ifa Excellence Awards 2015-Recognising independent achievement

ifa Excellence Awards 2015-Recognising independent achievement

ifa presents the winners of the second annual ifa Excellence Awards, the only awards to benchmark success in the boutique and non-aligned financial advice sector

For the second year running, the ifa Excellence Awards – held at Doltone House in Sydney on Friday 7 August – celebrated Australia’s best of the best in the independent and non-aligned financial advice sector.

The idea for the awards, conceived in 2014, was to dispel the myth that consolidation of the financial planning market by banks and financial product institutions is the only way forward, and to prove that the independent sector is alive and well.

Instead of buckling under the pressure, non-aligned groups have come out swinging, forming business relationships with superannuation funds, mortgage brokers and tech companies – just to name a few. This is the way forward, and while it may feel like uncharted territory, it’s very exciting.

Around 300 submissions were received for the 2015 awards, which covered business growth stories, advice provision and client servicing propositions, business and management acumen and plans for the future.
The submissions were evaluated by our experienced judging panel and whittled down to nearly 70 finalists, with 15 winners crowned at the afternoon ceremony.

In this special feature we reveal this year’s winners, and find out how staying independent helps their businesses’ value proposition and their individual success stories. We also catch up with some past wiinner’s to find out how the awards have impacted on their business.

A word from the Principal Partner
Matthew Harrison,
general manager
distribution, Colonial First State
Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be here today as a proud partner at Colonial First State here to sponsor the ifa Excellence Awards for 2015. I don’t need to tell you, but our industry continues to be challenged with ongoing regulatory reform and change in community expectations, while the need for quality financial advice is greater than ever.

Our complex superannuation, taxation and social security systems are difficult for people to navigate by themselves. And with our retirement age now upon us, more and more Australians will be seeking advice. We truly believe this.

At Colonial First State, we believe that a strong and thriving independent advice market is critical to the delivery of quality retirement outcomes for Australians. We’ve always supported independent financial advice. We remain committed to that market and we’re particularly proud of that history in our heritage as we support advisers and licensees through all we do.
Looking forward, we truly aim to partner with you to help you grow your business, retain your current clients, give you some investment solutions and also provide administrative back-office solutions to make your back-end more efficient.

We remain firmly committed to the independent adviser market and look forward to continuing that relationship for many years to come.
Can I extend my congratulations to all finalists. Well done – it’s a fantastic effort just being here, and we look forward at Colonial First State to celebrating this afternoon with you.



Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth
Chosen from the winners of the individual award categories, the ifa Excellence Award recognises the year’s top performer, considered a stand-out by the judges

Chris Smith may have been recognised for individual excellence, but he refuses to take all the credit.
The founder of VISIS Private Wealth said he attributes much of his success to his team for providing him with the room to flourish.

“A lot of credit goes to Brad Phelps, our general manager. [He’s a] strategic thinker; he drives our business; he gives us the ability to relax from the pressures of running a business and looking after staff,” Mr Smith said.

“We can’t do it without our team, that starts at reception and goes all the way through to support staff, para-planners, advisers and general managers.”

Mr Smith won this year’s ifa Excellence Award for embodying best practice in independent financial advice and serving as a role model to all advice professionals.

The judges found Mr Smith had proven that innovation is a key to business efficiency and had demonstrated innovation brings a tangible return on investments. Further, he had gone above and beyond to strengthen the growth of his practice through commitment in delivering customer service.

For Mr Smith, excellent client service is what has kept his company alive.
“I think anybody here that’s an adviser would realise that client service is what keeps us here,” he said.
“We always have our clients’ interest at heart and we have to work hard. We have to keep up-to-date and we have to drive ourselves to be better every day.”

Before forming VISIS Private Wealth in 2001, Mr Smith had worked for an independently-owned practice that was subsequently sold to what he described as a “less than scrupulous organisation” which focused more on selling product under quotas than providing good outcomes for clients.

While he only had a couple of years of experience, the desire to deliver his own style of advice eventually drove Mr Smith to establish his own practice.

Since then, he has worked tirelessly to build a respected and 100 per cent privately-owned practice. His company boasts of providing clients with absolute confidence in the objectivity and quality of the advice they receive.
Recently, his team has focused on assisting the children and younger colleagues of his clients to organise their financial affairs and develop a financial plan early in life.

Looking forward, Mr Smith said his practice will continue to grow and nurture staff.
“We’re at a point now where we’ve got a lot of good quality staff and we want to do more with those guys. We want to give them the opportunity to excel,” he said.

“We want to grow. We want to expand our footprint across Australia. We’re at that point now where I think we’ve got everything right. We’re delivering excellent customer service to our clients and we want to make sure that their interests remain at heart.”

Mr Smith said the award is an accolade for those involved in the independent space, which he believes is the most important aspect of the financial services industry.

“This award means a lot to me. It is 16 years in the business. It’s the tireless pursuit of doing the best by your clients. It’s also recognition among your peers.

“The independent space of financial advice, to me, is the most important aspect of financial planning. Being one of the torch bearers in that industry is particularly important to me.

“Thank you to ifa for continuing to carry the torch. I think anyone that puts a submission in every year for this is only going to increase the spotlight on independence. I think that’s good for all of us.”


This award recognises the dealer group or licensee that is a powerhouse of the non-aligned sector, utilising a range of business development principles.

Having won Best New Licensee at the inaugural ifa Excellence Awards in 2014, GPS Wealth has once again been recognised as a key player in the non-aligned industry, this time taking out Dealer Group of the Year.

While launching a business in 2012 – at the height of the FOFA reforms – would not have been on the priority list of many in the financial services industry, for GPS Wealth founders Rob McGregor and Greg Holman, it has been a recipe for success.

On receiving the award, GPS Wealth executive director Grahame Evans said it “represents what we think is recognition for the direction that we are actually heading in”.

“We are a lot different to a lot of other licensees and are focused around client engagement and that is really, really important, so we are actually looking to capitalise on that.”
“We are a high contact group, and we participate as a group rather than a lot of individual practices,” Mr Evans said.

Lifespan Financial Planning
Infocus Wealth Management
MyPlanner Australia


This award recognises the financial planning licensee that has developed a robust business structure with ample services for its representatives.
WINNER Astute Financial Services

Among A crowd of newcomers, Astute Financial Services has done much to stand out. Judges felt the winner of this year’s Best New Licensee had developed a solid business model with a comprehensive offering to their firms.

Astute demonstrated diversified services with a focus on client outcomes, supported by excellent systems and processes.
“It is an ever changing environment that our financial advisers are working in at the moment,” Astute Financial’s Greg Swan said.
“We are very much about a full financial solutions offer and for our advisers, helping them build compelling offerings that can help them help their clients in an uncertain world.”

Advice Evolution
Mortgage Choice
Roskow Independent Advisory


This award recognises a leader within the advice community who has shown long-term passion and aptitude for driving change.
WINNER Santi Burridge, Implemented Portfolios

Strong community leaders are essential in creating a profession that is forward-looking, ambitious and willing to engage in public debate, and that is exactly how Implemented Portfolios’ Santi Burridge was seen by the judges – as a strong leader.

A regular contributor to ifa magazine, Mr Burridge is a strong believer in the need for advisers to be non-aligned in order to take control of their own destiny.

“I am passionate about advisers getting a better outcome. I think for too long the industry has dictated to advisers, has forced product down the channel,” Mr Burridge said.

“I want to be able to see advisers achieve their potential. I want to see clients get better outcomes. I want to see businesses growing and prospering.”
In the future, he would like to see the industry shift away from product sales and move to a position where it is more about service.

Charles Badenach, Main Street Financial Solutions
David Lane, Pitcher Partners Wealth Management
Don Trapnell, Synchron
Philippa Sheehan, MyPlanner Australia
Randall Stout, HPH Solutions Financial Planners


This award recognises the boutique self-licensed advice firm that demonstrates an effective business approach to management and client engagement for future growth.

WINNER VISIS Private Wealth

It is VISIS Private Wealth’s non-aligned nature that has made the company an attractive place to work. It is also what saw the firm win this year’s Boutique Firm of the Year award.

“Being a boutique certainly for us is about providing independent advice,” VISIS Private Wealth’s Brad Phelps said.
“We set out to provide tailored solutions for our clients and certainly look to complete a full range of services.”
The strategies and actions of VISIS Private Wealth are examples of excellent management reporting and a client- and business-centric approach that demonstrates high levels of professionalism to support positive growth.

Acquiring an AFSL contributed to considerable improvements at the firm. The scale achieved by VISIS is relatively unique for an independently-licensed organisation.

“We have modified our process so that each time a client comes through our door they get a tailored personalised advice service and that certainly has to be a focus for us,” Mr Phelps said.

Principal Edge Financial Services
Maddern Financial Advisers
Hewison Private Wealth
Libertas Wealth Consulting
HPH Solutions Financial Planners
Horvat Financial Advisors


This award recognises an individual who demonstrates exemplary leadership and management skills for his or her clients and staff.
WINNER Ravi Agarwal, Mediq Financial Services

Taking out the award for the second time, Practice Principal of the Year, Mediq Financial Services’ Ravi Agarwal has continued to foster the business culture of service provision that led to his winning the award in 2014.

Having started Mediq five years ago, Mr Agarwal has carved out a niche in the financial services space that focuses on providing advice as well as accounting and tax services to the medical community.

Unfortunately, Mr Agarwal was unable to attend the event. However, general manager of Mediq Nick Argyriou collected the award for him. Speaking on his behalf, Mr Argyriou said the challenges of being a practice principal are really about making sure the whole business is “humming”.
Other challenges included making sure the right people were hired for the job, ensuring the right processes were implemented and investing in the right technology for the business to be successful, he said.

Anthony Kapetanovic, Akambo Private Wealth
Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth
Michael Rees-Evans, Libertas Wealth Consulting
Neil Salkow, Roskow Independent Advisory
Paul Dunn, Meridian Wealth Management


This award recognises the adviser who demonstrates specific knowledge of and expertise in the needs and solutions of the industry.
WINNER Aaron Zelman, MediBroker

A new addition to the ifa Excellence Awards, the Risk Adviser of the Year category seeks to recognise the best in client servicing and risk insurance advice. The winner of the category this year was MediBroker’s Aaron Zelman.
In winning this category, Mr Zelman was recognised for his specific knowledge in the field of risk advice and deep commitment to client service, innovation and collaboration.

Passionate about life insurance advice, Mr Zelman’s business specialises in providing risk insurance for medical professionals and their families.
Mr Zelman said he was happy to receive the award which recognises the hard work and dedication that goes into making sure Australians are financially protected.

“This award means a great deal to me because risk advice is really that important,” he said.
Commenting on the challenges facing risk advisers today, Mr Zelman said that embracing new remuneration models will be the biggest.

“There is a big challenge to adopt remuneration models in the changing environment and to build a long-term sustainable approach – and that will really come through putting the client first,” he said.

Adrian Loadsman, Mediq Financial Services

This award recognises the adviser who demonstrates exemplary technical knowledge of SMSF practice with a strong client-centric offering.
WINNER Chris Morcom, Hewison Private Wealth

With more and more SMSF trustees looking for expert advice, SMSF Adviser of the Year, Chris Morcom of Hewison Private Wealth, said the key to successful SMSF advice lies in being technically proficient.

Mr Morcom was recognised for his technical expertise in SMSF practice as well as strong customer service. He says he makes sure each client receives specifically tailored advice.

“I think when it comes to SMSF advice, the advice is tailored to each client’s situation and that is the most important thing that we can offer,” he said.

On receiving the award, Mr Morcom said it represents recognition of the hard work he has put in over the past 15 years.
“I hope [this award] gives my clients some peace of mind that they are with the right adviser,” Mr Morcom said.

Cameron Howlett, Moran Howlett Financial Planning
Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth
Dennis J Maddern, Maddern Financial Advisers
Simon Curtain, Hewison Private Wealth


This award recognises an independent financial advice community member who contributes meaningfully to political and commercial discourse.
WINNER Charles Badenach, Main Street Financial Solutions

As the name suggests, the Editor’s Choice Award recognises a valuable editorial contact and supporter who is passionate about independent advice and happy to promote it publicly.

“The winner of the year’s award is passionate about helping people and promotes non-conflicted advice via his roles as an adviser, author and speaker – and not to mention being very active on social media,” said ifa editor Alice Uribe.
“The recipient is a thought leader, actively involved in community endeavours and helps small business owners, professionals, retirees and charitable foundations safeguard their financial future.”

The winner of this award, Charles Badenach of Main Street Financial Solutions, was unable to attend the ifa Excellence Awards. However, he delivered his acceptance speech in a video, which was played at the event.

“Thank you very much for the award. It’s an amazing honour. It was something I didn’t expect,” Mr Badenach said.
“I’d like to thank ifa for recognising the importance of independent and non-aligned financial advice. We think we have a big role to play going forward in the industry.”

Anthony Vaiente of Fitzpatricks Financial Group, the licensee for Main Street Financial Solutions, accepted the award on Mr Badenach’s behalf.


This award recognises the individual who demonstrated a commitment to the growth of the practice through successful delivery of customer service.
WINNER Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth

Servicing and helping clients is what financial advisers do best. Providing valuable knowledge and guidance to ensure that their clients’ goals are met, advisers put in hours of hard work to ensure the best outcomes are achieved.

VISIS Private Wealth’s Chris Smith, who won this year’s Best Client Servicing award, was acknowledged for precisely that. Judges found that Mr Smith runs a sustainable and profitable advice practice through the successful delivery of the business’ customer service proposition.

“In our industry, clients are always first and most important,” Mr Smith said.
“I think the award is largely in recognition of the performance of our staff. It starts at reception, it goes all the way through the adviser, the support staff, para-planners, associate advisers, through to our general management.”

Ben Nash, Successful Ways
Cara Brett, Bounce Financial
Glenn Fairbairn, Hewison Private Wealth
Grant Dougan, VISIS Private Wealth
Ravi Agarwal, Mediq Financial Services


This award recognises the company that has a strong value proposition and demonstrated their commitment to clients’ needs.
WINNER Modoras Financial Performance Solutions

FOR 30 YEARS, family-run Modoras Financial Performance Solutions has helped individuals and businesses achieve their financial goals. The company’s level of client engagement and satisfaction are among the reasons Modoras won this year’s Best Client Servicing – Company title.

“We believe that if we service clients really well, we give them the expectation of what to expect from us and we deliver that expectation – that’s the key factor,” Modoras Financial Performance Solutions’ Peter Sarai said.

The judges found that Modoras demonstrated a commitment to understanding the company’s clients’ needs through emphasis on training staff in relation to client servicing. Mr Sarai said he also looks for similar values on hiring.
“Most of the staff are home-grown staff but we have staff from every different industry. We look for a can-do attitude,” he said.

Akambo Private Wealth
VISIS Private Wealth
LIFE Financial Planners
Jensen Financial Planning
Mediq Financial Services


This award recognises the individual who has implemented groundbreaking and innovative solutions within their practice.
WINNER Philippa Sheehan, MyPlanner Australia

Innovation is an essential part of finding success in the challenging financial advice marketplace.
The winner of this year’s Innovator of the Year Award, MyPlanner Australia’s Philippa Sheehan, said the driving force behind the innovation she leads is the advisers within her network.

Ms Sheehan said that with all the ideas advisers within her network come up with, the best thing she can do is support those ideas.

“I think the most important thing that we have done is listen to our financial advisers and their clients [concerning] what they are really looking for in support to provide the best front-end customer experience,” Ms Sheehan said.
“As a licensee our role is to develop the tools they need to help them and that is what we have done.”

Commenting on the notion that some advisers may be against the idea of innovating, or think it too costly, Ms Sheehan said there are some “really good people” across Australia and overseas who can help make those ideas a reality.

Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth


This award recognises company practice that has demonstrated the ability to capitalise on technologies and strategies to strengthen a client-centric approach.
WINNER Infocus Wealth Management

With innovation essential to the growth of the advice market, Infocus Wealth Management is no stranger to revamping its systems. It is what led to the company’s winning this year’s Innovator of the Year – Company award.
Infocus Wealth Management demonstrated the ability to capitalise on technologies and strategies to strengthen the company’s client-centric approach. At the same time, Infocus has simplified adviser education to maximise potential growth.

On receiving the award, Infocus managing director Rod Bristow said the company had invested substantially in technology to help its advisers increase revenue, increase efficiency and manage risk.

“Most of the drive for innovation comes from helping our advisers run better businesses,” Mr Bristow said.
Infocus recently upgraded its proprietary CRM software PlatformPlus to allow for online client opt-in. “This not only makes the advisers’ business more efficient, but increases engagement and trust between clients and their adviser,” he said.

Akambo Private Wealth
Wealth Enhancers
Advice Evolution
GPS Wealth


This award recognises the individual who reflects expert knowledge in markets and asset allocation and has a methodical approach to investments.
WINNER Cameron Howlett, Moran Howlett Financial Planning

While soft skills are key to delivering great service and engaging clients, technical investment expertise is also essential. Moran Howlett Financial Planning’s Cameron Howlett was recognised for precisely that.

Winning Investment Adviser of the Year, Mr Howlett was acknowledged for his expertise in financial markets. Moving to provide managed discretionary account (MDA) services has been the biggest driver of his being able to help his clients.
“[Using MDAs] allows us to make sure every single client has the right stocks, the right managed funds, the right term deposits and the right bonds in their portfolio, whereas in the past we weren’t able to provide that service,” he said.

“Probably about 18 months or so ago we entered into that structure – it has been great for us, but most of all it has been great for our clients.”

Andrew Zbik, Omniwealth
Chris Willaton, Akambo Private Wealth
David Lane, Pitcher Partners Wealth Management
James Walker-Powell, More4Life Financial Services
Nathan Lear, Hewison Private Wealth


This award recognises the practitioner who has successfully embarked on a diversification strategy to bring multiple disciplines to advice provision.
WINNER Ravi Agarwal, Mediq Financial Services

Claiming s second award for the day, Mediq Financial Services’ Ravi Agarwal also took out the title of Multi-Service Practitioner of the Year.

Having claimed Practice Principal of the Year for the second year running, Mr Agarwal has continued to prove that not only can he lead a business, he can also provide multiple services to his clients.

With convergence in financial services increasing, Mr Agarwal has shown he both considers the delivery of best practice advice and the diversity of client solutions, aptitude and acumen to build a successful advice business.
Receiving the award on Mr Agarwal’s behalf was Mediq Financial Services general manager Nick Argyriou, who said providing holistic services with key specialists was the best move for the company.

“Ravi, the principal of the business, he is like the conductor. His role is to basically deliver the holistic advice via our specialist subject experts,” he said.

Candice Wootton, Chess Wealth Partners
Chris Smith, VISIS Private Wealth
Jason Atkins, Roskow Independent Advisory
Nowaki McQueen-Tokita, McQueen Group
Paul Dunn, Meridian Wealth Management



ifa Excellence Awards 2015-Recognising independent achievement
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