Eugene Ardino, CEO of one of Australia’s largest privately owned financial advice licensees, Lifespan Financial Planning, shares the story of why he became a financial planner, what he loves about his career and his views on the findings of the Royal Commission.
My father, John Ardino, founded Lifespan Financial Planning in 1994. We now provide licensee services to more than 180 advisers with several $ Bil in funds under management.
It wasn’t a forgone conclusion that I would follow my father into the business. When I was younger I was always interested in the investment side of things and dealing with financial instruments generally. I used to come into the office in school holidays to assist with basic administration. After completing a degree in science with a major in mathematics, I eventually decided to take the plunge into financial planning. I started out as a business analyst, soon after that I became a qualified adviser and then spent a large amount of time in the compliance area, and I’ve never looked back.
But my father is a great mentor. I knew that I couldn’t go wrong if I entered the industry with him in my corner. He is still executive chairman of Lifespan and plays an active role in the business.
I suppose I had the right temperament for the industry in that I always liked dealing with people and hearing their stories. But my father taught me some simple but invaluable lessons about the delivery of financial planning that I still benefit from to this day.
The first was around the importance of communication in building trust with clients. The way in which you communicate sets the tone for everything else. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say that you’ll go away and do some research, rather than just shooting from the hip.
Clients will understand that you’re only human and won’t necessarily have the answer to every one of their questions. What they won’t appreciate is if you are not genuine with them. They will sense that more easily than you think.
But the importance of listening was definitely the most important lesson passed on by my father. If you never truly listen to what clients’ financial goals are, you’ll never truly be able to deliver these.
My father always said that in the first meeting with a client, they should do 80% of the talking. You should listen, rather than telling them what you think is important, because what is important is different for everyone.
As we have seen in the Royal Commission, reputation is everything in the financial advice industry. You can’t be successful in this business without a good reputation. We’re extremely proud of the reputation we have and work hard to maintain it. As we grow, we remain very conscious of not losing the soul of the business which is about placing client needs at the core of everything we do.
What keeps you interested in the business? What do you like about what you do?
I like the energy of it. I’m not the kind of person who thrives on routine – quite the opposite, in fact. I love that the industry is constantly changing and as licensees, we’re having to constantly evolve, adapt and innovate.
Year-on-year you can see that you’re making a positive difference to your clients’ lives. Often that’s through successive generations of a family. You go through everything with them – marriage, divorce, buying a house etc.
Engaging younger generations can be challenging but if parents are open to sharing financial information with their children, that definitely makes a difference. I’ve found that the families that are most engaged are those where the parents bring in the kids and include them in the conversation.
I really enjoy the interaction I have with industry participants and clients some of whom are now friends. I get a lot of satisfaction out of the client interaction.
As CEO I have lot of other responsibilities, but one of the main reasons I still see clients, apart from the fact that I enjoy it and find it rewarding, is that it keeps me in touch with what our advisers do on a day to day basis. It also allows me to keep abreast of how the needs of consumers change, which you can only really experience if you are meeting face-to-face with clients. I think I’m a much better CEO for having that client interation, although many executives do disagree with me.
The advice industry is still quite young, so looking for ways to improve the advice process, and introduce innovation, is also a passion for me. Whether that’s technological advancements in portfolio management, SOA generation or compliance, not just through software but through the use of instruments such as MDAs and other discretionary structures.
In any young industry it takes a long time to develop the best way of doing things. That creates an opportunity for people who are prepared to invest some time and thinking around new concepts and ideas.
I feel that we’ve had some success in this area, albeit with limited resources. We’ve done well with the MDA structures we’ve built. We’re also looking at better uses of technology for compliance and paraplanning.
Every time there’s change and new rules, not only do we have to learn them but we have to make sure that our advisers know them and we give them the tools to comply – and then we have to supervise and monitor them. It can be very frustrating and difficult at times but there is no opportunity without problems.
Going back before the GFC, everyone that gave financial advice was deemed to be doing a reasonable job because everything you invested in went up in value. You didn’t have to be a great adviser or fund manager in order to generate good returns for your clients. It’s only when things started to get difficult that some advisers were shown up and opportunities arose for those who did their jobs well.
The industry is now moving in the right direction but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels or we will just stagnate and cease to progress. Our team is always challenging each other and trying to improve.We’re certainly always looking at ways to grow the business but in a very measured way – never at all costs and never if it means compromising on our standards of client service.
As well as my father’s advice, I’ve had the benefit of being mentored by some of our more experienced advisers. We try to impart some of the knowledge we’ve gained to our younger advisers as well. And I learn from them too. Many of our Millennial advisers have some really interesting initiatives like using YouTube videos to engage clients. This form of communication is perfectly natural to these ‘digital natives’.
Our mentoring is not always structured – it’s primarily about always being available to pass on my experience and what I have learned from others, in helping them improve their businesses and themselves professionally.
Ultimately, I think the keys to success in this industry are really listening to what your clients’ goals are, developing an understanding of what you’re good at and knowing when to bring in expertise to do the rest.