Financial adviser and academic Ben Neilson is five steps through a six-step research journey focused on individual and institutional barriers that exist to financial advice being easier and cheaper for people to access.

As a practising adviser with Complete Wealth in Bundaberg, Neilson has seen and addressed some of the barriers in real life. But the PhD candidate and academic in him wanted to see if there was a sound basis for how these barriers could be overcome systemically.

“I noticed that there was a massive and increasing burden to accessing financial services Australia-wide,” Neilson tells Professional Planner.

“I saw institutions in other countries, which ironically have some foothold in Australia as well, doing things much easier. I delineated the whole financial sector and came down to six increasing barriers which are completely in our control to change. Then it was effectively six separate research pieces, which should make services easier to access for all Australians, when we choose to adopt some of these findings.”

Neilson’s most recent paper, the fifth step on the research journey, examines the link between higher education standards and lower incidences of misconduct. It addresses the individual issue of professionalism and is a sharp rebuttal of the argument that “you can’t legislate good behaviour”. Neilson’s research concludes that you can.

It finds that individuals who have achieved an education standard equivalent to AQF8 or higher – a graduate certificate, for example – are significantly less likely to engage in misconduct.

It’s notable that Neilson’s research found a link between AQF8-level education and misconduct. The industry-wide minimum education requirement of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, sets the baseline at AQF7.

Neilson says the reduced incidence of misconduct is due in part to the education process exposing individuals to issues such as ethics, but also because the experience strips away some of the things that they’ve accepted as being okay or as being common industry practice.

Addressing six barriers to financial advice

Ben Neilson’s areas of research 

Individual

  • Professionalism
  • Perceived trust
  • Consumer engagement

Institutional

  • Comprehension, complexity of the Statement of Advice
  • Rising cost
  • Creation time, accuracy of documents

Neilson says he never bought the argument in the first place that better education does not lead to better conduct, and those who made arguments against higher education standards on that basis were misguided.

“We do it everywhere else, it’s just they didn’t want us to do it here,” Neilson says.