Reflection: Whisky, kebabs and living the dream

Simon Hoyle

By

August 25, 2017

Waking early to start the day, meditating or engaging in spiritual activity, eating out at a restaurant – and doing each of these things at least five times a week – are among the hallmarks of so-called “go-getters”: those among us who are most in control of our lives and finances and who are most likely to use, or to have used, a financial planner.

Unfortunately for your correspondent, waking at 3.30am in a whisky sweat, falling asleep on public transport and eating in at the kebab shop don’t count towards these activities and are closer to the characteristics of a “cruiser”, someone who sails through life with little thought about the future and who is most likely to say they have not experienced any success in life.

Go-getters and cruisers are two of the four “financial action personalities” identified in research commissioned by the Financial Planning Association (FPA) to help support Financial Planning Week, which finishes up today.  “Daydreamers” are the 32 per cent of us who love to dream about the future but never get past the planning stage because we don’t really know what we want, while “builders”, who act now and think later, are the most likely to have no regrets in life.

The FPA research says that about 37 per cent of go-getters believe they are living the dream – which means different things to different people, of course – while 18 per cent of builders believe that they are living the dream, along with 16 per cent of daydreamers and 8 per cent of cruisers (for some of us, whisky and kebabs are the dream). Overall, about a quarter of all Australians think they are “definitely” or “mostly” living the dream.

The research, conducted by McCrindle for the FPA, paints an interesting picture and raises a number of important questions. It seems clear that the people most likely to be living the dream are also those who are most likely to use a financial planner. But post hoc ergo propter hoc – after it, therefore because of it? Are go-getters living the dream because they have sought financial advice? Or are the sorts of people who get financial advice already more likely to be the go-getters?

It might sound like a pedantic question but it’s important. If the point of the FPA research is to say that getting financial advice and working with a financial planner can turn more people into go-getters – in the sense that they feel they are living the dream by defining and fulfilling the lifestyle they wish for themselves – that’s quite a powerful proposition. It’s more powerful than an alternative explanation, which is that it’s only go-getters who would use a financial planner anyway.

Last week we did some back-of-the-envelope calculations that put the percentage of adult Australians who use financial planners at about 13 per cent, down from 16 per cent five years earlier. Whatever is going on behind those numbers, it’s disappointing that the number has fallen. Something needs to be done to encourage more people to seek advice. Actually, some things need to be done (there’s no single solution), and this report might touch on a few of those things.

The report’s analysis of what stops people from using financial planners reveals some common issues across the generations. Primarily, people don’t think they have enough money to make a visit worthwhile.

Top five things preventing Australia’s generations from “living the dream”
Gen Y Gen X Baby boomers
Low bank balance (53%) Low bank balance (51%) Low bank balance (39%)
Not enough time (34%) Debt (32%) Age (I feel I’m too old/young) (31%)
Debt (28%) Not enough time (28%) Illness or poor health (26%)
Too many responsibilities (24%) Too many responsibilities (23%) Not enough time (19%)
Lack of self-belief (23%) Illness or poor health (21%) Debt (17%)
Top five regrets
Not saving enough (42%) Not saving enough (38%) Not saving enough (28%)
Poor decisions (33%) Poor decisions (30%) Poor decisions (26%)
Source: Live the dream – Research into Australians living a successful life, FPA, McCrindle

 

Now it’s kind of nutty to say not having enough money is a reason for not visiting a financial planner, as most advisers know. It’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what financial planning is and, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s based on a perception that financial planning is really only about investing.

Trouble is, as FPA chief executive Dante De Gori has explained, the question of “how much do I need?” is a movable feast. Someone who has less than, say, $200,000 of investable assets thinks they do not have enough; but people with $200,000 of investable assets think they need $300,000 – and so on.

There are two things about this: first of all, the industry needs to get a message out that investing is really only a small part of financial planning and that its value lies in doing a whole range of other things besides.

And second, you are stuffed if your financial planning business really is only about investing (a good way to check this is to ask yourself how you get paid – if your income is derived from asset-based fees then it is only about investing). You’re actively discouraging between 39 per cent and 53 per cent of the population from ever knocking on your door or visiting your website, assuming you have one. (Actually, you’re probably stuffed for a bigger reason than that, but that’s another story.)

And the list of the generations’ biggest regrets is even more frustrating. The top two regrets across all three generations are not saving enough and making poor decisions. If a financial planning value proposition is not about helping people to find ways to save more, and to help them make better decisions, then what on earth is it about? And how can that message be got across?

It needs to be tackled at multiple levels and on multiple fronts. On the one hand, public awareness of the value of financial planning can be tackled at an industry or association level and licensees and practitioners can take the message to the streets at a much more local level. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the adoption of higher educational, ethical and professional standards will help to reinforce the message that if an individual seeks help from a financial planner, that planner will be, at the very least, well qualified, technically competent and acting in the individual’s best interests.

It’s not a question of which should happen first – they need to happen at the same time, because neither one on its own can really succeed. There’s no point extolling the value of financial planning if the public mistrusts financial planners and won’t use them anyway. And there’s no point beefing up education, ethical and professional standards if the public thinks the only thing financial planners do is give investment advice.

Do them both, effectively and simultaneously, or it’ll be whisky and kebabs for everyone.


TOPICS:  Financial Planning Assocationfinancial planning clientsfinancial planning research