Technology improvements, dealing with the Quality of Advice Review reforms and self-licencing appear to be high on planning practices’ agendas as the profession enters 2024.

Sydney-based WealthPartners practice principal Andrew Heaven intends to start 2024 afresh, focusing on the future and not the legacies of the past.

Recruiting good people to join his team is high on his agenda. “We also want to embed the efficiency gains we’ve made in adopting new technology to reduce the cost of providing advice,” he tells Professional Planner.

“Plus, we want to embrace the opportunity that the QAR reforms will provide to further reduce the costs and hopefully simplify the advice process to make advice more accessible and affordable to more clients.”

Heaven, however, expects adapting to and adopting the QAR reforms will be a challenge. Another will be explaining the difference between a licensed financial adviser who has undergone all the tertiary education and training to be recognised to provide advice and the new proposed class of ‘qualified adviser’.

Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the full suite of QAR reforms last year, part of what the Government has dubbed the Delivering Better Financial Outcomes package, which included the term “qualified advisers” being applied to a new class of advisers that will have lower qualifications that holistic advisers.

“How on earth is anyone meant to understand the difference? It’s asking for trouble,” he says.

Eugene Ardino, CEO of privately-owned AFSL Lifespan Financial Planning, is also disappointed the QAR reforms are taking longer than he would have hoped to be legislated.

“From a compliance and governance perspective, Lifespan will continue to work closely with advisers to support ways to make the advice process more efficient,” he says.

“We believe next year should see continued growth in Professional Year candidates, which we will continue supporting through our professional development programs.”

Ardino believes the continued lack of certainty in terms of the QAR reforms will loom large in 2024.

“Clarification of the ‘qualified adviser’ proposition and the provisions around super funds and institutions offering advice services will be observed closely,” Ardino says.

“Removing safe harbour in the best interest duty is a start, and we hope there will be more clarity regarding the new SOA [Statement of Advice] requirements, as this will no doubt impact our advisers’ ability to deliver quality advice with greater clarity and understanding for clients.”

Solo journeys

With the sustainability of licensees remaining in question, Victoria Wealth Management principal and founder Hari Maragos says his firm aims to become self-licensed.

“We thought about it and have researched It; we believe that the licensee model is dead,” Maragos says.

“If you go back far enough, you’ll see that most of the licensing models are vertically integrated models, even the one that the government has recently suggested [the aforementioned government QAR proposals], allowing banks, insurance companies and superannuation funds to provide qualified advice.”

Maragos believes many other planning groups are also looking at becoming self-licensed. “We will operate like a national practice of lawyers, accountants or medicos, each individually licensed, but sharing resources,” he says.

Ardino also expects self-licensing to be a big area of focus this year. Along with other licensees, Lifespan offers services to self-licensed practices.

“With self-licensing on the rise, we are well-positioned to offer flexible, modular support solutions to AFSL holders,” Ardino says.

He adds that Lifespan’s other plans this year include growing and building its community of tight-knit advisers.

“But we are also conscious of the importance of focusing more inwardly and ensuring the service and support we provide to over 270 advisers nationally are valued and closely aligned to their needs,” he says.

Taking advantage of tech

Paul Moran, principal of Moran Partners Financial Planning in Melbourne, says his plans for this year include working towards process improvement through linked technology.

“We want to be able to provide the perfect combination of good advice as well as being able to communicate it effectively,” he says.

“The Statement of Advice is not the advice. It’s the communication piece and this is often forgotten.”

Moran says the challenge in achieving this is that a lot of the technology being developed seems to want to move away from relationship building towards automation and removing physical interactions from the process.

“Financial planning must remain about the relationship between a trusted adviser and their clients,” he says. “Technology needs to support this and not replace it.”

Rising Tide director Matt Hale will also be focusing on rationalising his company’s tech stack. “The tech stack decision process and implementation seem to be the holy grail of the financial services landscape,” he says. “If we can reduce the systems we use, it will make the life of our staff easier.”

Hale’s other plans for 2014 also include finalising the implementation of his firm’s new advice and debt philosophies and working with more of its ideal clients.

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