Greater good in the Greater West
As a strong advocate of professionalism, Simon Clifford CFP® views the FPA Professional Practice brand as a safe harbour for consumers to turn to.
Practice: Adviser fp
Established: January 1990, re-branded July 2012
Licensee: Lonsdale Financial Group
No. of practitioners: 4
No. of CFP® practitioners: 3
Remuneration: Fee-for-service, insurance commission
Became an FPA Professional Practice: February 2014
Located in the geographical heart of Sydney in the Greater Western city of Parramatta, Adviser fp has a proud 25 year pedigree.
Formed in January 1990, when it was known as Advisor Investment Services – Parramatta, in July 2012 it was rebranded to its current name Adviser fp by the practice’s three partners – Simon Clifford CFP®, Tony Fox CFP® and Troy McPhee CFP®.
Simon attributes the practice’s longevity and success to its client focus and its strong ethos that the client’s personal requirements are the highest priority.
“First and foremost, the client always comes first,” he says. “We believe that if you put the client at the top of the tree and you make your decisions from there, everything else will fall into place.”
In doing that, Simon says Adviser fp’s reason for being is about creating the lifestyle that their clients want to achieve. “It’s about enabling our clients to live their ideal lifestyle without pressures or financial concerns.”
He believes the practice’s focus on client lifestyle outcomes is, and has been, a clear differentiator for the practice over the last 10 years.
“We spend the whole of our first meeting with a new client getting to know them. This allows us to work out their dreams and their aspirations. We go through their short and long-term goals. We spend this whole first meeting without ever asking them how much they earn and what assets they’ve got.
“So, when they walk away from that first meeting, we still don’t know whether that client has got $250,000 or $2.5 million. We leave that for the second meeting. All we’re interested in with the first meeting is getting to know our clients. That’s the basis of how we build our relationship with clients.”
Adviser fp turns to some of Bill Bachrach’s training material to help its planners drill down and better understand their clients’ core values and philosophies.
“I just don’t think a lot of practices go to the same level of depth as we go to in trying to understand our clients,” says Simon. “We then review our clients back to their cashflow requirements and lifestyle goals on an annual basis. We’re less about reviewing investment portfolios; we’re all about reviewing their lifestyle goals.”
Simon believes that being in business, no matter what type of business that might be, is always challenging. For him, finding the right staff, operational efficiencies and legislative uncertainty are all key challenges facing his practice.
“We’ve grown quite strongly for a couple of years now, so we’re experiencing some growing pains. That means being able to identify the right people to join our team who have skills that are complementary to the business and who also fit our team culture. This is a challenge for any business.
“The next challenge is getting efficiencies out of how we do things, like making our software more efficient in producing the things we want it to. This includes producing bespoke plans for clients, which is difficult to do from a technology point of view. And part of this problem is finding the right technical people who understand financial planning and so, can help you build a more efficient business.”
And as a “distant” third challenge for Adviser fp is having the current crop of legislation finalised, thereby enabling planners to get on with the job of financial planning without the uncertainty of regulatory change.
“It’s been constant white water for 10 years now. It would be terrific to have all the arguments bedded down, decided upon and implemented, so as a profession, we can get on with looking after our clients and doing the right thing by them.
“We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how best to implement legislative changes. And while I recognise why it happens, it is a distraction from looking after your clients.”
Adviser fp also prides itself on having an active involvement in the local community. This includes fund raising for various charity groups.
On the Adviser fp Facebook page, there is a fund raising section where the practice is currently looking to raise $10,000 for the children’s charity, the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, to buy medical equipment for various hospitals throughout Western Sydney.
The practice also participates in the Greater Western Sydney Executive Challenge every year, which raises awareness and much needed funds for St Gabriel’s School – a highly respected not-for-profit school supporting Western Sydney children with disabilities. This year, Adviser fp is entering two teams.
In addition, Simon adds that the partners of the practice also regularly do their own fund raising, like Troy McPhee, who does a lot of cycling for charities, while Simon and two mates organise a trail bike ride each September called, ‘The rumble in the jungle’.
“We’ve usually got our finger in one or two pies with regard to helping people raise awareness and funds for local charitable organisations. I think this is an important part of being a professional. It’s about actively supporting your local community and genuinely helping those in need.”
The decision to sign up to become an FPA Professional Practice back in February 2014 was a straightforward one, says Simon.
“I have been a member of the FPA for 25 years and it’s my view that the FPA is taking financial planning in a more professional direction. The FPA is upping the ante on standards and is representing us with government.
“I think the FPA management has a tough job to do but they’re doing a fantastic job. I truly believe the FPA is the best body to represent financial planners as professionals, and to promote practitioner members as being the highest calibre of financial planners in Australia through the internationally recognised CFP® designation,” says Simon.
“The FPA is driving the professionalism of the financial planning industry, which of course, is where we need to go.”
As part of this drive towards professionalism, Simon and his partners are passionate about education. They support staff in their education endeavours, including paying for their education and providing a pay increase on the successful completion of the subjects that are relevant to the financial planning profession.
“Education is the foundation upon which a profession is built. That’s why we take it so seriously at Adviser fp,” Simon says.
So, what does being an FPA Professional Practice mean to Simon and his practice?
“It’s a safe harbour,” he replies. “An FPA Professional Practice provides a safe harbour for our clients and consumers to go to.
“It can be tough choosing a planner for the first time but the FPA Professional Practice brand means consumers can choose a planning practice and be confident they are dealing with planners who adhere to the highest codes of professional standards and ethics in the industry.
“It’s a great tool to enable clients to choose a quality planner. And what’s more, the brand is something that financial planners need to hold themselves accountable to by ensuring they continue to meet the ongoing requirements.”
With three-quarters of Adviser fp’s planners already CFP® practitioners, Simon admits it was very easy for the practice to meet the Professional Practice criteria.
“I think it was easy because we are a professional practice to begin with,” he says. “Personally, I see our practice ahead of the wave in professionalism. So, when the FPA launched the Professional Practice brand, I looked at the criteria and knew that we already ticked all the boxes. For us, it wasn’t a difficult thing, as we’re in lockstep with the FPA and where it’s going.”
As a strong advocate of professionalism, does Simon think the Professional Practice brand will help elevate the financial planning profession amongst consumers?
He concedes, it’s a very good question.
“I certainly think CFP® certification is having a positive effect and is elevating the reputation of planners with consumers. If the FPA Professional Practice brand can reach half the coverage of what the CFP® Mark does, then the answer to that has got to be ‘yes’.
“I do believe the brand is something that separates us from other planners in the industry who hold themselves out as being professional, but who do not adhere to the same high standards that a planner in an FPA Professional Practice does.
“If clients want a ‘safe harbour’, then an FPA Professional Practice will provide that – and that has got to be a good thing for planners and consumers alike.”
FPA Professional Practice criteria
In order for a financial planning practice to be recognised as an FPA Professional Practice, it must first meet four criteria. These are:
- A financial planning practice must have at least 75 per cent of practitioners registered as FPA members.
- At least 50 per cent of the practice’s planners are either a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional or are in the process of achieving the CFP designation (within three years).
- The practice must be prepared to uphold the FPA’s Code of Professional Practice.
- The practice agrees to conduct a three yearly review to confirm adherence to the licence criteria described above.