Mark Brimble (left) and Michelle Cull

Most established professions enjoy a symbiotic relationship between practitioners and academics.

Academics and practitioners identify topics and issues for research, academics conduct research under strictly controlled and rigorous processes, and the outcome of the research often informs professional practice. Then as practice develops, new research topics arise. And so it goes.

However, the body of knowledge that underpins financial advice is thin compared to other professions but is growing.

The Financial Advice Association Congress, which will held on 20-22 November in Adelaide with Professional Planner as the media partner, will hear why it’s critical the profession and academia work closely together to expand it in a session chaired by Western Sydney University associate professor Michelle Cull.

Academics are looked upon with a degree of scepticism in some quarters – especially those who believe academic theory is a waste of time and that practical experience a like-for-like substitute for formal academic qualifications and continuing professional development.

But Cull tells Professional Planner that “theory is central to the development of a profession”.

“I do like to see it as a cycle, because practice informs theory and theory informs practice,” she says.

“We need to conduct research, because although we might have people who think a particular topic is common knowledge, how do we actually define knowledge? If one person believes that is the case, is it actually the majority view? Or is it a minority view? Where’s the data, where’s the evidence to support that?”

Cull says one of the objectives of the FAAA Congress session, ‘Theory into practice: Applying academic research’ being held on Tuesday midday, is to make advisers aware of the scope and depth of research and other work taking place inside Australia’s academic institutions.

“We’ve picked four different topics that will be presented,” she says.

“I don’t want to give those away now [but] we’re actually going to be asking the audience to vote. It will be a bit of a Shark Tank-type of approach. We’ll be asking them to vote on which one would they give their money to.”

Cull is referring to the reality television series where potential business ideas are floated to a panel of investors.

Cull adds the panellists want to show the research is not just theoretical, but also has a practical implication.

“We will follow up the Shark Tank-style event with a bit of a panel session. We will talk to the presenters around how did they come up with their research project? How can advisers help them in the future? How else can we best work together?”

Supporting the development of a profession

Griffith University’s Brimble, who will be on the panel, says developing a body of knowledge for financial advice is critical to supporting its evolution as a profession over time.

“One of the key tenets of a profession being established is to have a robust and comprehensive body of knowledge that backs it,” Brimble says.

“A key component of the foundations of a profession is derived, not exclusively but often, from rigorous peer-reviewed research, and the intellectual capital behind that.

“When professions evolve over time, as they do and should do because the environment within which they operate continues to evolve on multiple dimensions, the body of knowledge evolves with it.”

Brimble says the theory and knowledge underpinning financial advice will only develop effectively if the research questions being addressed are relevant and can be shown to have benefits for how practitioners operate, how government policy is formulated and enacted, and for how educational programs supporting entrants to the profession are shaped.

“You can go and conduct a research question, look at [what] has actually happened in practice in financial advice, which might allow you to further refine it further improve it, answer the research question in a slightly different way or in a more nuanced way with different client profiles,” Brimble says.

“Therefore, the body of knowledge is growing; we’re improving the body of knowledge.”

Brimble says academics live in a world of peer review, which at times can be brutal but at the same time is the great strength of the research process. But it can’t be carried out in a vacuum.

He adds there is already good co-operation between academia and the profession, but “we’ve got to do a lot more on the academic side, more of my colleagues are going to [have to] spend more time with industry.

“Everyone’s got to do something here,” he says.

“But when those things come together, there’s some pretty cool work that can be done that should be useful in terms of practice and policy.”

Brimble says this is a responsibility for all stakeholders, not just pointing the finger at practitioners and force them to be more interested.

“We’ve got to choose better research questions,” he says.

“We’ve got to get more involved, so we know what big issues are, that are sometimes small issues as well can be very incrementally valuable, not just the big issues.”

One comment on “Taking a ‘Shark Tank’ approach to academia”
    Jeremy Wright

    Doctor Chris O’Brien, the famous Surgeon from the RPA show, wrote a book about his life, including his own cancer diagnosis, which is a brilliant read and lessons could have been learned and still can be learned from his approach to his life and to cancer treatments.
    He was a great advocate of doing research into WHY cancer arises, not just diagnosis and treatment.

    What he understood, was that in order to properly treat a condition, you also need to look at why it came into being and he proposed early on in his career at the RPA that a data entry person should be employed to ask a broad set of questions to cancer sufferers in order to build up a research data base that could be used for future treatments to aim to reduce or eradicate the risk before it arose.

    The RPA said no and to his credit, Chris decided to fund this research from his own pocket.

    The question of theory-based education combined with practical experience and an inquisitive mind, is something that has great merit.

    EVERYTHING is theory until proven to be right or wrong from practical use and experimentation.

    The most important part of all education, is a willingness to listen and try different things, utilising prior experience, theoretical analysis and the most important thing, having the ability to know a good idea or proposition and ACT on it.

    Where it falls down is when vested interest groups who should know better and are only interested in what is good for them, get involved.

    Everyone has a vested interest in things to a degree.

    The real hero’s are the Chris O’Brien’s of the world who take a big picture look and focus on what is good for everyone and those with the strength of character and ability to aim for positive change with no fear of retribution from those who take rather than give.

    Having a shark tank approach to academia, can only work, if the questions and the answers have real relevance to what is going on in the real world.

    The first questions should always be, what is the problem? Why is it a problem? what proof do have to show it is the problem you purport it to be?
    Then follow it up with; If you can prove what you say is true, then what is the solution? Why is it the solution? What proof do have that can verify your assumptions?
    Is your cure, going to create more problems in the big picture, real world and prove it either way, based on logic and real-world experience.

    No-one in Academia who has NOT been involved in the real world outside their protected walls, can know the full impacts of theory based assumptions, though unfortunately, many decisions made by Government are made, based on theoretical and Legal analysis without due respect or input from people who have been at the Coal face, can articulate the real issues and have real answers to purported issues.

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