Coalface: Why it's foolish to ignore women

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Mike Chesworth is the general manager of Bank Financial Planning at BT Financial Group. This includes Westpac Financial Planning and ST George Financial Planning, currently accounting for approximately 550 advisers and growing.

What will be the main focus points for BT Financial Group over the next 12 months?

A definite point of emphasis will be continuing to embed the FoFA regulations in a way that reinforces our customer proposition. We have been on this journey for a few years now and so for BTFG Advice (including Westpac Financial Planning, ST George Financial Planning, Securitor and BT Select) 1 July has just reinforced some of our processes. It’s very early days, however we have achieved every FoFA milestone on time and our planners are very supportive of the changes.

Another area of focus is attracting more female financial planners to our business. We hope to double the number we currently have by 2015. To do this we have made some fundamental structural changes to what we offer as an employer so our offering is as flexible as it has ever been. We know women make great planners. We can see that from the female planners in our business. It’s time we made it much easier for them to join this industry.

Why was the focus on female planners an important initiative for Westpac?

With such strong female role models as chief executive officer Gail Kelly and the fact that approximately 40% of Westpac’s executive roles are now filled by women, Westpac has become a good example of an employer who actively supports greater female participation.

Attracting more females to financial planning is therefore in our blood and to be frank, makes good commercial sense. Females make excellent planners. Some of our best performers are females, so we would be foolish to ignore the even greater contribution they can make to our business going forward.

Couple this with the macroeconomic trends around divorce, females as household financial decision-makers and female longevity, we need to better represent these strong trends in the professionals that can have an impact on the financial futures of other women.

What other steps are you taking to build confidence in the advice profession and get more Australians seeking advice?

We have a very strong relationship with our banking partners. There is a common understanding across the Westpac Group regarding the need to provide professional advice to our customers so they can achieve their financial goals and protect them on that journey.

We also have an exciting program currently being implemented that will provide our planners with greater support through technology and refined processes that will free them up to spend more time with our customers. We effectively want to double the amount of face-to-face time our planners spend with their clients, so using apps and tablets and virtual planning where possible, are important enablers to achieving this goal.

What milestones are you hoping to achieve over the next 12 months?

To continue to grow our planner footprint is a central to how we see bank financial planning servicing more Australian customers going forward.

I plan to do this both through new planners to BT as well as developing our own people from the broader Westpac Group.

We have also had some real success with both our video and telephone channels, both of which we’ll be investing in further. Supporting this growth we have a Pathways to Professionalism program which continues to lift the bar within our team and to set a standard we are proud of. Professionalism comes from combination of professional standards, professional capability, education standards and always putting the interests of the client first.

What do you expect to be the biggest hurdles for financial advisers?

Having a good proposition that both attracts and retains planners will be the key to success going forward.

As mentioned above, Westpac Financial Planning has been leading the push for more women in advice. There are certainly some indications in the industry through the various female award programs and women’s groups that women are going to be in the spotlight going forward. To us, what was needed was real structural change to make it easier for women to get involved in the industry. We want to be the active part of this push for change, the business that is putting the talk into action and enabling women to get involved.

But a diverse workforce is a core part of our business. I believe it’s important to have a workforce that reflects our customer base, so ensuring we have a balanced workforce with a greater number of female financial planners is one area of focus, as is ensuring we have a strong mix of cultural backgrounds and experience. These are win-win strategies – our customers are enjoying having a choice of professionals they work with and build a relationship with, meanwhile our people are seeing new careers in financial planning.

Do you have any concerns for the advice profession? I think the new regulations will set a better platform of professionalism across the industry, so I view FoFA as an excellent opportunity to shine. The better businesses will thrive in this environment and the customers will benefit. This to me is a good outcome.