Out of the Muay Thai ring, and into the financial planning fire

Current financial adviser, and former Muay Thai fighter, Ben Neilson decided nearly a decade ago that it was time to consider a career with a bit more 'longevity' and hasn't looked back since. There is a lot he loves about financial planning and through his PhD research hopes to improve the financial planning framework for the entire industry.


Current financial adviser, and former Muay Thai fighter, Ben Neilson decided nearly a decade ago that it was time to consider a career with a bit more 'longevity' and hasn't looked back since. There is a lot he loves about financial planning and through his PhD research hopes to improve the financial planning framework for the entire industry.

What has been the biggest change you've seen in the industry during your time?

We've seen an interesting shift to a significantly more collaborative perspective and stance. Years ago, it was every adviser for themselves, sharing and support didn't exist. The way was the way and it was shared, mostly from predecessors. That's all changed now, we can, and often do, pick up the phone at a drop of a hat to discuss case specifics or ideas for operational efficiencies from various peers, providers and associations.

We've been forced to rapidly evolve to remain compliant, often including additional regulatory stages and steps, and thus have creative ways in which to include [these things] appropriately whilst also staying relevant in the clients' eyes. We've made advice fast, and unquestionably more client focused, by removing the barriers that historically prevented it.

What changes do you expect to see in the future? And, what are you doing to prepare and adapt?

Speed, expected methods of delivery and total industry based amalgamation. We've already begun to see parts of this start - current generations won't wait 30 plus days for an SOA, nor should they. Printing and "presenting" large complex legal documents have their shelf life too. Amalgamation is natural attrition which we can expect to see increase as looming dates come nearer, advisers will dwindle, licensees will merge to reserve and share resources, products and providers will combine to retain market exposures. Components supporting these trends have already started - banks selling off segments, IOOF purchasing MLC, AMP selling to ResLife, Zurich buying OnePath, Sunsuper and QSuper merger .. the list goes on.

What we need to be wary about is our legal positions and ability to provide quality advice regardless of the noise. Adhering to the relevant codes whilst safeguarding our clients' needs requires complex skills and awareness. In an attempt to combat this, we have created a "Client Portal" where we can upload and assign digital signatures to relevant documents aimed at removing the time and location barriers to receiving advice. By doing so, we don't have the added expenses of constantly printing large documents and juggling schedules, we can upload the document immediately and assign a digital signature to their nominated mobile number, allowing advice to be provided faster with additional compliance safeguards. This has all been designed to provide advice faster, using a more client friendly method with the added ability to pass on the cost savings too.

How do you build your business, grow your client base? What has been particularly effective?

Good old-fashioned country word of mouth. We've only just started a Facebook page, never been in the yellow pages nor any other marketing material. We've always relied on the results and ability to guide clients appropriately and in turn they have referred clients and kept us afloat for almost a decade now. Their willingness to refer is a testament to our work and even now, we offer all sorts of services and await the client to be ready and willing to proceed. Recently we had a case and saw some clients, then they can back and we actioned the advice. Only difference was, it was three years (almost to the day) from when they first came into the office [but] the strategy was the same and still met their needs. People need guidance, but don't want to be pushed, if you give them what they need then they'll come back when they are ready. Gone are the days of high pressure sales tactics.

What is your point of difference in the market?

Our ability to offer a significantly streamlined advice process, because we have put so much effort into the daily operations, we can a) take on more clients than a "usual" office and b) charge less as the process is faster and uses less resources than any existing conventional offering. This is a powerful concept which often keeps the midnight oil burning trying to keep up with demand. Granted these abilities are highly sought after by those younger clients seeking to address parts of their needs, as we can complete in a cost effective manner accordingly.

What demographics do you cater to? (Age, occupation, etc?)

Mainly rural clients, mainly pre retirees and retirees looking to minimise their taxation obligations coming up to retirement and seeking some age pension where possible. We currently advise about 180 client groups and are nearing ongoing capacity. There seems to be a significant unmet market for transactional advice which presents itself often. Although these type cases are not hugely profitable, they're imperative to ensure we attract and meet the needs to ensure our reputation and perception remains compelling for those with limited knowledge of our services and abilities.

Why is financial advice important to you?

When it's given appropriately, it offers the ability to avoid so many of life's problems. Mental challenges, relationship breakdown, sensory overload (to some extent) can all be limited by high quality financial advice. Never before have we seen such a demand for services, we all want to get smarter, better and more prepared. Clients are doing so much pre-reading before appointments trying to advance themselves. If we get them young enough, navigating through the challenges of life is easier, if we get them before significant life events - buying a house, receiving inheritance, considering retirement - we can assist them to manoeuvre in the direction to significantly advance their position. Being there when people need it the most demands a level of leadership that is difficult to describe.

Why did you become a financial adviser?

To pave the way for change. I see so many families, struggling, where money is the main source of their worries. We have the ability to change that, we have systems to educate, and the ability to give confidence, direction and closure. In a large number of cases we can avoid pitfalls, settle arguments and provide the level of support that people need. People need services from those with a voice willing to be their voice of reason and care about their needs. Furthermore, I am completing a PhD seeking to further understand how we can include technology to address the regulatory advice inclusions and seek required information that, must be collected, but doesn't generally present a client value or benefit.

If we can further focus on the things that they care about, streamline the things that we "have to do" but don't generate a benefit, we can further define our offering, address compliance shortfalls, rely on information and put more emphasis on the client relationship instead of checkboxes and computer screens. I hope to use my research to improve the financial planning framework for the entire industry to increase the benefits for all clients and advisers, everywhere.

What have you done outside the financial advice industry? Any interesting jobs?

I used to be a Muay Thai fighter, 124/4 bouts, before realising, rather quickly, that longer term exposure would mean a much more limited working timeframe. Not to mention proceeds from winnings struggle to pay for the required dental work to rectify (true story). Now I write content and units for Victoria University online, funny how life throws curveballs eh?

What do you look for in a licensee provider/partner?

Support, but not in the conventional manner, we seek increased operations, procedural and adviser based support. We need to be told how and where to do things faster - how we can further challenge and improve what we know to increase the outcomes for client. How we can save resources and provide a more thorough service.

We're also looking for understanding, trust, increased communication and respect of our individuality. We don't act the way "normal" offices act, our clients demand and deserve better, not to mention we got sick of printing hundreds of advice documents per year and putting the fees on to the clients for docs they didn't ask for. We've managed to find some powerful synergies with our current licensee who is willing and able to assist us in our endeavours to create a better operating framework for us all. They offer support, understanding and have the experience to navigate change and have been a wonderful contribution to our research so far.