A tale of two planners

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Kenn Williams started his West-Australian financial planning business, LifeNet Financial Advice in 1996. He took over a struggling practice and slaved away on $25-30k for his first year. His reason for entering the industry – he didn’t like working for others and wanted to be self-employed.

“Starting out it was me, and me alone,” says Williams. “Back in those days it was probably between 50-60 hours most weeks of the year and you didn’t get much holiday but that’s just what you did, and that’s the way it was.”

To become a planner he had to complete four units of training to gain a qualification to practice. Over the years he has continued his learning to keep up with the times and is currently doing a range of courses to get accredited at the top level within the risk industry.

“I’m not degree qualified and never will be, but I’ll certainly make sure I’m as close as I need to be for the requirements of our industry…In Australia you’ve got a lot of on-going educational requirements, which are mandatory and they certainly weren’t the case many years ago but they are now.”

The biggest challenge back then was turning one person into a business. Now, Williams says it is Australia’s regulatory environment. He says that too much regulation will just push the cost up for clients, and while he understands the logics of it, he doesn’t see the value in “continuing to increase and create industry problems.”

“We had a lady in the office two days ago and when we presented her with the process of advice and what had to be done to effect what she wanted, she said she’d rather go through childbirth than put up with what we put up with.” Despite these complaints, Williams says the best thing about financial planning is the friends he has made with his clients along the way.

Scott Dawkins entered the industry more recently, about eight and a half years ago. His introduction to the industry was in the UK, where he says financial advising is about ten years behind Australia. He has a bachelor of finance and commerce. After gaining a certificate four, Dawkins shadowed a qualified planner for three months, watching how to prospect clients and helping with administration. The salary has increased somewhat since 1996, and Dawkins was guaranteed $100k in his second year.

He says the planning industry in the UK was a sink-or-swim environment, which was product-focused and more about numbers, less about clients. Eighteen months ago he moved back to Australia, completed the advanced diploma in financial planning and started his own business, Griffin Financial Services. He says the most difficult thing, both in the UK and Australia, was finding the right people to work with.

“For me, the qualifications are the ticket in the door…It’s challenging, it’s hard to do and it’s complex – you have to do that to be an adviser – but that’s not what’s challenging about the job. What’s challenging about the job is getting in front of the right people and understanding how to listen to them.”

Like Williams, Dawkins loves his job, and says some of his clients have become his close friends, but if there was one thing he could change, he would have the industry working more closely together. He says that if advisers, government, products and accountants could work in unison, then the average person would be better off. He also called for greater educational requirements. “I probably feel that they should raise the bar a little bit for entry, I think it’s too easy…it’s harder than I think public perception, but I think it’s still too easy.”

“I think the Australian industry is significantly better than the UK, as far as the nature of people that work in it, but how the industry’s viewed is not as professional as what I think it is,” says Dawkins. “I don’t think people fully appreciate the impact that advice can have on the life of an individual.”

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