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Professional advice practices put their clients first

09 December 2020 Gareth Stokes

The Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa (FPI) has upped the ante for financial planning practices with the introduction of a FPI Professional Practice of the Year Award alongside its cherished Financial Planner of the Year accolade. BDO Wealth Advisers scooped the inaugural award at a presentation held following the first day of the FPI 2020 Annual Convention. FAnews spoke to Ricardo Teixeira, CFP® and Chief Operating Officer at BDO Wealth Advisers, to find out how the practice scooped the prize from the other finalists, Chartered Wealth and Crue Invest.

Gareth Stokes: What does it mean for a practice to emerge victorious in the FPI Professional Practice of the Year Award and what do you take from the experience? 

Ricardo Teixeira: Our association with the BDO South Africa and BDO Global brand creates an expectation that we deliver quality products and services to a professional standard. This award is a credible endorsement and acknowledgement of the professional standards adopted by BDO Wealth Advisers. It is only over the last five to 10 years that financial planners have started emerging as professionals, something that can be attributed to the FPI’s ongoing initiatives to introduce an approved professional practice brand as well as consumer awareness of dealing with a professional financial planner. This award will go a long way to further raising consumer awareness of the benefit of professional financial planning. 

Gareth: Is there anything that a practice can do to prepare for these awards, or do you rely on the processes you have developed in the practice over the years? 

Ricardo: Being a professional planner is not a once-off project, it has definitely been a journey. In 2016 BDO Wealth Advisers received the FPI Approved Professional Practice TM. Today, there are 14 financial planning practices in SA that have received this trademark and it was only these financial planning practices that could enter the competition. When I reflect back on the past 4 years, we have definitely made continuous incremental improvements to deliver a professional level of service to our clients that truly differentiates us from our peers. 

Gareth: What were some of the highlights from the FPI’s 2020 Professional Practice of the Year adjudication process? And could you share some of the lessons learned? 

Ricardo: As we went through the adjudication process, it became apparent that we had to open up our business to scrutiny. The detail that accompanied every level of judging forced us to reflect on every aspect of the business. Although a gruelling experience, we emerged from the process with an appreciation for those incremental and ongoing improvements I mentioned previously. Three aspects of our business stood out for as being noteworthy. Firstly, the depth and breadth of skills we have within our business and how each person plays a role in delivering the professional experience. As a result of our depth of skills, we are able to guide a family and help them across a number of professional service areas. Another realisation from the adjudication process was that our participation in fostering consumer awareness and raising the conversation around financial planning is a cornerstone of being a professional. It is not just about advising your clients and helping them get the right solutions; but about how we talk about financial planning to all South Africans. Lastly, we have been actively engaged with University of Johannesburg in promoting a career in professional financial planning. This led us to develop the BDO Financial Planner Trainee Programme, a two year practical training programme for graduates to achieve their CFP® designation. 

Gareth: Teamwork is held up as an important success factor for modern day financial advice practices. Could you comment on how teamwork helps you to deliver better value to your clients? 

Ricardo: The adjudication process reaffirmed how important teamwork is. Each of our clients is assigned a lead financial planner who ‘owns’ the relationships with that client; but the lead financial planner is supported by any number of professionals, depending on client needs. We are able to provide our clients access to a range of professional services from the BDO Wealth Advisory team or within the larger BDO South Africa group. Adopting this approach has helped us help our clients address all their personal and business wealth and financial needs through a single professional team. We do not go to market positioning ourselves as a high-end family office or only looking at certain client segments. We deal with all South Africans who want to take advice and accept the BDO fee for service. 

Gareth: Did the FPI’s adjudication process touch on some of the challenges that the South African financial planning industry faces, most notably the topics of access to and affordability of advice and transformation? 

Ricardo: There was certainly a focus on transformation within our business. We have begun our transformation journey through our recruitment process, by making sure that when we recruit, we do so to represent the demographic of the country. We also employ young graduates through our Financial Planner Trainee programme to enter the industry and find their place as CFP® professionals. Preference is given to employment equity candidates. Our client portfolio though is not yet fully representative of the SA demographic. There is still a long way to go to increase the reach of having the financial planning conversation with families of all races and ethnicities across the country as our clients. 

As a profession, and as professional planners, we must be mindful of stereotyping financial planning as an exclusive service offering. Financial planning must help all South Africans to make good ‘money’ decisions. And that is a challenge. There are a lot of potential clients who cannot afford to pay professional fees, this is where a pro bono advisory work or complementary financial planning consultations can go a long way to educating a wider spectrum of people about the habits of good financial planning. The solution is not so much about having every South African as a financial planning client; but one of raising awareness of good financial behaviours, establishing those behaviours, and pointing people in the right direction. At the very least we should educate consumers to achieve basic financial objectives that they can do on their own. 

Gareth: In closing, how does a professional practice add value to their clients as they work towards ensuring sustainable long term financial outcomes? 

Ricardo: Financial planning is seen by individuals in a number of ways. It is often looked at as helping with an investment or with a single-need financial transaction. It can also be looked at in terms of solving a broader problem set, such as do I have enough money? These are all aspects of financial planning. The value we offer lies in establishing the right financial behaviours in our clients. At BDO Wealth Advisers we anchor our value on guiding our clients on their financial planning journey through life. We want to make sure that our clients are held accountable for the actions they need to take in order to achieve their goals. Our value is in being a guide for our clients, being a voice of reason, and holding up a mirror to remind them what they need to do to life the life they want. 

Writer’s thoughts:
There is no question that financial planners, and the broader financial planning discipline, have adopted professionalism as a core characteristic. The CFP® designation is recognised as the ‘must have’ mark for individual financial planners; but there is now a pathway for a practice to emerge ahead of the competition in the professionalism stakes. Have you considered elevating your practice to FPI Approved Professional Practice TM status? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email us your thoughts [email protected].

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