Emily Dent, manager of the financial planning department at Camerons, tells ifa’s Tim Stewart about starting from scratch and the achievements of the past five years
Australians love a good renovation job, but Emily Dent had a real fixer-upper on her hands when she took over the financial planning arm of Tasmanian accounting firm Camerons.
“When I look back now, when I got here I inherited an absolute bomb,” she says.
To make matters worse, Ms Dent arrived in Launceston on her first day only to discover two of her support staff had resigned.
Before starting in her role in 2009, Ms Dent had been warned by plenty of people not to take it on. She says she’s up for a challenge, however, and the foreboding only made her more determined to make the move.
But it was still a shock.
“There was no structure here, even though [Camerons] had been doing [financial planning] for nearly 10 years,” she says.
Instead, there were nine authorised representatives in the business who were going about
financial planning in a very ‘ad hoc’ manner, she says.
“Whatever BDM was in the office that week, that was what was flogged,” Ms Dent says.
As a result, the client book she inherited contained many “untouchable” mortgage funds and
property funds – including some that were frozen.
The books were “really messy”, with about 52 product providers represented and a very small amount of funds under management, she recalls.
There was, in addition, a lack of trust in financial planners in general from the accounting side of the business.
“It’s been a bit of a slog to get [the practice] to where it is today,but I think we’re there now and the department’s going along really well,” Ms Dent says.
THE PATH TO PLANNING
Having grown up in Tasmania, Ms Dent moved to Melbourne and began a cadetship as an accountant
But she soon discovered accounting work can be “quite tedious”, and a job offer from a stockbroking client was too good to refuse. She worked for the stockbroker as a dealer’s assistant and formally made the decision to switch from her accounting degree at RMIT to financial planning.
After graduating, she began working as a financial planner with the Commonwealth Bank.
But describing herself as a “farm girl”, Ms Dent found the hustle and bustle of Melbourne all a bit much, so she moved to Geelong where she serviced around 17 CBA branches over the course of two years.
After a brief sabbatical overseas, she returned to Tasmania, where she serviced another 20 to 25 CBA branches.
But Ms Dent quickly became “frustrated and bored” with the CBA structure in Tasmania, which didn’t offer much in the way of career progression apart from promotion to ‘senior planner’.
When the opportunity to manage the team in a large accounting firm popped up, she quickly grabbed it with both hands.
In a couple of years, her good work was recognised by Ms Dent’s former licensee, Professional Investment Services (PIS), which named her the 2011 Most Determined Adviser within the entire PIS network.
Around that time, Ms Dent was made a partner at Camerons – the only financial planning principal alongside six accountants.
She effectively wears two hats at Camerons: she spends half her time as the financial planning practice manager – managing a team of four planners and four support staff/paraplanners – and the other half doing client work.
When it comes down to the crunch, Ms Dent says her clients always come first. “If there’s a little compliance change to make, it will get done – but it’s always clients first,” she says.
While set to go on maternity leave in December, she says she will return to work “pretty quickly” and plans to work from home one to two days a week.
In fact, she’s looking forward to working from home – away from the day-to-day distractions of the office.
“I’ll get a solid couple of days at home where I can concentrate and do really good client work,” she says.
WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS
The biggest challenge Ms Dent has faced in her four and a half years at Camerons has been challenging the preconceptions of her accountant colleagues when it comes to financial planners.
Accountants are very much “control freaks”, she says, and before she joined the firm they were doing all of Camerons superannuation and planning work themselves.
All of that changed when Ms Dent walked through the door.
“It’s been a massive change for the accountants because I stripped all of their authorised representatives off them as soon as I got here,” she says.
She still battles with accountants today to prove the ability of her relatively small team of financial planners. “They constantly stick their head in my door and say, ‘I’m smarter than you’. I don’t doubt that, but they can’t actually do [what I do],” she says.
Another day-to-day challenge is convincing her accounting colleagues to refer their clients to her.
The financial planning client base only represents six per cent of Camerons’ clients, so the pool of 9,400 accounting clients offers a huge opportunity, she says.
One of the other principals has been a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) auditor for 30 years, and he “really struggles” with the fact that he can’t give advice on SMSFs anymore, Ms Dent says.
She doesn’t dispute that the SMSF principal knows more about the subject than her, but she points out that it’s the legal framework he’s upset with – not her.
PUTTING ON A GOOD FACE
Despite occasional resistance from her accounting colleagues, Ms Dent maintains that Camerons is a “lovely place to work”. “It’s a really community-based firm, as well as an active, young firm,” she says.
To drive new planning business to Camerons, Ms Dent spends a lot of her time giving presentations in the community. Last year, she gave about 25 presentations to organisations such as Rotary, the Lions, Apex and other independent retiree organisations about the importance of financial planning. In addition, Ms Dent delivers corporate presentations. For example, she has spoken to workers at a local factory that recently conducted a round of redundancies.
“I don’t go in flogging Camerons, Colonial [First State] or other products – I just go in as an independent adviser saying, ‘I’ll talk to you about redundancy’,” she says.
She estimates that she spoke to about 1,000 people last year, which has helped Ms Dent establish a name for herself – and the Camerons financial planning brand.
Meanwhile, after ‘teaching herself’ aged care, Ms Dent ran an internal aged care day for all the accountants at Camerons, bringing in an estate planning lawyer and a Centrelink officer.
Centrelink work is a major focus of Camerons’ financial planning department – in fact, 90 per cent of Ms Dent’s clients have some form of Centrelink benefit.
“We are a constant pusher of Centrelink,” she says. “If I can get your card or some sort of benefit back, we always aim for that if the client wants it.”
CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
Ms Dent changed licensees in October 2012, switching from PIS to the CBA-backed Financial Wisdom. The motivation behind the switch was a lack of back-office support from PIS in Tasmania, she says.
“I really needed support from my dealer group, and I got nothing and that is partly because we are regional,” she explains. “You are very much on your own down here in Tassie – you don’t get the support that you would get in Melbourne from your licensee.”
Another influence was that Ms Dent and one of her planners had previously worked as salaried planners for CBA branches and, as a result, have “always written a Colonial [First State] book”.
“It just made sense financially for us to move across with the CBA brand,” she says.
Because Ms Dent’s average client is self-employed – ‘mum and dads’ with around $250,000 in superannuation – the range of products available through Colonial First State is more than adequate to meet their needs.
“They’re just people who have worked hard for their money and they come to us. They trust us, and the product doesn’t need to be too fancy,” she says.
But when it comes to the branding of the business, Ms Dent has decided to stick with Camerons. “I wouldn’t want to go out and sell myself as Financial Wisdom – no one knows who that is here. Camerons has a very good, strong brand, so we sell under that,” she says. Nevertheless, being able to tell clients that she has the backing of a “very good, strong brand” in CBA is important, Ms Dent adds. «
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