Top 50 Dealer Groups: Leading the field

The past 12 months have delivered good figures in adviser growth while powerhouse AMP Financial Planning (AMPFP) again retained the top spot, leaving a large gap between itself and Millenium 3 Financial Services, followed in turn by Commonwealth Financial Planning.

AMPFP added 145 financial advisers in the year to June 2012, bringing its total number to 1,669, previously 1,524.

The second greatest spurt in adviser numbers came from AMP Group-owned Charter Financial Planning, which increased its numbers by 130, now standing at 608 in total.

AMPFP managing director Michael Guggenheimer told ifa the dealer group’s growth was a result of its efforts and focus on the marketplace over the past 12 months, which is core to its strategy.

“The [result] is not from internal movement,” Guggenheimer says. “Growth is really part of the strategy of AMPFP. We have been pursuing a growth strategy that’s predicated around our belief that there’s a real gap in the market for people being able to access advice.

“We don’t have enough financial planners in this country to support the[wealth] needs of local communities right around Australia so if we want to be more relevant, naturally one of the dimensions I believe we need to focus on is growth.”

The AMP Horizons Academy also contributed to sourcing qualified professionals who wished to move into financial planning as their career. In addition, AMPFP used its specialist recruitment teams around the country, working with interested parties in their communities who are seeking a self-employed proposition.

AMPFP assesses its future advisers against specific criteria and using profiling, which incorporates soft skills as well as the technical capabilities required of an adviser, Guggenheimer says.

“Not everyone fits those criteria so we use that as part of the selection process to validate whether people are more likely to be successful,” he says, adding that it was just as important to have a robust retention strategy to protect its adviser base.

“Our retention is very good compared to [the rest of the] industry. We look at ourselves compared to the self-employed models because there are certain models operating within the marketplace, but we think we’re doing well in relation to retaining our planners.”

Guggenheimer believes AMPFP can continue to grow its numbers throughout 2013 by supporting its existing practices and starting new businesses in more locations around the country.

“We have a great program in the Horizons Academy which is continuing to prove very popular, and we have our recruitment team, so the combination of the two means that we will grow next year. We’re working very closely with our practices to prepare for any regulatory change and that’s obviously important to get right.”

Ranking third in ifa’s Top 50 Dealer Group Survey, Commonwealth Financial Planning (Commonwealth FP) added 48 advisers for the 2012 financial year.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia executive general manager of advice, Marianne Perkovic, says the group has been focused on bringing new entrants to the planning profession.

“A lot of our growth is coming from our graduates program,” Perkovic says. “Last year, we took 20 graduates on board and for this year, we’re looking to increase that to about 60.

“Most reports for FOFA are indicating that adviser numbers in the industry will go down, so given our size, what we want to do is support and promote new entrants coming through. [As a dealer group], you’ve got to be focused on graduates and we think that will then help us sustain the business going forward.”

Commonwealth FP’s retention strategy lies in its competitive advantage through brand as well as the strong referrals from its banking channel, Perkovic says.

“We’re also trying to promote the up-skilling and training to the planners but I don’t think we’re really doing anything innovative.

“With FOFA, we’re still in review but we’ll have a new remuneration and also KPI incentive scheme for the New Year. Like most financial planning businesses, we’re moving to quality advice so a lot of the rewards are about delivering good outcomes to customers.”

Commonwealth FP is more focused on the behavioural characteristics of advisers looking to join the group, Perkovic says.

“With FOFA, and bringing the trust element in, we look for people who are competent in customer engagement, service and experience,” she says.

“In the past, the industry was focused more on sales skills but that’s no longer a component through the recruitment process; it’s now about how they engage with clients and their ability to communicate effectively.”

Meanwhile, Charter Financial Planning jumped ahead as the fourth largest dealer group this year, previously sitting in ninth position.

Managing director Kevin Stone says the business has seen organic growth from existing practices as a result of its strong value proposition and business support, backed by the strength of the AMP group.

“An increasing number of advisers have been attracted to Charter's value proposition, in particular the Discovery program has been very successful in helping high calibre advisers start their own business,” Stone says.

“The stability and strength in our adviser numbers reflects adviser comfort with AMP, as all of our AXA Financial Planning practices have now transitioned to Charter as part of the withdrawal of the AXA brand from the Australian marketplace.”

Charter will continue to innovate and invest in initiatives to support its partnered advisers, he says.

Westpac Financial Planning moved from 13th place to 9th after bolstering its adviser network by 51, now at 462 in total.

“There has been no significant change in Westpac Financial Planning’s business model this financial year, but the business continues to achieve new standards in efficiency and productivity,” BT Advice general manager, bank financial planning, Mike Chesworth says.

“These include our introduction of initiatives to increase the capacity for planners to service more Australians while providing quality and highly valued advice, including the roll out of paraplanning to all of Westpac Financial Planning advisers.”

Chesworth says BT Financial Group is well-positioned for the FOFA changes, as the reforms are aligned to its commitment to quality financial advice and wealth creation for Australians.

“We are confident that we will be operating a fully-compliant FOFA model as ‘business as usual’ by 1 July 2013. Financial year 2013 will see a continued focus on growth, and we will be supporting this through growth in planner numbers and continued focus on ongoing advice.”

AMPFP’s Guggenheimer says one of the industry challenges for 2013 is to communicate financial planning as respected profession and the enormous amount of satisfaction that comes from the role.

“I think there is no better profession that financial planning,” he says. “I could not think of any greater level of satisfaction in sitting down with a client, understanding their current circumstances, establishing goals and then working out how they can make that a reality. If I look at other roles, I don’t believe there are people who would be doing that in what they do.

“Financial planning in my mind is about working with people in helping them secure their financial future, no matter what it may look like and I’m not just talking about people with lots of money. It could simply be budgeting or protecting their family and their income or basic investments.”

*Professional Investment Services were unavailable to participate in ifa’s Top 50 Dealer Group Survey this year. The group was ranked second in 2011.

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