Sustainability has been the biggest, most pressing issue for most industries and sectors over the past decade.

Sustainability is not just about minimising impact on the planet. It is also about ensuring that industries and businesses are well run, ethical and financially strong so they can be around for the long term to meet their obligations to stakeholders including employees, customers and shareholders.

From an environmental perspective, financial services companies are not big carbon emitters but they are grappling with economic sustainability issues like wage growth, margin pressure, and ailing profitability.

In life insurance, the prudential regulator has taken extraordinary action to impose product changes and other penalties on life companies in a bid to return the industry to profitability.

Australia’s shrinking life insurance market is also forcing life companies to explore opportunities to grow and diversify.

For superannuation funds and administration platforms, regulatory changes and increasing pressure on fees has accelerated M&A activity and driven investment in product development and member engagement.

Similarly for licensees, sustainability remains front of mind, given the skinny margins on traditional dealer services and the potential for regulatory and structural change to disrupt operations.

Licensees are expanding their value proposition to include business coaching, technology and data analytics.

Yet, sustainability hardly seems a top strategic priority for the advice industry. Even before the introduction of higher education and training standards, growth in adviser numbers had stalled, as had innovation.

Despite burgeoning superannuation balances, ballooning household debt and Australia’s rapidly ageing population, the low number of Australians who get financial advice has barely budged in 30 years; a red flag that current advice propositions are no longer as relevant or accessible, therefore, potentially unsustainable.

Furthermore, while other parts of the financial services industry have aggressively pursued growth through M & A in a bid to get bigger and achieve significant scale, there has been relatively little activity of such scale amongst advice businesses.

Relevant advice

Of the 16 per cent of Australians (3.2 million people) who currently use a financial advice, the majority are baby boomers, according to research by Finder.

This is generally because older people have had more time to build meaningful wealth and have a more urgent need for advice on how to protect, manage and maintain it, as they enter and live in retirement.