A boom in financial planning and wealth management has created many new business opportunities, and the importance of customising client plans has opened a new avenue for entrepreneurs mapping their own course in global finance.
Robbie Bennetts, CEO of Professional Investment Services Pty Ltd (PIS), left retirement in order to enter financial planning. In 1985, aged only 32, he had already been retired for two years following the sale of three of his successful businesses when an accountant friend suggested he pursue a career in the financial planning business. "I didn't know anything about financial planning but I did know how to run a business," Mr Bennetts says, adding, "Back then, the financial planning industry was still in its infancy."
Upon re-entering the workforce, Mr Bennetts became a certified financial planner. In this role he collected client data and cooperated with accountants, customising clients' financial plans. He says that this data collection strategy was a different concept from traditional banking operations at the time.
In 1988, Mr Bennetts transferred to his friend's company and took on a development role. Until 1995 he served as a liaison, introducing financial advisors, accountants and financial planning firms to each other. The following year, Mr Bennetts founded PIS. "I had to learn very quickly because it was only me, three staff, five financial planners and seven partners of accounting firms," he says.
Currently the company's Australian network alone includes 1,440 financial planners, 1,200 partners of accounting firms, 200 salaried staff and 8,000 referral accountants, serving more than 600,000 clients in Australia. The company also operates in Canada, China, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand with US$15 billion of funds under advice.
Traditional banks and financial services, Mr Bennetts says, face a conflict of interests when advising clients because they serve their clients while promoting company brands. Yet, often a competing product might better serve clients' needs. PIS sidesteps this conflict by acting as a broker, searching for financial products from banks and services worldwide to create the optimal mix for its clients.
In April 2007, the company acquired Horwath Financial Services Ltd, which is now PIS's representative office in Hong Kong.
"Do it professionally and ethically and at the end of the day we'll make good money"
Mr Bennetts, a past winner of the Ernst & Young North Australian Entrepreneur of the Year award, as well as the 2004 Russell Award for Global Innovation, is responsible for PIS globally — a role he finds suits him. He is particularly involved in strategic planning and believes new ideas are what keep the company profitable.
Today, Mr Bennetts maintains a busy schedule. He worked 45 weekends last year, making 20 business trips overseas and 40 within Australia. He's in the office by 8am and usually doesn't get home to his wife and two daughters until nearly 7pm.
At the office he greets employees by name every morning and finds that teamwork and a flat management structure serve his business well. By regularly checking in with employees he reduces the number of company meetings and stays in touch with day-to-day operations. "I go to work because I want to," he says. "I enjoy helping people grow and being a part of their success."
According to Mr Bennetts, becoming a certified financial planner is the first step in entering the financial planning field. It is a good idea for individuals who haven't yet achieved certification to seek a job that puts them in a financial planning environment in the meantime. After initial certification and licensing, Mr Bennetts suggests, "Look for an organisation that can take you forward as a professional, not just as a sales person."
He stresses the importance of people skills, networking ability and self-confidence for anyone interested in a financial planning career. "Education is important. The next most important thing is attitude. Without the right attitude you won't be successful in this business. You have to want to be successful," he explains.
Uncompromising ethics are also imperative to build success, he says. This aligns with his motto: "Do it professionally and ethically and at the end of the day we'll make good money." Other essentials are compliance and the ability to deliver the right type of convincing advice to the client.
Mr Bennetts believes a shift is on the horizon in the local industry: from product-driven to advice-driven sales. "The Hong Kong financial planning industry is still largely based on product-driven sales," Mr Bennetts says, "But people coming out of university don't want to push products. They want to be seen on the same level as a lawyer — a professional. This shift is never complete in any country but it will give consumers more options."