Positive reinforcement

Financial advisers should look to the Dalai Lama, not Kim Jong-un. 

Australia’s financial planners are under siege… again.

Our profession has endured constant onslaughts from governments, regulators and media who seem, at times, to treat financial planning as a rogue state on par with North Korea.

And after years of constant conflict it’s not surprising that many financial planners are questioning their career choice.

We didn’t sign up for this.

Most advisers entered the profession with a mission to help everyday Australians better organise their financial affairs, not to be forever ducking the slings and arrows of ASIC inquiries or media muckrakers.


We should not dodge the fact that over the years some financial planners have abused their positions of trust, which rightfully deserves to be blasted by regulators and media alike.

Yet the overwhelming majority of advisers operate within the rules and above minimum standards in their efforts to deliver quality service to clients.

In fact, inside the regulatory barricades, the financial advisory profession has never been so competent, compliant and transparent.

Naturally, many financial planners are angry that the public image of advice does not square with the everyday truth they experience in guiding Australians to better financial and lifestyle outcomes.

There is a strong temptation to retaliate in kind against the government, regulators and press that have launched such indiscriminate assaults on the integrity of our profession.

But just because certain parties might treat us like North Korea, doesn’t mean we have to act like North Korea.

We have little to gain as an industry by firing missiles in the general direction of ASIC; nor threatening media organisations with legal invasions.

If Kim Jong-un is not our behavioural role model, though, where should financial advisers look for guidance on how to thrive in the face of negative external forces?

Perhaps the Dalai Lama can provide a better alternative for how Australia’s financial advisers should react to the constant barrage of attacks.

In a message to the Tibetan people in 2008 as Chinese military ramped up action in his home country (from which he has been exiled since 1959), the Dalai Lama advocated for calm as violence erupted.

“We should not engage in any action that could be even remotely interpreted as violent,” the Dalai Lama said. “Even under the most provocative of situations we must not allow our most precious and deeply held values to be compromised.”

Of course, there is a big difference between having the integrity of your profession questioned and seeing your people imprisoned (or worse), but the Dalai Lama’s principles apply equally to both situations.

In my view, the best way financial advisers can break through the wall of negativity is by staying true to our “most precious and deeply held values” and communicating the good work we do as often as possible.

And the core value of professional financial advisers is that we always put the client first. All of us know, and can provide any number of examples, that the work we do makes concrete improvements to the lives of the people we advise.

Let’s hold those examples always in our minds rather than the latest scandalous headline or ASIC ‘guidance note’.

We cannot afford for advisers to lose enthusiasm for their clients and profession. If our best-and-brightest lose the passion for their work both their own clients and the industry at large will suffer.

So rather than wasting all our energy fending off those attacking the reputation of the profession, we need to direct it towards raising the morale of those of us fighting the good fight every day in the trenches for our clients.

Advisers need to share the stories of our client successes both to remind us veterans why we continue and to inspire those who are looking to join the industry.

I encourage you to remember the great work you do and understand that there are a number of players in our industry who make our job difficult for a whole raft of reasons.

We will probably always have to confront misguided external attacks on our profession; but if we band together around our positive strengths, financial advice can be impregnable.

Philippa Sheehan is managing director of MyPlanner Professional. She was named Dealer Group Executive of the Year at the ifa Excellence Awards 2017. 

Positive reinforcement
philippa sheehan
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