Sharon Williams

Financial firms need to insist on greater visibility over the finances by implementing greater internal checks and balances to ensure that clients’ money is protected from wrongdoing and fraud, a high-profile Sydney businesswoman says.

Sharon Williams, founder of Taurus Marketing, has spoken out after her elderly mother fell victim to SentinelWealth financial adviser Gavin Fineff, who gambled away more than $3.3 million of his clients’ money.

Williams has this week published a heartfelt account of her mother’s experience in the hope that financial firms will work harder to stamp out malpractice.

The high-profile Sydney businesswoman explained that her 86-year-old mother was registered disabled, elderly and physically frail at the time of the fraud, making her an easy target.

She has argued the buck needs to stop with the executives of financial firms, who need to do more to ensure that their employees aren’t defrauding clients.

“From that day when my mother got the call from Sentinel Wealth, she would be able to stay in her home as she had breast cancer,” she wrote online.

But her mother had to relinquish her apartment and died 15 months later. Williams says theft was by mobile, text, email in work hours and home visits.

While she went on to financially support her mother, Williams is devastated that her mother’s final months were spent learning of the theft and dealing with police.

“There needs to be cross checks and balances so that bank balances are checked,” Williams tells Professional Planner.

“CEOs need to check that the money is actually in the bank. Management should be having team meetings to discuss clients and actually look at the numbers and see how investments are tracking, rather than just assuming.”

Fineff, who is 44 years of age, was jailed for nine years after pleading guilty in Sydney’s Downing Centre District Court last month to 12 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage of deception, committed between October 2016 and March 2020.

The court heard victims were falsely told the funds would be put towards shares, but most of Fineff’s gambling was on horse racing, with bets placed online. Victims reportedly lost between $60,000 and $745,000, according to media reports.

ASIC permanently banned Fineff in June last year after he misused his position for personal gain and deprived clients and others of their funds.

The regulator found that he breached financial services laws by failing to act in the best interests of his clients and engaging in unlicensed conduct, and was not adequately trained or competent to provide financial services in the first place.