focus on the issues and the policies that materially impact on listing standards and drawing professionals.”
Not another voice
The group generally eschews media in favour of working behind the scenes. Its leaders are well aware that there are plenty of associations and representative bodies in advice. “We didn’t want to create another voice,” Jacobsen said.
“It’s not a formal organisation, it’s an informal conversation,” he continued. “It’s a conversation about how we’re going to actually work together to better the industry, born out of frustration that those conversations weren’t happening.”
While the profile is being kept intentionally low for now, the group is starting to branch out. The forum is in contact with Treasury and ASIC and Fogarty recently represented the cohort at an AFCA roundtable. Its first submission has already been published.
More important at this stage, however, are the less tangible impacts. Apart from the industry events like the Licensee Summit, there aren’t many opportunities for licensee heads to get out of their own network and see how other groups are doing things. By doing so, each can garner ideas and discover solutions they’d otherwise be unaware of.
“The diversity of participants is the key,” Fogarty said, explaining that the group includes individual firms on their own license, large and institutional licensee groups and industry super fund advice heads. There’s even a clutch of five self-licensed advisers – a number that’s likely to grow.
“Everyone’s focussed on actually making things better,” Fogarty said. “We didn’t want factions protecting their turf and everyone’s been true to their word.”
Riding the waves
The forum’s leaders are acutely aware that the role of licensees in the advice landscape is changing.
A common theme at the Licensee Summit was the possible abandonment of the current licensing regime in favour of individual adviser registration; a theory kick started by the FPA but very much in the realm of possibility after the ALRC revealed pulling Chapter 7 out of the Corporations Act was “on the table”.
Jacobsen and Fogarty were part of a group that originally pushed back on the FPA’s policy for individual adviser registration, but they look at the issue with a sense of equanimity now. One of the group’s opening statements, Jacobsen revealed, was that licensees in their current form might not exist one day.
“We’re ok with that,” he said. “Advisers are going to be buying services from someone.”