A war worth waging
On his departure from the role, ifa managing editor Aleks Vickovich reflects on the progress of the IFA movement and road ahead for financial advisers and this publication.
For a junior journalist freshly returned from London, and relatively ignorant about the Aussie financial advice landscape (like most of our population, unfortunately), I couldn’t have landed a better story.
At that time, just prior to the launch of this website in 2012, Bernie Ripoll was putting pen to paper on the recommendations that would lay out the blueprint for monumental change.
The FOFA lobbying then went into full swing, and through the course of my reportage, I quickly learned that Australia’s advisers were on the front lines of a culture war brewing in our financial system involving some seriously powerful forces.
With the political clout of banks and industry funds influencing policymakers on both sides of the aisle, and a scapegoat needed for product failure in the wake of the GFC, the small business financial advice providers of this country found themselves in the firing line, subject to significant state intervention in their business affairs and a whole lot of new red tape.
I don’t need to tell you that the scrutiny and regulatory overreach has not abated since.
Whether the FOFA laws – and subsequent interventions such as TASA and LIF – have been positive or not is up for debate and the industry and its analysts should keep a watching brief.
But under my tenure, this website has consistently held the position that advisers are often blamed for systemic issues further up the chain, and we have not been afraid to call out the powerful institutions that Canberra seems beholden to.
From the CBA financial planning scandal, to the role of insurers and FSC during LIF negotiations, to the marketing and campaigning activity of industry super funds and questionable role of adviser associations under the new FASEA regime – our focus has been on journalism that doesn’t just provide information but advocacy to our audience.
On the topic of independence, this has particularly been the case.
When we took the decision to place the word ‘independent’ back on the masthead of the magazine and this website, we knew we were wading into one of the industry’s thorniest issues.
Back then, the institutions (as well as a number of our competitors in the all-too-complicit trade press) denied that there were rumblings within the aligned networks, or that a revolution of small AFSLs and “non-aligned” groups was on the horizon.
Our position was not only that an independent resurgence would happen, but that it should.
As recently as 2016, ifa was being routinely told no such migration was underway, despite the ever-present stream of fleeing firms providing us off record testimony to the contrary.
Today, we see three of the four major banks throwing in the towel, and our nation's flagship institutional advice network in crisis, as its numbers decline and it is threatened with criminal charges.
The royal commission has taken the conversations we have hosted on this website for years directly to the living rooms of Australia.
While we are in a period of flux and uncertainty, for independently-minded and client-centric advisers eager to take control of their own destiny, the future remains bright.
Undoubtedly, major challenges remain.
The forced education policy is taking an understandably emotional toll on advisers, as they attempt to juggle family life, running a business and the priority of quality client service with a new raft of study requirements.
The ability to profitably service regular folks, as opposed to high-net-worth accounts, remains difficult, with the ban on investment commissions and changes to life insurance remuneration playing a part.
Plus ASIC’s anti-competitive stance on non-institutional providers being permitted to describe themselves as such has added an additional and unnecessary hurdle.
However, the Australian public is waking up to the conflicts and corruption inherent in the compulsory superannuation system and financial product distribution chain.
They will need good quality financial advice – and good quality financial journalism – to help them make sense of what will follow Hayne’s inquiry.
For that reason, I have taken the difficult decision to move on from Momentum Media to pursue an opportunity elsewhere in a more consumer-facing role. But I am confident that ifa’s mission statement and commitment to robust journalism and debate is assured and the publication is in very good hands.
It has been an honour to serve the advice community, in both Australia and the US, throughout this tumultuous period of financial history.
Overwhelmingly, the members of this community are hard-working, family- and customer-oriented men and women with a strong sense of citizenship and community spirit, and the new laws governing them are more about appearances than sound public policy.
Our elected officials know that. They are just too cowardly to do anything about it.
This publication, and the community it serves, will continue to provide leadership in the absence of any from our industry and national leaders.
The country’s financial future depends upon it.
Aleks Vickovich is the outgoing managing editor of ifa.
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