Proud to be an Adviser – Part three – Eugene Ardino

From

Eugene Ardino

Like everyone in the financial planning industry, I watched the Royal Commission with a mixture of dismay and incredulity. I am immensely proud of the industry and what it is seeking to do for all Australians. However, I have become increasingly concerned that the case studies of people being taken advantage of will prevent some of our best and brightest young people from walking in my footsteps.

Financial planning is a noble occupation, based on trust and integrity and one that I am proud to say my family has been involved with for two generations. My father, John Ardino, founded Lifespan Financial Planning in 1994. We now provide licensee services to more than 170 advisers with approximately $2 billion in funds under advice.

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 during school holidays to assist with basic administration. After completing a science degree 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 I then spent time working in the compliance area of the business.

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 business strategy.

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 you not being genuine with them. They will sense that more easily than you think.

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 and everyone’s situation is different.

A great example is how I used this approach to help a client who came from a mutual connection. She was in her mid-40s with large amounts of credit card debt and personal loans to fund a specific lifestyle.

She was single with no commitments, no dependants and no particular desire to build wealth for her retirement. However, she was starting to find herself in a pattern where income that came into her bank account left almost immediately – leaving her with no disposable income. She came in for advice to try to remedy this situation.

The relationship started with a rude awakening when we went through her spending habits. After countless discussions and listening sessions to understand her attitude to money, her circle of friends and the respective lifestyle she wanted to maintain, I came to understand how she got herself into this position.

The big win, and the start to the client’s financial journey, was her change of attitude and commitment to gaining control of her financial situation. Once this happened, we quickly put in place an action plan of cash flow management, negotiations with providers and a strategy to pay off outstanding debt. After two years she had cleared all her debt and after a further three years she had built up a deposit to put towards her first home. I got a lot of satisfaction out of helping this client to make such a significant life change.

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, 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. I think I’m a much better CEO for having that client interaction, although many executives do disagree with me.

Another reason why I love this industry is the opportunity it offers me to provide a sense of peace to those who need it. I remember when I was helping a client manage an insurance claim after he was diagnosed with a rare type of stomach cancer.

He was a middle-income tradesperson with a young family and a mortgage and bills to pay. On top of being worried about losing their loved one, the family was also deeply concerned about how they would pay their bills and debt if he did die.

Through persistence, I was able to get the insurance company to honour the claim and make full payment. The relief that the family felt on receiving trauma and income protection payments was enormous.

That enabled them to get top quality treatment without worrying about the cost. They were in a regional area so the money enabled them to fly to a capital city and have their loved one treated by the best specialist surgeon they could find. That client is now in his early 50s. He has completely finished treatment and he’s back at work.

A large component of our industry is focused on investment, which is very important, but there’s no darker time for someone than when they need their insurance to be triggered.

Another experience I look back on fondly was with a husband and wife client who had recently immigrated to Australia. Everything was still new to them, not to mention the financial system. They had some insurance still in place overseas, but they wanted to get cover in Australia.

The husband was diagnosed with ocular melanoma seven years before and had to have an eye removed. There had been no further symptoms since the operation. The big issue was to get cover for the male client with his history, but also because he was the breadwinner and had a young child.

Getting this cover was very important. It sounded like a simple task but when I started to speak to insurers, everyone said no. I kept working on it and speaking with the underwriting teams, and even the chief medical officer at times, until eventually an insurer was found that would give the client cover with an exclusion and loadings. As you can imagine the client was ecstatic.

These experiences have stuck with me over the years as they show that, as advisers, we really are in the privileged position of being able to make people’s lives better, often through successive generations of a family. This should not be forgotten when Royal Commission findings are remembered and when our young people make career choices.

By Eugene Ardino, CEO, Lifespan Financial Planning

 

Read more in the series:


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UniSuper Advice is operated by UniSuper Management Pty Ltd (ABN 91 006 961 799 AFSL 235 907) which administers UniSuper (ABN 91 385 943 850) on behalf of the trustee, UniSuper Ltd (ABN 54 006 027 121 AFSL 492 806).

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