Greater promotion of advice to young people, a pathway for international students to work in Australia and more flexibility in the way ASIC licences advisers wanting time off are three ways to attract more advisers to the profession, and advice can be made a more attractive career for females, an industry roundtable has heard.

Speaking at the second Women in Financial Advice roundtable hosted by Professional Planner and the Stella Network, and sponsored by BT Financial Group, Financial Advisers Association of Australia (FAAA) chief executive officer Sarah Abood suggested the industry adopt an extensive program to market the profession to high school students and parents. Abood also urged other roundtable participants to help improve diversity and flexibility, as well as increase understanding of financial advice. She stressed the need for the advice profession to work on its reputation and educate young people about advising because there is currently a lack of understanding.

Sarah Abood

“[This is] something we need to do collectively,” Abood said.

“We need a big campaign about what financial advisers do. Why is this a great career? Why is this a trusted profession? We are marketing to people to take on the profession and we have lacked the individual capacity to do those big brand campaigns because they’re expensive and they need to be maintained for a long time to be effective.”

Zurich Assure head Sandhya Maini said she was eager to help improve industry diversity, flexibility, and financial advice understanding.

“One of the things we have to do is spread awareness,” she said.

“Whether it’s an ad campaign through social media, TikTok videos – whatever it is – we’ve got to reach for Year 10 students because they will be doing subject selection for Year 11. We’ve got to get into their minds that [advising] is equal to, if not probably even better, than accounting.”

Financial advice even appealed to Maini’s 20-year-old daughter.

Sandhya Maini

“[She was initially] working in banks and was enjoying the corporate culture – and then she landed herself into a financial planning business and she’s working as an associate [at] a small business in Sydney,” Maini said.

Maini’s daughter knew about the industry because she was Maini’s child, but the evidence shows that most people do not understand what advisers do.

The “relatively young” team that AFA Group Wealth professional wealth adviser Nicola Hynes works with has thought a lot about reaching out to more universities to make the profession more approachable for graduates.

If firms hire graduates on a part-time basis while they are still studying, they can get insight into the industry, she said.

“It would be a really good way to attract talent.”

Story Wealth Management chief executive and senior financial planner Anne Graham said the reputation of the profession is “still pretty average in the eyes of a lot of consumers” due to the Hayne royal commission and a lack of understanding of what advisers do.

“[We need to change] that perception with parents, who are going to encourage their kids to do whatever career they want to pursue.”

Maini noted that the university students, graduates, and career-changers who attended Striver’s inaugural Brimstone event were inspired by what they heard about financial advice as a career.

Multiforte Financial Services director and wealth adviser Kate McCallum said her business ran a survey which asked 160 individuals where they get their financial advice from. Most of them responded that they get it from their parents.

“[This] is a good thing, because that might be an avenue for us to somehow use our clients who are parents and say, ‘Actually, there’s a difference’,” she said.

“‘Here’s what a financial adviser does, and here’s what you can expect from them.’”

Leading the charge

Abood added that business leaders are key to achieving the change necessary.

Brigitte Tyquin

AFA Group Wealth’s Nicola Hynes – who graduated from Western Australia’s Curtin University in 2019 – did not think twice about joining the advice profession.

She saw an opportunity for women but wondered why so few were in the industry. Only two or three women graduated from Curtin University in her financial planning degree class.

“I think a little bit more [promotion] through universities would definitely be a good thing.”

FMD Financial senior financial adviser Nicola Beswick said that people who work in the industry have an individual role to play in promoting diversity and encouraging more people – and particularly women – to enter the profession.

“You go to parents, you can show what advisers can do to help them, then children see the benefit and actually get that sense of reward,” she said.

“If we can do that, that will help bring that next generation in as well.”

BT Financial Group senior business development manager Brigitte Tyquin said it is everyone’s responsibility to promote diversity and encourage people to enter the industry.

“But it has to start with us,” she said.

“[My team and I are] are out on the road, talking about technology, process improvement and how practices can be more efficient. But what we could do in addition to this, is challenge why there aren’t more females working in the practice if that is the case.

Where regulators can help

Abood also highlighted the need for advocacy to create pathways for international talent seeking to work in Australia.

“There’s a lot of people that want to come and live in Australia,” she said.

“Right now, if you attempt to qualify a degree, it’s not a pathway to permanent residency. I think there’s a role for advocacy in this space to try to open up those pathways for people around the world. That is a way that we will get numbers starting to come through, but we need to help each other [to achieve this]. If we were to join forces with the licensees, and with the product issuers who really need more advisers, I think we could make something happen.”

Anne Graham (left screen), Amanda Cassar (top screen), and Nicola Beswick (bottom screen)

The FAAA is also currently working with the federal government to introduce some more flexibility to the qualification standards without lowering the standard.

It is hard for an adviser to take a holiday.

“There are some really practical barriers,” Abood said.

“We’ve been trying to my certain knowledge with ASIC for 18 months to keep trying to get a package together because, right now, if you’re a licensee and you plan on going on leave, you’ve got to individually apply for relief for that person. What we’re saying is that there should be a standard package that says, ‘Okay, here’s all the concessions that ASIC is going to make to allow an adviser to have a life and not affect consumers in any way’. It ought to be possible for advisers to take that time out.”

It can be difficult for a business to provide flexibility to its staff, according to Story Wealth Management’s Graham, “but [they] can make it work”.

It’s not a women’s issue and businesses must allow the same opportunity for men to have time off with their kids and work part-time and have flexible hours, Graham said.

While there is a significant cost to offering flexibility, Multiforte’s McCallum said her business offers enormous flexibility.

“Our entire team works in a distributed way, and people work different hours,” she said.

McCallum credits a good CRM with allowing effective flexibility.

“If somebody is not around on a given day, you can jump in and see where something is at. We have redundancy: we have more than one person who’s across, for example, advice and implementation. I write my own advice, and that’s very deliberate, but there’ll be somebody else in the team who is across what’s going on and can provide some redundancy [if I am unavailable].”

Lusher said she has three support staff, and she gives them a lot of flexibility.

“While they’re all part time, I receive the benefit,” she said. “Just hiring them part-time has been great because you sort of get two people for the price of one plus a little bit extra.”

Regarding holidays, Lusher doesn’t schedule reviews in December or January.

“I’ve done that deliberately so I can shut down for those two months.”

Wealth Planning Partners director and adviser Amanda Cassar said her firm is a family business, so it has “a little bit more flexibility”.

Her son and daughter-in-law recently had a baby, and they did not want to put them in childcare when they returned to work. Fortunately, the flexibility of running a family business allowed Amanda’s son to bring the baby into the office on Wednesdays and work from home two days a week.

She acknowledged that, while this approach does not magically solve the challenges of work-life balance, it can significantly improve mental well-being.

What does diversity offer clients

Lush Wealth founder and financial adviser Christine Lusher serves a diverse clientele, including individuals going through divorces and those undergoing IVF treatment.

Christine Lusher

She explained two of her clients are a young couple who recently told her they want a baby in around five years.

“I looked at her [and said], ‘You’re going to be about 35, 36 then, so let’s start mapping it out in terms of real life and then put it in dollar terms’,” she said.

“It’s like having a life plan on top of just the numbers. You can’t just wait to be financially stable to have a baby because none of us are.”

BT Financial Group senior manager of advice technical and regulatory Sarah Conte said that BT has a “relatively diverse team”.

“[We have] people with have no children who are just at that phase of getting married,” she said.

“Then we have people who have an 18-month-olds. A few of us have kids at primary school and high school. We all have different lived experiences that allow us to be in a situation and be able to look at it in different ways.”

Conte added that the more diverse the advice industry is, the more different the perspectives will be. This “creates a better solution for the consumer”.

The PY challenge

(L-R) Sarah Conte and Tara Ross

Another challenge for diversity is the professional year, which can mean that potential advisers are lost to another part of financial services if they are not given support in the right areas.

GPS Wealth head Tara Ross suggested making the time before and after a professional year “really bespoke and really personal for [individuals] and their journey”.

Across Diverger (who owns GPS), so far there have been nine people complete their professional year and there are another 25 coming through, Ross said.

“Each professional year adviser needs to complete the full year (4 quarters) of the PY program to become an adviser.”

Business leaders key to change

“All male proprietors should look at their female support staff and just ask the question, ‘Would you one day want to do my job?’” Zurich Assure’s Maini said.

“[They] might be surprised because they might have the technical people [with] all of those skills.”

Story Wealth Management’s Graham said individuals do not “have to be at the front of the charge” but noted that “contributing in some way makes a difference”.

“Now is a really good time [to do so] because the last five years or so have been disruptive – not just within planning, but across the board,” she said.

“We seem to have a period of calm [now], so we can re-group and get together. So, lead by example. It doesn’t matter what role you have; people still watch you do what you do. They might not comment on it, but they observe it and pick it up.”

 

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