Former teacher Jane Looker and her student Thelma Jaekel share how they brought their own flair to an Albany practice
When Thelma Jaekel walked into Jane Looker’s classroom eight years ago in Albany, neither woman could have predicted they would one day team up to run a bustling advice business.
Thelma had moved to Albany from the small farming community of Borden, population 164, in 2007. Previously, Thelma had worked as a nurse and run the family farm. Seeking a fresh start in Albany, she enrolled in a local TAFE course to study accounting.
Jane had made a brief foray into financial planning at the start of her career but disliked the lack of regulation. She took up teaching and spent the next 20 years lecturing on business and accounting at the Albany TAFE.
The two women met and hit it off – the start of what would prove to be a life changing friendship.
“Thelma was a very good student and didn’t need much ‘teaching’,” Jane says.
Recognising Thelma’s potential, Jane encouraged her to get into the financial services industry. Not long after, Jane decided to become an adviser herself.
“I took my own advice!” she says.
Both women started out at the same firm, qualifying for their diplomas of financial planning. However, the ambitious pair was soon keen for a new challenge.
“Our pathways were limited where we were,” Thelma says.
“We were looking for a greater career path.”
Enter Richard Duffield, who established Sound Life Financial in Albany in 1987. Richard was looking to retire and needed a successor, or in this case, a two-for-one package. The pair joined Sound Life four years ago and took over when Richard retired in early 2014.
“It was truly a great business, ready to be reinvigorated,” Jane says.
Right from the start, the friends recognised the need to establish a constructive working partnership.
They used personality profiling to help divide up their workload and make the most of their natural abilities.
“You work out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It is the best thing that ever happened,” Thelma says.
While Thelma’s career trajectory has been unusual, she believes her prior experiences inform her current work.
“In farming, we had to do budgeting every year and in nursing, you get your empathy and general care for people’s wellbeing,” she says.
“People always say it’s so different but I actually don’t think it is.”
Similarly, she believes Jane’s background in education was ideal training for the advice industry.
“She taught for 20 years and that’s the basis of our advice too –to educate our clients and get them involved in their investments,” Thelma says.
However, the path to success has not always been smooth. After taking over the business, Jane and Thelma did a complete overhaul, including a licensee switch from AMP-aligned Charter Financial Planning to non-aligned risk specialist group Synchron.
The pair believed their former dealer group had failed to provide support during their succession and were keen to put their own stamp on the business. But they didn’t stop there.
“We not only changed licensee, we changed banks, we changed premises, we changed logos. We’ve changed just about everything,” Thelma says.
“It brought a period of uncertainty but we survived.”
A major motivation for the licensee change was the idea of providing more “independent” advice, Thelma explains.
“Being able to offer more holistic, independent advice to our clients was a big drawcard. And being able to provide our clients with service, rather than a product,” she says.
In their practice, Thelma and Jane place an emphasis on budgeting and cash flow management, offering their clients a self designed budgeting tool.
Estate planning is also a focus, as many of their clients fall into an older demographic.
As part of their estate planning service, Thelma and Jane offer to meet beneficiaries in person.
“Not only does that help them if something happens but we’re also introducing ourselves to them,” she says.
Indeed, Thelma believes the social fabric of small towns is an invaluable resource for rural advisers.
“I would hate to try and get new clients in a big city,” she says.
“We benefit from the closeness and the social network [in Albany] – the community spirit.”
Jane and Thelma are planning to increase their support staff and maybe bring a male adviser onto their all-female team.
“Not that we see it as a deficit but just to add some balance,” Thelma says.
They hope to take the practice from strength to strength, building on Richard’s legacy and their own achievements.
“I want to continue to grow it like we already have,” Jane says.
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