Changing abilities

William Johns reveals to ifa what drives his passion for helping people with disability through financial advice.

For William Johns, an intricate link exists between health and wealth. So it comes as no surprise that his practice, aptly named Health & Finance Integrated, consists of a team possessing skills and qualifications spanning medicine, nursing and law, as well as financial planning.

All of these skills are required to cater for the financial needs of clients with a disability, where things such as Centrelink planning, estate planning and aged care transitioning “become a big deal”, according to Mr Johns.

He says a big part of it is moving away from product advice and towards fee-for-service advice that goes beyond the traditional financial planning conversation. “These are not your typical financial planning conversations where you’re focusing on risk, superannuation and investments,” Mr Johns says. “It’s not about wealth creation. It’s about wealth preservation and dignity.”

Mr Johns says this philosophy is drawn in large part from his own experiences growing up, which include war traumas as a child in Iraq, a family member being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and a personal experience with Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, a pain affecting the knees in young adolescents (commonly known as “growing pain”).

However, it was through an encounter with Centrelink while studying, when he found out that he and his family qualified for benefits that they previously did not know about, that he spurned accounting to pursue financial planning at the University of Western Sydney.

“I found a very practical way to look after myself and my family via financial planning strategies, to become eligible for payments and stuff like that and I changed my degree because of it,” Mr Johns says.

“I changed from accounting, which is backward-looking, to financial planning, which is a more forward-looking and engaging profession that has profound impact.”

Unique challenges

Mr Johns says three key challenges exist when handling the financial needs of clients who have disabilities.

The first two revolve around being on top of Centrelink and superannuation legislation. Good advisers usually need a combination of soft and hard skills, but Mr Johns says he needs “to be 100 per cent” on hard skills as he can’t afford to get anything wrong.

“You need to know the Centrelink legislation like the back of your hand, which includes not just financial eligibility but medical eligibility as well,” he says. “For example, if you’re looking at a disability support pension, then you need to know the impairment tables and you need to be able to understand how Centrelink makes an assessment.

“The other thing that you have to know really well is the superannuation rules and laws, specifically around incapacity. That can be very complex because of the lack of synchronisation and understanding between superannuation funds.” The other challenge relates to investment risk, something Mr Johns says is often overlooked. “Even though you explain the investment risks to clients, it doesn’t mean that they are capable of undertaking that risk because of health reasons, so you need to factor in the health conditions before you invest money,” he says.

Personal advocacy

As an adviser, what Mr Johns is most proud of is that he can alleviate financial concerns and stress of clients with a disability, noting it can have “a profound impact on their health and wellbeing”.

“They go from very uncertain and very powerless about their future to ... feeling absolutely empowered and certain they have a plan that is flexible and tailored and will withstand changes in their health,” Mr Johns says.

“The game is flexibility and they know that, even if their health changes, then the planning will change and we have a back-up plan so they know that they are covered.” On top of being a financial adviser, Mr Johns has also been a major advocate for policy change relating to people with disabilities. For example, he is working with organisations such as the Summer Foundation to change legislation so young people are not placed into aged care facilities.

“You’re talking about 20,000 people,” Mr Johns says. “We sit down and look at housing legislation, Centrelink legislation, investments and superannuation and say, ‘OK, here are the issues of a young person going into aged care. Here is why it doesn’t work’.”

 

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