What’s been lost in the FASEA conversation?

Alex Burke,  Senior Writer,  No More Practice Education

Australian Unity adviser Brad Fensom’s path into financial advice was driven by personal experience: he realised many people weren’t saving properly, and when they were their money could be mismanaged. In this chat, he discusses his journey to success, the benefits of working with Australian Unity and the challenges of FASEA.

So, how did you get your start in advice?

I worked within a union-based industry fund in the ‘90s. After three years there, I had a lot of frustration with the way they treated their clients. It was the catalyst for me thinking, “There’s gotta be a better way to do this.” And that’s where the seed was planted.

What did you start thinking about?

Well, my parents retired in the mid-‘90s, and this was pre-compulsory superannuation. They were self-employed, never provisioned for their super, lived week to week. They were dependent on the government welfare system, and I really saw firsthand the quality of life someone led being constrained by the Age Pension. It was like an economics and finance class of what not to do.

That was burned in my mind. I was talking to a friend of mine, coming home from work and thinking, “This is ridiculous. There’s millions of dollars in contributions being poorly managed.” We talked about it and eventually opened our doors as an advice business. Australian Unity took us on board with zero clients.

How did you build up a client base?

It took us two-and-a-half years to find our feet and build a good revenue stream. We didn’t have any referrals in place, but it was a great learning experience. We built up the business, then the GFC happened, which taught me more than a textbook could ever teach me.

Fortunately, we were a smaller practice at the time, but I do think the GFC really brought to light the ethical and compliance side of doing business in our industry.

What did the GFC bring to the fore?

There’s got to be a very clear-cut way to provide advice and put a safety net around the clients. The legislative framework probably wasn’t in place in the industry, but the GFC brought it front of mind. Despite that horrific experience, we were quite in agreement with a lot of the reforms. They were needed.

What have been the benefits of working with Australian Unity?

There was a point where I looked at being self-licensed. But these guys are a really ethical, compliant brand. They’re very careful with the steps they take and it takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders. They’ve got the back-end covered. I sleep well at night.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My foundation as corporate super when we started but my expertise evolved to holistic personal advice and I found I was enjoying it – I enjoyed doing it at a one-on-one level. We now have 400 clients from all walks of life –  no bias.

I go from blue collar to CEOs; I really love going from sitting in a truck to sitting in a boardroom. Your language can change – you can probably be a little bit more liberal with your choice of words in the morning meeting! – but if you’re psychologically in tune with each client, you can cater your discussion to those idiosyncrasies and I enjoy that just as much as the actual financial advice. The psychology of it, I think, plays a part in the actual advice.

It’s fun. I’m waiting to get bored of it. My team is fun and very smart too, and we all enjoy the personal aspect of the advice we give our clients.

How are you coping with the FASEA reforms?

It is what it is. We can’t directly impact the decision-making process. Sure, I have opinions on it – I do think a wealth of experience has to carry some weight, but at the end of the day, a small proportion of the industry hasn’t done the right thing. We have a draft plan of attack in place so we know what we need to do. Plus, Australian Unity has been providing pathways.

Ultimately, I don’t have a problem with it. I came into the industry when people sat for four subjects and then got licensed. I became a good adviser, and I know I am one. I can hold my own, and I think running a successful business with over 400 happy clients shows we know what we are doing.  But I can’t do anything about it, and I value my license, I value the benefit I provide to our clients. It’s gonna kill me to study again, though!

Thanks for your time, Brad.

If you need some guidance on finding your FASEA pathway, you can head here.

The opinions expressed in this content are those of the author shown, and do not necessarily represent those of No More Practice Education Pty Ltd or its related entities. All content is intended for a professional financial adviser audience only and does not constitute financial advice. To view our full terms and conditions, click here.

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