Ensuring excellence in financial planning

10 November 2020 Gareth Stokes

One of the highlights from the Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa (FPI) 2020 Annual Convention, held 28-29 October, was the announcement of the 2020 FPI Financial Planner of the Year Award. The accolade went to Hester van der Merwe CFP®, financial planner and Key Individual at Ultima Financial Planners, who saw off tough competition from finalists Henri Le Grange, a planner at Old Mutual SA and Johan Swart of PPW Associates. FAnews put some questions to Hester to find out more about the CFP® designation, the role of the FPI, the value of financial planning and, of course, the recognition that goes with her achievement.

An amazing journey

We started the interview by congratulating Hester on her success in the 2020 competition and asking what the award meant to her and to her practice. “Winning the award is a huge honour that presents such a unique growth opportunity; it was an amazing journey from the time I entered up until the announcement of the winner,” she said. Hester is the third winner to emerge from the Ultima Financial Planners business, following in the footsteps of Gerrit Viljoen, who won in 2003 and Jan-Carel Botha, who won in 2012. Botha has since moved to Citadel Investment Services. 

Much of the 2020 judging process took place in the virtual world. We asked Hester about some of the unique challenges in impressing the judges ‘from afar’. “The format of the selection process forced me to think differently; by the time the panel discussions took place I was quite used to working with MS Teams, which was the new way we did everything, so the interviews worked very well,” she said. It is important for financial planners to respond creatively to new challenges. Hester created an informal welcome video to give the judging panel a ‘feel’ for how new clients experienced their first interactions with the practice. 

The importance of a supportive practice and the value of teamwork emerged strongly during the 2020 awards selection process. “You need the infrastructure in the practice and the support of a team to perform at your best; we each have our strong and weak points and a well-balanced team frees you up to play to your strengths,” said Hester. A practice is also critical in addressing clients’ concerns over the continuity of advice as it allows them to transact with an individual financial planner confident that their financial affairs will be looked after on an ongoing basis. Another important realisation is the positive impact that the CFP® designation and support of a professional institute has on the financial planning process. 

Pro-consumer financial advice outcomes

“There is immense value in the CFP® mark and I am proud to be a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® practitioner,” said Hester. “The FPI does amazing work in maintaining the stringent requirements for a person to become a CFP®; they have changed the image of the financial planner to that of a professional , doing good… We are all bound by the framework set out in the FPI Code of Ethics and Practice Standards: Incorporating the FPI Rules of Professional Conduct”. The challenge to the broader advice profession is to raise awareness among financial consumers of the efforts being made, often behind the scenes, to ensure pro-consumer financial advice outcomes. This explains why one of Hester’s favourite FPI activities is the annual financial planning week, which encourages planners and practices to actively participate in spreading the good word about financial advice to their broader communities. 

It is imperative to encourage newcomers to join this exciting profession. We asked Hester if she had any advice for recent graduates or school leavers who were keen on becoming financial advisers. “Young people considering this profession should not hesitate; it is great profession that allows you to add value to people’s lives by proper lifestyle financial planning,” she said. Hester suggested that graduates should not settle for anything less than the CFP® designation: “It would be great if everybody in the profession could attain this standard; it is not an easy journey but the immense responsibility that rests on the shoulders of a financial planner justifies the effort”. 

An ongoing commitment to development

Attaining one’s CFP® is just the first step in an ongoing commitment to giving excellent financial advice and the judging panel for the FPI Financial Planner of the Year Award go to lengths to interrogate participants on their knowledge of industry and the regulatory environment. We asked Hester about the requirement for continuous professional development (CPD) and the need for financial planners to stay up to date on legislative changes and changes to the products they give advice on. “The information overload can be overwhelming if you do not manage it properly,” she said, before adding that financial planners had to stay informed to do their jobs properly. Some tips to stay ahead of the game include focussing the hours spent on earning your CPD points in the right areas and investing, where necessary, in formal training. 

What does it take to win FPI Financial Planner of the Year Award? According to Hester you need to be well-prepared and remain positive throughout: “This is not a ‘throw your name in the hat and wait for a chance to win competition’; you must put in the hours and the hard work and be pushed out of your comfort zone constantly”. Winning the Financial Planner of the Year Award allows financial planners to speak form a position of authority. 

Acknowledging challenges; accepting trends

“It is great to sit in front of a client and know I have been brave enough to enter this race and run it to the end,” concluded Hester. “This award gives me a platform from which to tackle subjects that are close to my heart”. Hester hopes to leverage her 2020 award to raise awareness about women empowerment in financial planning and the application of technology in ensuring the integrity of the broader financial services industry. 

Writer’s thoughts:
South Africa’s financial planners face plenty of obstacles in rising to the top ranks of this competitive profession. FAnews would like to applaud the many planners and practices that go the extra mile in proving their financial advice excellence by participating in this tough award process. And we would like to ask: Do you think you have what it takes to win the FPI Financial Planner of the Year Award in 2021? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email us your thoughts [email protected].

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