Partners, children and broken families: the other casualties of advice industry reform

| August 12, 2019

Whilst the enormity of mental health consequences has rarely received a second thought by legislators as they vehemently imposed non-stop change on the advice sector since 2001 with the FSR Act, even less regard has been given to the impact on the partners and children of financial planners.

There are very few industries, if any, that can compare to the advice sector for the intensity of industry scrutiny, reform, change and compliance demands.

More recently, FoFA, escalating education requirements and plummeting values of businesses after a lifetime of endeavour have quite literally been the final straw that’s shattered the lives of professional, dedicated practitioners – both mentally and financially.

Like so many SMEs, most planners began their self-employed journey as a ‘start up’ and after years of perseverance established successful commercial enterprises. They built an asset that would ultimately fund retirement by sale or BoLR arrangement as a benefit of long-term loyalty.

In order to achieve this, the spouse was critical as sole parent, partner, ‘family rock’ and peacemaker as the planner husband or wife spent so many long hours servicing the complex financial advice needs of clients.

In addition, the partners were often called on to act as the business receptionist, accountant, bookkeeper and general administrative support. This is often an immense role that is regrettably going unrecognised by legislators in their zeal to achieve industry reform.

With the pressure on these life partners so immense and unrelenting, it’s not uncommon for them to have developed serious feelings of guilt and inadequacy about their home environments, parenting skills and role as a spouse. In many instances, these emotions have compounded over many years, resulting in strained relationships where tensions can often flare to dangerous levels.

There’s no doubt a survey would reveal that, included amongst the downsides of an extended career for many planners, the life partner they started the business with is not the one with whom they retire.

The constant spiralling and intensity of demands of a planning business on families of their owners, especially since 2001, have quite literally been staggering – so much so that many planners are required to start the working day before 8:00am, culminating in 12-to-14-hour days, including evening appointments.

Planners’ life partners often have no option but to step in and be the lonely peacemakers keeping the family functioning. For children, the advice practice is the unwelcome demon sibling to whom dad or mum devotes the majority of their time, passion and energy – at their expense!

As planners recovered from the GFC and the collapse of numerous MIS schemes, and while mature age practitioners’ thoughts turned to retirement and the prospect of a well-deserved rest, gracious future and time with family, including making peace with disenfranchised children, along came the perfect storm.

In 2019, FASEA, education requirements and crashing practice values – destroyed through the legislated removal of income from their businesses – mean the planned exit and succession aspirations for many advisers have evaporated, devastating the lives of many planners who can no longer cope.

This cumulative impact on planners cannot be overstated. Far too many are unable to cope and are struggling emotionally with mental illness and distress. Real examples of this inability to cope include:

  • Confirmation by practice broking businesses that long-time advisers regularly break down over the phone with them when discussing the sale of their business
  • Licensee firms in which up to one third of their advice business practitioners have admitted they are suffering mental anguish, and where some have been hospitalised due to stress

These same advisers, however, often continue to present a stoic persona to their peers and even to their family, while they suffer inner turmoil and pain – in isolation and without help.

Into this battlefield, which is now stressing advisers and their families to breaking point, the adviser’s husband or wife find themselves having to step-in to support their spouse and save the family.

Fearing for the well-being of the planner developing mental health issues that could potentially escalate into depression and the complete destruction of the family ‘…if somebody doesn’t do something’, the planner’s partner feels compelled to rescue both!

It is heartening to see dealer groups, professional associations and media groups reaching out to help planners cope with mental illness. But where is the ally and support structure for planners’ partners to help them save their spouse and their family?

This is one of the dark sides of industry reform when detached legislators, bureaucrats and self-interest/lobby groups (on regular pay packets) seek to impose industry change without any sense or appreciation of the impact their actions may have on the lives of self- employed people and their families.