Noel Lord sits down for a chat with Marisa Broome, the Chair of the FPA and discusses how COVID-19 has impacted the way he and his team work and engage with customers.

Noel Lord:

Good morning everybody, and welcome to the MetLife podcast series. My name is Noel Lord, and my guest today is an industry icon with over 30 years experience covering many senior positions across funds management and investment, as well as advice. She is known universally for her passion for delivering great outcomes for clients. In 2000, she established her own business, Wealth Advice, a holistic financial planning business. She is also the current chair of the FPA. It's a great pleasure to welcome today, Marisa Broome. Welcome, Marisa.

Marisa Broome:

Noel, it's lovely to be here.

Noel Lord:

It's great to have you come along. And Marisa, it's interesting times in our industry at the moment, and I'd like to just sort of kick off with getting a little bit of background about yourself and how you got into our industry.

Marisa Broome:

Well, when I first left university, I worked on the other side of the equation. I worked in the funds management side. I did start as an economist, as a graduate, on the trading floor, and then I moved into a BDM role at Macquarie, with you. So, going back a few years there.

Marisa Broome:

To be honest with you, when I was even still at school, and Westpac first set up their personal investment centers, I actually always had a really interest in financial planning, and actually, that direct face-to-face contact with clients. And when my youngest child was six months old, I set up my first financial planning business, and he's now 23, so a few years ago now.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. Wow. How time flies, eh?

Marisa Broome:

23, still at home, and I'm still supporting him, but let's not go there.

Noel Lord:

Exactly. So Marisa, the Wealth Advice business, 23 years on, it's gone through a whole range of change, no doubt. Tell us a little bit about your business focus and the clients that you look after, and whether or not you actually work with a referral source.

Marisa Broome:

We are quite bespoke. We have quite a small client base. We offer really personalized tailored strategic advice, holistic strategic advice, for our clients. We're not investment advisors. We're not risk specialists. We are financial planners in every sense of the word, so we do multiple generation advice to whole families, to sort of, in a quasi... I don't like to say a family office, but in a quasi family office way, in that we look at how money is created, how money is inherited, how money is protected, and that's a real focus for us.

Noel Lord:

So from what you're saying, it's a really defined value proposition that you have honed over a number of years. You clearly articulate that well to your clients. And on the back of that, they have a full understanding of what they're going to get in their relationship with Wealth Advice.

Marisa Broome:

Exactly right. And we have, from day one, been a fee-for-service business, and a pure fee-for-service business, so that makes us quite unusual. And I know that sometimes changes my perspective on how other practices should run, but it certainly worked well for our practice over that time, because of the sorts of clients we have.

Noel Lord:

Okay, great. And so we know right now we're in uncharted waters for our industry, and a lot of people are facing significant change in their business. How have you adjusted your business to adapt to the current situation?

Marisa Broome:

Look, I'm again, quite fortunate in that I had some qualifications, so I needed to do a little less than a lot of other people have had to, to meet the educational requirements. I haven't done that yet. I still need to do the ethics course.

Marisa Broome:

I was kind of thinking, in lockdown, that maybe I'd have a bit more time to do that, but actually my working day has not changed, I'm just not traveling as much. So there hasn't been any spare time in lockdown to get that done. I have done the exam. I did get very anxious about that. I walked out of that exam completely convinced that I had failed. I didn't, I got through, thank goodness. But it challenges you in terms of comprehension, not necessarily in terms of learnings, I feel, personally, because I am quite close to the policy areas that are in play at the moment.

Marisa Broome:

But my business itself hasn't had to do a lot of changing, but that's because we've had a workplace that's been very flexible for a long time. We've had a very clear clientele that we wanted to work with. And we've actually said no to clients. So we've been quite lucky. We haven't had to go through the same level of transition as some other people.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. And how are you dealing with the clients' reaction to COVID-19, the changes that they're seeing, not only in your life, but also in the economy, and things like that? What's the sort of reaction been from your clients?

Marisa Broome:

I'm not saying I'm a guru, but we have been holding a fair amount of cash in most of our clients' portfolios for a while. So in fact, when the markets did crash and burn, the biggest question, the most common question I got was, "Can we buy it? Can we buy it? Can we buy?" And I keep saying no. And in fact, I'm still saying that. I'm still not sure we're through the worst of our economy.

Marisa Broome:

I felt that our market needed to do some sort of correction anyway. I thought global markets where over-priced, and that is with my investment advisor hat on. I'm not a guru, as I said, but we just thought it was the right decision to make for our clients, and it's proven to be the right thing. I think you'll see asset values be far lower for a lot longer. And I think we've got a lot of pain to wear out in the economy.

Marisa Broome:

So I'm quite happy that they're keen to get back in the market, and they're here to stay the course. I've only got one client that's marginally panicking, and that's because she simply wants to go out and retire in the next 12 months. And we've said to her, "Well, you can still do that, but we need to actually think about what income at that time, and those sorts of decisions." But I think that that nervousness will be there just simply because she's about to retire, not actually because of markets itself.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. So there's different things that are very challenging for clients in certain circumstances, and retirement's clearly one of those.

Noel Lord:

What advice would you give to your advice colleagues across the country in dealing with not only the work changes, but the change in the way we are interacting as a society because of COVID-19?

Marisa Broome:

I think the biggest role I play in the lives of my clients is a sounding board for them. They know I'm in their corner. They know I'm an advocate for them. Yes, I offer a whole lot of technical expertise, but it's all about the relationship to start with. And I think that today, or now, is the time to actually make sure that everyone is okay.

Marisa Broome:

I must admit, one thing that I have noticed is I thought I was doing okay. We've had some family issues. My dad's been unwell. I had a business to keep running. We've had some issues about getting the FPA working from home, which they're doing very effectively. We've been really member focused on all of that. And I thought I was doing okay. And it wasn't until our locked down kind of eased a little bit, and I went to catch up with some friends, that I realized that possibly I wasn't doing okay.

Marisa Broome:

So I think there's two areas, in answer to your question is, make sure your clients are okay in terms of the relationship you have with them. That they're doing okay not just on the money things, but you can talk to them about all those other issues. And also make sure you're okay. I think we look after our practices, we look after our clients, we look after our families, and sometimes financial planners are not very good at looking after themselves. So I'd really recommend that you go out and make sure you're doing okay, and finding some ways to re energize yourself so you can keep supporting.

Noel Lord:

Yeah, I think you raise a really valid point there, Marisa, that the mental aspect of what we do, where you focus so much on clients, and you're always looking after others, you've got to be able to take a step back and have that self-assessment on how you're handling the situation yourself. Because if you're not handling it well, then you can't be handling it well for your clients. And reaching out to friends and colleagues and family is a really important piece of what we need to do across our industry right now.

Marisa Broome:

I agree. I mean, it's a service that we have at the FPA, we have FPA Well-Being. It's a service that I knew we needed to introduce a year ago when we looked at the pressure our members were under. It's a service I don't really want to have to deliver, but I know that I'm really pleased that we can deliver it. We can afford to deliver it. And that is just simply an independent service for people if they need help, can go and get help. That's really important.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. Great. So Marisa, talk me through, where are you going to focus your business over the next 30, 60, 90 days, in between everything else you do with the FPA, and everything in your career?

Marisa Broome:

Just want to keep those touchpoints in place with all my clients, and in a little bit more of an ad hoc arrangement. So not necessarily following the regular quarterly reviews, or whatever we do, just simply touching base and saying, "The government's now announced this. Now, you live in Victoria, this means X, or you live in New South Wales, this means Y."

Marisa Broome:

I've been doing a little bit of helping a couple of my business clients work out whether they're eligible for JobKeeper and those sorts of things. So just to follow up about whether that's being delivered for them or not. Working very closely with their accountants, and making sure that they can get all the benefits that are available.

Marisa Broome:

One of my clients is into Access Super, but that's certainly not a piece of advice I'd want to give anyway, probably would do, but if they had to, it's a last resort. So I guess it's just about communication and knowing that they're there. And because we are fee-for-service, and we actually invoice quarterly in arrears, I don't want to be thinking that if they think I'm going to be charging them all for these extra touchpoints, then that's why they're going to be a bit more ad hoc and a little bit more warm and fuzzy, than more technical responses to them.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. And how have you found your clients' morale in lockdown?

Marisa Broome:

I've only got a couple that I'm worried about, and that's because they do live by themselves, and they aren't working. And I was a little bit concerned that they weren't able to be in communication with a lot of people. Both of them now Zoom me when they really want it to go through something, so that's not such a big issue. But on the whole, I think they're doing okay.

Noel Lord:

It's great. And I think a lot of that is the regular contact they have, no doubt, with you. And that empathy that you show your clients through your communication is no doubt the key to the connection that they have with your business, but you personally.

Marisa Broome:

Well, it is with me personally, because they know I'm the main advisor in the business, but I have a team. And in fact, some of my clients have a better rapport with someone like [inaudible 00:10:03] than they do with me. And because some of the contact is not actually about their wealth, but more about their health, then the whole team is involved in that regular communication just to touch base, making sure people have what they need, and have access to what they need.

Noel Lord:

And so if you had your time again, is there anything that you'd do differently?

Marisa Broome:

Look, I set my business up, and it grew quite rapidly. I worked out I was running a business, and I wasn't being a financial planner, and that's actually where my calling is, I'm passionate about being a financial planner. So I probably would've kept the business small at the very beginning rather than letting it get as big as it was. Some days, I do wonder whether it should've actually continued to be quite large. But again, even recently, when someone wanted to buy my practice again, I worked out that I actually love giving advice. I love seeing my clients. I love having that eyeball to eyeball, so I'm really content the way it is.

Marisa Broome:

But I'd love more time to be able to devote back to my profession. I think that my role in the FPA is just igniting more and more passion about ways that I can help other people. So when my term as the chair ends, and I leave the board, I still fully intend to be involved, and mentor as many people as I can. We are a profession, and it is a calling, so if I can help ignite that passion in some people so they can continue on giving great advice, I think that's probably where my next steps will be.

Noel Lord:

Right. And I think there's a couple of really valid points there, that we are a profession, whether it be in the life space, in the insurance risk space. And we touch clients in a number of ways to help them navigate their way through not only how they are going to prepare for retirement, but how they protect themselves, the assets that they grow along the way, is a vital part of what we do. And it's very clear-

Marisa Broome:

Absolutely critical. We don't look at that enough. We're often seen as a profession that is a retirement focus, or pre-retirement profession. I disagree. And because I do multiple generation advice, and a lot of my really wealthy clients now came to me when they were quite young and first starting out. It was actually all about asset protection at that stage. I don't understand how anyone can actually give advice without understanding how to protect the asset on the way through, structure the asset properly, and then build wealth going on from there. It's a foundation.

Noel Lord:

Yeah. And I think one of the biggest challenges in these changing times that we have, is maintaining focus, and to your point before, taking a little bit of personal time out to just say... reflect on, "Am I okay?" And so from that sort of perspective, I think that the FPA is doing some wonderful things, as are other parts of our industry. The industry bodies coming together for their members is great to see at this point in time. And no doubt, you've had some communication into Canberra as well.

Marisa Broome:

Yeah, we've had a fair amount of communication into that. We even had a webinar with the minister last week, some of our members. I'm really proud of the work. I'll really give a big shout-out to Dante , who is the FPA CEO, because he was the person that actually got all of the associations to work together. They now very much cooperate together. But I really give great credit to Dante, because he knew that the only way we could really make an impact with regulators and legislators was to have that one message, many voices type approach.

Noel Lord:

Right. So Marisa, it's been great to sit down and have a chat today, and to somewhat reminisce over 30 years experience. And your contribution to our industry has been immense. And I'm sure, moving forward, you can sense from your conversation, the passion is still there and running through your veins, for what do you want to do with the clients, and MetLife is exactly the same. We're very passionate about making a difference in our industry, and helping advisors as they transition through uncharted waters. So we really do appreciate you taking the time today to spend a little bit with us, and to get your insights on what you're doing in your business, and a little bit around what the FPA is doing. It's been great to have a chat, and we really appreciate your time.

Marisa Broome:

It's been wonderful, Noel. Look forward to catching up with you in person.

Noel Lord:

Yeah, that'll be nice. All right. Cheers, Marisa. Thanks very much.

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