Noel Lord talks to FPA Chair Marisa Broome and AFA CEO Phil Kewin about the mental wellbeing of financial planners and others in the financial services industry, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welcome to the MetLife Insights podcast series. My name is Noel Lord. I'm the Head of Retail Sales and Channel Development at MetLife Australia. Today we're going to spend some time discussing a subject that, despite having more focus now than in previous years, is still somewhat a taboo subject for many. And that is our mental health. And within that framework, how we cope in the difficult circumstances we can find ourselves in.

We're all aware of the R U OK? program and others like it. And at times we give this subject some personal focus. But it's nearly always coming from the perspective of others, not about ourselves. And as society at times can create the view that we don't open up to our own fears and concerns yet in reality, that's exactly what we need to feel comfortable doing.

At MetLife, we've been looking at how we can play a positive role across our industry and beyond, not just with their staff but with our clients, the financial advisers and then their clients, our policyholders. So today we have two of their industry icons who have willingly given up their time to discuss this minefield of mental health and highlight areas that are being supported across our industry, that some of us might not be aware of.

Our first guest today is Marisa Broome. Marisa is the owner and principal of wealthadvice.com.au. Marisa has worked in financial services for over 30 years, initially in funds management and over 20 years as a financial planner. Marisa is currently the Chair of the Financial Planning Association of Australia, the FPA. And during her time on the board, and Marisa has been the chair of their policy and regulations committee, chair of the FASEA working group, and a member of the audit and risk committee.

Our second guest is Phil Kewin. Phil is the CEO of the AFA, with extensive experience in financial services. Phil is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and has held a number of senior executive roles across life insurance, investments and superannuation, as well as having owned his own financial advice practice. Phil is passionate about the value of advice and is committed to ensuring more Australians achieve the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. Welcome, Marisa and Phil.

Marisa Broome:

Thanks Noel.

Phil Kewin:

Thanks Noel. Good to be here.

Noel:

And it's great to have you both as part of our podcast series. And I'm sure as you think back over the last six months, 12 months and beyond, there's been a significant landscape of challenge across our industry. And I'm interested in getting your thoughts on what you've seen – some of the pressures that financial planners have been facing. And I'll ask you first, Marisa.

Marisa:

Well, Noel, I think immediately in these current times, you just think COVID. And I don't think that we should just limit ourselves to thinking about these last six months. The challenges that our financial planning profession have been under have been far-reaching to that it's now going back to the introduction of the new professional standards, working out whether you can meet them, the change licensee landscape, the fallout from the Royal Commission.

I think that it's been on and on. Really, what has really hit me in the COVID times is actually just how busy I am with my clients on the day-to-day client issues. So, it's far-reaching. It's actually been two or three years of just constant change and constant pressure.

Noel:

Yeah. And sometimes it's that consistency of the pressure that just builds up on us. Phil, what are you seeing?

Phil:

Yeah, I would agree with Marisa. And I think it isn't something recent. And I think if you think about advisers, at different times always have a degree of stress because they have a very intimate relationship with their clients. And they see their clients through day to day, through the ups and downs of their lives, through marriage breakups, people who feel as if they don’t have enough money for retirement.

So, they sort of become accidental counsellors, in many ways. And that's just sort of the normal part of the job, which can be rewarding but sometimes, advisers can take on the stress of their clients.

As Marisa said, we've seen over the last few years just this sustained pressure on advisers in terms of the rising costs to provide advice that's getting passed on to clients, the pressure on the upfront commissions and reducing commissions with an increase in costs to provide that advice, the regulatory environment that means peak focus on compliance. And we're all dedicated to professionalism and compliance. But the weight and pace of change around legislation and regulation have really added to the stress.

But I think one of the biggest things that also, in talking to advisers, that has really had an emotional impact to them of late is the fact that we're feeling, particularly post Royal Commission, that they don't feel as if anyone's got their back. And they direct it to the associations as well, the fact that they know they do a great job, their clients know they do a great job and people who have advisers are emotionally and financially better off. But there's this desire in the media to pick up the bad examples and tar all advisers with the same brush. And advisers feel as if it became very popular for the media, for the government, to pick on advisers when in actual fact they do a fantastic job. And when you lose that sense of belief, it does become very stressful.

Noel:

Yeah. And there are some really valid points that you both raised there. The fact that as financial advisers, it's not just about the advice piece. You are counsellors for your clients, and you take on that role of supporting your clients. And I think the challenge for our industry is for advisers to feel comfortable in putting their hands up saying, "I actually need some help myself". What do you think the FPA can do in that area to support advisers, Marisa?

Marisa:

Well, I think that's actually a really key point, Noel. I think people think that financial advice is a STEM subject. And it's really, I see it as a caring profession. I think we're really good at looking after our clients, looking after our teams, our staff, our businesses, our families, and we're very, very bad at looking after ourselves.

And so we've been quite committed in trying to introduce as many support services as we can. So about 18 months ago we launched FPA Wellbeing, which is run by the same people that run the AFA Care program Benestar, which is an anonymous service where if you need help, you've got a phone that you can pick up or an email or a chat that you can actually just contact someone who's a trained psychologist that can help you through that really tough time.

But some people don't need that end of the spectrum of support. But they need everyday reminders to make sure that they're actually nourishing themselves so they can keep giving and providing great advice and great service to their clients, and also to continue to support the people in their broader network.

And so within our virtual congress that we've been running this year, we've had four sessions just dedicated on looking after yourself and looking after your clients, actually working out where the trigger points are for both yourself and also the people that work with you. And then the trigger points that your clients might be facing that might lead them to make some maybe irrational decisions.

So, they're the sort of services we're looking at through CPD, through reminders, through just this continual narrative. And that's why we're really delighted to be involved in this MetLife initiative that's been offered because really the broader and the wider that we can get the message, the more important it is.

Noel:

Yeah. Thanks Marisa. And there's some great stuff happening. And Phil, I'm sure the AFA has been very active as well, addressing this sense of isolation that advisers can feel, as you raised earlier. Talk us through some of the things, some of the initiatives, that you’re rolling out.

Phil:

Yeah. Thanks Noel. Again, similar to what Marisa said, when I started at the AFA three years ago, we'd just been through the life insurance framework. And the industry was quite fractured at the time. I had remembered my time as an adviser. And one thing I noticed about running your own business and being in your own business versus being in the corporate world, is that at times you can, as you say, be very isolated, and you don't necessarily have someone close to you that you can bounce things off, that you can just have a chat with.

And that's why we introduced AFA Care be I just wanted to introduce that additional support that advisers could, on a confidential basis, because I know some are concerned about going to their GP and talking about their mental health. On a confidential basis, just have a phone call, a chat or access to some of the tools available.

But that's an awareness thing. I was amazed at the number of times we've talked about AFA Care but many advisers still don't know about it, whether it's something that we haven't promoted well enough or it's something that just hasn't resonated.

So the key thing is about community. And that's one of the biggest challenges in the current environment is how do you bring your community together when you can't actually socialise, because having our conferences, our roadshows, even our communities of practice events are great ways of bringing that community together, so that adviser that is struggling can reach out, can talk to someone or one of his colleagues will talk to him.

So it is about having the support available. But it's also about having our virtual conference. We have a number of speakers focusing on health and wellbeing. But our roadshows and our recent webinar series really are about giving advisers as much access to different perspectives so that each can look at it in their own different unique way and identify some of the tools that might help them. And in some cases actually help them identify that maybe they should be talking to someone.

Noel:

Yeah. And I think that's a really good point you make, Phil, that helping people get to the point of self-understanding that they need to speak to someone and it's OK to do so, because one of the interesting areas that we've identified is obviously FASEA. And there's no doubt that's been a significant area of focus and in some cases significant concern for advisers. And this is one area that MetLife's been very proactive in supporting advisers by running a number of workshops with Dr Jeff Scott to assist advisers in how they prepare for their exam. And that's been pretty well received.

I'm interested in your thoughts on, as we move past FASEA and the industry moves forward over the next 12 months to three years, where do you see our advice industry moving towards? Phil, I'm going to go to you first with this.

Phil:

Yeah. It's a really, really important question. And I guess that's one of the other off-the-ball activities that we're trying to engage in. You talk about FASEA, and the challenges there, and advisers having to go back to school – for many it’s the first time in 30 years – and study, and undertake an exam that is in a manner that they're not used to. And that's quite disconcerting. You're talking about people, they're experts in their field. They know what they're doing. And this has given them a sense of uncertainty.

One of the things that we can help in terms of certainty is the lobbying and the advocacy that we do on behalf of the advisers. And we know that there was a lot of relief when the legislation to extend the exam and the degree deadline was passed, because that gave advisers the time necessary to be able to prepare for the exam and study for the exam.

And I think that just gives us a bit of breathing space. And it gives some advisers who are thinking about their careers time to take a breath and look at what their commitment is, how much they love doing what they're doing, what their passion is. And what we're hoping over the next three years is that we can retain as much as the rich experience we have in advisers.

That they can see that there are the sorts of the courses that you talk about. There are ways to assist them to get through the exam, to study and to help us head in the direction in the profession we need to. So, that it is going to be tumultuous over the next few years. But you can see the tide turning. You can see the government being far more supportive of advice, recognising that the pace of change has been too fast, and there's been too much put on them.

So over the next three years, whilst the next 12 months is, I think, still going to be challenging, you can see things levelling out and you can see that a lot of the barriers will be removed, and advice will be seen for the profession that it is. And I can see more people wanting to seek advice, and to see financial advisers. So, I think those who are prepared to commit and stay in the industry will actually see better years ahead.

Noel:

Great, thanks Phil. And Marisa, from your own personal experience running your own business, but also you're Chair of the FPA and a very significant voice in our industry, where do you see the advice industry going in the next 12 months to three years?

Marisa:

Well, there is no doubt, Noel, that we'll be a profession. I believe we are a profession, but we will be very much broadly recognised by the regulators and the legislators that we're a profession. We've got the standards. We know what we need to do. And that whole discussion about whether we are a profession or an emerging profession, that will be gone, because we will actually have met all those standards, and our clients will continue to advocate for us. They'll actually keep referring people to us. And we will certainly start meeting that unmet advice needs that is very clearly out there in Australia. Even ASIC has identified that there's a huge unmet advice need.

And the changes that we've all had to go through over the last couple of years, and they've got another couple of years to meet them all, that pain will certainly now start showing fruit at that time. I certainly know that my business is prepared for that.

I also hope that the enormous numbers of students that we've got who have a choice when they enrol in a business degree or a finance degree actually choose their major to be financial planning, and they see it as a really good profession to enter and they can see a career path in there. Because as much as I hate to think that we're going to lose an enormous number of experienced advisers of my vintage that might leave in the next few years, I certainly hope that before they leave, that we can attract some great new quality talent that will come in and continue that life-changing advice process that we go through and we deliver now.

Noel:

Yeah. Thanks, Marisa. And I think that's a really interesting point you make that, yes, there will be attrition and there'll be advisers that decide to leave. This industry is such an exciting place to be part of. And that's not going to change over the next 12 months, three years, and going forward that the absolute need for the professional advice that we deliver is only going to grow. And so, as we look towards wrapping up our podcast today, I'm keen to get one tip from each of you that you'd give a financial adviser today. Marisa, what would be your one tip?

Marisa:

Well, I've actually got two, Noel. The first one is to just hang in there. Even though we've just been buffeted by change and by having to keep meeting new standards, and we certainly don't have the certainty that we really want to make sure that the changes we're making in our practices are going to be the last changes we need to make, hang in there and keep doing it.

But secondly, if you need help, put your hand up. Whether it be through one of our services, through one of the AFA services, through a peer, through your doctor, if you need some help, put your hand up. I know I've actively been reaching out to my friends to making sure they're OK. And I really hope that people reach out to me and check-in that I'm OK. So it's 'hang in there', but also reach out for help if you need it.

Noel:

Right, thanks. And Phil?

Phil:

Yeah. I totally support the fact that, talk to someone. There are a lot of tools, there are a lot of people you can talk to, even just a friend. It is so powerful just to be able to talk to someone.

But the key thing from my perspective is just believe in yourself. Believe in yourself and what you do. Advisers play such a pivotal role. And as I said earlier, you just have to talk to clients – they consider their advisers their guardian angel. They sleep well at night. And as Marisa said, the advice profession is being buffeted. But if you believe in yourself and what you do, you'll be able to carry yourself through all the challenges ahead.

Noel:

Great, thanks. And there are some fantastic bits of advice there. And I think, for me, it would be I hear the ‘hang in there, believe in yourself’ piece. For me, it's be proud of what you do, because you do a great job for your clients. And when you think about our future of our industry, our industry is in good hands. You've heard from two of our industry leaders today, and clearly they care. And importantly, you're not alone. Thanks for listening to the MetLife podcast series. Cheers.

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