Opinion - Cultural shift can redeem fin services



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The winds of legislative, economic and structural pressure that have been blowing in the financial services industry threaten to shift to gale force in 2016. The reputation of the profession sits under a cloud due to the high-profile scandals that have rocked the sector over the past few years.

The media has consistently linked those scandals to an inherent conflict in remuneration arrangements and rotten sales cultures in those organisations that value sales over the best outcomes for clients.

To witness some individual stories of those affected by the scandals has been heartbreaking – even more so to an (ex-)adviser and industry participant who believes in the fundamental and indeed life-changing value of good financial decision-making.

This points to the inherent importance of sound financial advice for all people, from all walks of life and at all points in life.

In the life insurance sector we know 2016 is going to be one of unusual change, with the introduction of the life insurance framework. For the broader financial advice sector, the year has also started with particular uncertainty, given the drastic market volatility.

So, for those advisers and planners wishing to navigate their clients through choppy waters – and their businesses through a changing industry landscape – where are the opportunities this year?

One of the highlights of my current role is to be a judge in the Association of Financial Advisers Adviser of the Year and Practice of the Year awards. These unearth and highlight the amazing calibre of people who are the nature of our industry.

One consistent theme of those advisers and practices recently recognised as finalists is the investment they make in their own culture. Those practices that do best of all value above all else delivering quality outcomes for their clients.

Eleanor Dartnall, the 2014 Adviser of the Year, is renowned for the time and effort she puts into educating her clients to empower them to make sensible financial decisions in line with their unique circumstances and objectives.

Paul Kearney of Kearney Group, the current Practice of the Year, has created a model incorporating deep subject matter experts across accounting, planning, risk advice and more. This all-of-practice approach ensures clients get the best possible expertise each time they contact the team.

These advisers constantly invest in cultures that value learning, a vibrant approach and subject-matter mastery. Success comes not through a cutthroat, ‘winner-takes-all’ competitive mentality, but one where systematically built processes value the output of key tasks, and where those tasks are all about the best interests of the end client.

This is true innovation, and with human centricity. It’s a sentiment that fuelled the success of companies such as Japanese tech giant Fujitsu, whose ‘human-centric innovation’ methodology puts people at the heart of its innovation agenda, in the belief this is how they will generate business and societal value.

This megatrend in tech circles extends beyond Fujitsu, with the view individuals can live more fulfilled lives enabled by technology.

So, where is the inspiration for those of us in financial services, planning and advice? Ways we can innovate to increase ‘human centricity’ include:

-  Greater transparency in all of our communications and interactions, which will naturally build trust.

-  A focus on education, for both advisers and clients.

-  Digital platforms to engage the new generation of investors using gamification and social sharing.

-  Seamless engagement with a virtual view of a person’s entire financial situation.
-  A rethink of the design of our engagement with clients, creating spaces that offer flexibility and interaction.

-  Co-creating solutions and client offers.

I believe 2016 can be a landmark year for the future of financial services. And for those advisers, practices and organisations that put the clients at the heart of everything they do, it will be an incredibly successful one.

Andy Marshall is head of sales strategies and research for life risk at Zurich Financial Services Australia.

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