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Financial planning is not just about numbers

12 August 2019 Jonathan Faurie
Hardi Swart

Hardi Swart

Financial planning plays an important role in the financial services industry as it introduces clients to a more disciplined approach to saving and helps them realise their financial goals.

At the recently held 2019 Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa (FPI) Convention, Hardi Swart CFP – MD of Autus Private Clients – was named the 2019 Financial Planner of the Year. In an exclusive interview with FAnews, Swart reflected on his journey towards becoming a certified financial planner (CFP) and the valuable lessons that shaped his investment philosophy. 

A lot of people end up in the insurance and financial planning industry by circumstance. What prompted you to become a financial planner?

I was born in Naboomspruit and was privileged to grow up on a farm with a loving family. 

My father was an entrepreneur and successful businessman; he taught me business principles from a young age. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was young. After his passing, we managed the farm and businesses for a couple of years until we eventually decided to move to Stellenbosch. 

Growing up with no knowledge of investments, I was very naive and did not know where to go or what to do with the money we made from the sale of the farm. We consulted a local broker who provided us with poor advice, and we ended up investing the bulk of our assets in a property syndication scheme where we lost a lot of money. 

What we learned afterwards, was that the broker earned excessive upfront commission on the transaction and that he was never acting in our best interest. For me, it was a tough but very valuable lesson to learn at a young age. It was also this event that started my interest in family wealth planning and eventually the reason why I became a financial planner. 

What are some of the key learnings that you have gained throughout your professional career?

The biggest lessons I have learned can be summarized as follows: 

- Don’t procrastinate, don’t put off what you could do today until tomorrow. My father did not care much for financial planning. He had no life cover and had an outdated will when he was killed in an accident. My mother had to work two jobs to make ends meet. 

- Always put your client’s best interest first. After my father’s passing, our family engaged a broker who was more concerned with selling products than serving our best interests. I believe as a financial planner it is imperative to put our clients first. 

- Our biggest wealth is the people we love and our families. Recently my wife and I came close to losing one of our twin daughters during my wife’s pregnancy. We had to make some tough decisions about the risks to their lives and when to deliver them. This traumatic event made me realize that I would give up all the wealth in the world for my family. As financial planners, we need to remember that financial planning is not just about numbers but also about people. 

- Part of our value proposition is the journey we take with clients. In financial planning, good advice will help you plan for a savings event, death, disability and retirement, but the real value proposition of financial planning is the journey we go on with our clients. 

Tell us more about the journey that you undertook to win the title of 2019 Financial Planner of the Year.

After I entered the competition the first time in 2015 and realized that there were a lot of aspects of the financial planning process that Autus could improve on, we spent a lot of time on our internal processes and also on hiring strong candidates to improve our overall value proposition. 

The competition consists of three rounds, and we spent a lot of time preparing for each round. 

Round one: As a team, we spent a lot of time researching different reports, structures and customer relationship management (CRM) systems that could help with data catching and compiling our reports. This was a back and forth process to also get feedback from clients regarding what format is the most user-friendly and understandable for them. 

Round two: Over the past couple of years, we have built a strong team. Every team member has a specific role within the organization. 

We have a dedicated internal compliance officer who spends the majority of her time with compliance training and implementation. 

We also have a dedicated practice manager who implements and monitors business processes and policies. 

As a key individual, I oversee all these different individuals, but I also realize that I cannot do everything on my own. I am privileged to have a great team and to be part of an established practice. 

Round three: To be prepared for this round I read a lot of industry publications and attended different Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events. We also encouraged a learning atmosphere within our organization where we regularly have a session where we debate relevant industry topics. 

I also believe it is important to be yourself, and I shared my own experience of why I became a financial planner. 

A pressing need
While the South African economy is struggling, the public is battling to make end meet. The country’s relationship with savings and debt needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Reports show that South Africans spend between 75 and 85 cents of every rand on servicing debt, and the number of South Africans who are able to retire with peace of mind is dwindling every day. 

This once again highlights the need for professional advice in an environment where clients need the helping hand of a professional who can guide them towards a better financial future.  

Editor’s Thoughts:
As much as the investment industry is about financial growth, clients invest in stories. Hardi’s industry journey is one of sacrifice and learning. Do you share your stories with your clients? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts jonathan@fanews.co.za.

Comments

Added by old timer, 27 Aug 2019
You can only put clients first if you are an independent broker. If you work for one of the insurance companies or financial institutions you will be pressured into selling. Discovery in particular are known for a sell or be fired philosophy. Until this culture is addressed by legislation the client's interests will never be put first and the industry will continue to earn itself a bad name.
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