As the financial services industry is rocked by the extent of institutionalised misconduct revealed before the Royal Commission, the Financial Planner of the Year, Ben Travers, cites his independence as his biggest pride in his planning career.
“To be able to use the word independent these days is very rare, and it’s … very meaningful to me because I’m not tied to any institution and I can always find the best solution for the client,” he said.
Key to this is transparency; Travers makes sure that all his clients know what they own, what income they are entitled to, and that they can see all of this easily.
He does this for all clients, from small to medium enterprises all the way through to his youngest charges.
Travers also rebates any commissions, saying it is vital to ensuring he is not blinded when recommended products from concentrating on anything but the client’s strategy.
“When a client comes in, I 100 per cent do the strategy upfront. It’s a fixed fee, it’s a fixed fee ongoing, I rebate 100% of all commissions … even insurance commissions, so everything is not clouded.”
Travers does not even use platforms, unless the client needs one. His most used ‘platforms’ are actually industry funds; he says these are often what just suits a clients’ needs most.
Upon receipt of the award, Travers dedicated the honour not only to his colleagues but to all the planners out there who were “doing the right thing,” acknowledging the recent revelations from the Royal Commission.
“I’m a big believer in the industry I work in and I’m a big believer that there’s a lot of people that do the right thing,” he said.
“This award is for those people that actually love what they do, are passionate about what they do, and they do the right thing.”
With so much information available to consumers regarding investments, finalist Simon McGuirk of Wealth Market also thought that establishing trust in clients that he was acting in their best interests was crucial.
“People are paralysed with how much information is online, and they don’t know who to trust.”
Travers said that being Financial Planner of the Year will allow him to advocate for independence, saying he would like to show the uni students he mentors the benefits of going down that path.
“If I can be seen as being someone who gets this and who is independent, I want to drive that message, I want to shoot the message out.”
He is already using his influence to further the financial planning industry, which was a key criteria considered by the judging panel.
Travers volunteers as a member of the Financial Planning Association Committee, presenter in the Women in Thought Leadership Group, and a mentor.
Despite the benefits of independence, it took Travers a while to find a workplace that promoted it.
“It took me so long to find somewhere where my personality and ethics could be utilised ... the Pitcher Partners umbrella ticked all the boxes because they gave me the freedom to be independent, and that’s the best ability to sell to clients.”
Fellow finalist Mark O’Flynn of Tupicoffs similarly struggled to find a firm at first that aligned with the independent values he was seeking.
At Tupicoffs though, he said he had found somewhere that is “independent and separate from pure product advice”.
O’Flynn considers his biggest achievement in his financial planning as the “smaller things in terms of helping people achieve their goals”, whether that be saving for retirement, a holiday or paying down debt.
“Being secure makes such a massive difference to people,” he said.
“If people get good advice, that can be equally transformative to clients” as the sort of behaviour revealed by the Commission was.
Travers also said that helping clients achieve personal goals and security was one of the most rewarding aspects of his work.
The Financial Planner of the Year winner specialises in clients who have gone through financial trouble, such as a divorce, illness or a bad property investment, viewing it as his role to help “re-educate and rebuild”.
McGuirk likewise felt that helping clients “build and create wealth to live life on their terms” was what being a financial planner was really all about.
To do this, he said that building up relationships with other industry professionals as well as clients was vital to serving the latter’s interests. He said that educating mortgage brokers to have trust and confidence in him had helped him better serve his clients.