AFA Adviser of the Year Diaries

Reigning AFA Adviser of the Year, Eleanor Dartnall, has developed a unique and highly-specialised approach towards her responsibilities as a financial adviser. She continues to refine a very different way of packaging and delivering value for her clients. In this second instalment of extracts from Eleanor’s year-long diary, she talks about the value she has gained through the opportunity to share and compare experiences with her peers, both ‘on the road’ and within her own business…


Early March 2015

My second Roadshow trip is over, this time Adelaide and Perth…

It struck me that each group of advisers differ in so many ways, in terms of their blend of risk and financial planning, their years of experience and their approach to client engagement. Each time I met with a roomful of seasoned, well-informed professionals, I perceived that there is no ‘one model fits all’. The varying approaches to meeting the client demands for education, information, strategy and results are all sound and successful.

The Zurich Roadshow #Trending provided a vivid insight into advice trends, confronting us with the reality that there are new ways to bring the adviser and consumer together. The takeaway message for advisers was the need to focus on meeting our clients’ needs. To quote Zurich: ‘If you don’t, someone else will’.

My current preoccupation with change is around how we meet those needs. There are technology solutions with which we can reach out to clients in a more effective way and provide cheaper solutions, whether this is introducing discussions using Google+ Hangouts, sharing documents via Dropbox, or using Apps. I had an important realisation as I re-read Zurich’s #Trending material: tomorrow’s client will have a very different face to today’s, and we need to be ready for that now, not later.

Adviser concerns

Andy Marshall from Zurich wrote yesterday: ‘We now have an opportunity in the industry to shape the way of doing things, and this new way may indeed and should indeed take multiple forms.’ This answers my concern about an emerging theme I’m hearing from advisers across Australia. [Advisers] are worried that they need to change in order to meet a consensus opinion about how to give advice, and they don’t really know what that advice should look and sound like. I can say that, personally, every one of my client meetings is unique, requiring a different approach, a different level of understanding and empathy and different strategies; there is no one-size-fits-all client!

Returning to the subject of advisers’ concerns, another concern repeated to me several times over recent months is that of feeling isolated. This is certainly something the industry can look to mend. One of my messages over the past three weeks has been to encourage advisers to talk to one another and to share ideas and to coach. There may be different opinions about this, but I take the view that there is no barrier between dealer groups and that we can support any adviser who is seeking help. We need to change public perception about our industry, and we can only do this if we move forward together and help one another.

Does this mean I will lose my competitive advantage? No, it does not. I attract new clients for a different reason than those advisers I coach or share with…


Over the last weekend I spent three days in Melbourne with the AFA team, and I came away with so much to think about…

I had much to contemplate, not least the challenges we face in a changing technological world. The focus remains on client engagement and client centric business models and on considering whether we need to evaluate our approach to giving advice to meet the ever changing needs of consumers. My immediate action has been to set aside two days where our staff can join in the planning needed to take us forward as a viable and exciting business.

there are new ways to bring the adviser and consumer together

With the focus on our clients both current and future, we, as a team, need to think about what our business should undertake in terms of services offered and service delivery. What are the changing needs of our clients? Are we ready to meet these challenges? It’s clear that technology will be a trend, so how we can harness it to reach out to our clients more effectively and inclusively? Related questions raised among us acknowledge that some of our clients at different stages of life may need new service offerings delivered in different ways. Our aim is to stay well abreast of the trend!


Late March 2015

One of the issues I had when going through the Award judging process last year was a fear that, under a microscope, I was not delivering the best service in the best way to our clients. As advisers, how can we know this without sharing with one another?

Out of this came a desire to not only share what we are doing in my office, but to encourage other advisers to come and share what they are doing (they are probably doing it better than I am!).

On a regular basis I meet with up to eight advisers to discuss issues such as (i) the best interests duty and how we ensure our service offering and strategies are in the best interest of every client; (ii) what do we provide in the portfolio review process; and (iii) how are we using our websites to communicate with our clients, amongst other issues that are important in the search for ‘best practice’.

For me, the need to learn has developed into an important sharing/coaching group. We meet in my office here in Berrima, and we all look forward to each ‘sharing session’. This week we looked at what we deliver in our Records of Advice and how we construct our clients’ portfolios.

How this worked in reality was very interesting. Two advisers brought all their documentation for the delivery of a portfolio review and also discussed their investment philosophies and subsequent portfolio construction policies; whether by using a model or by constructing individual portfolios with their clients. As we went through the material – how reporting was used, how recommendations were worded and how this was presented – it was evident there are different approaches. The discussion was robust and we all learnt a great deal from one another. I know I am reviewing what we provide to our clients and how the procedure is managed, and the outcome will be a better experience for our clients.


We looked at technology and website content. We all learnt from this and left our day together with much to think about and implement. What this tells me is that it is very advantageous for an adviser to have a sounding board, or a coach, or a friend in the industry, or someone with whom we can question what we do and seek a better way to on-board clients and to deliver that all important ongoing service. We communicate with one another, regularly offering ideas and asking for support.

Just imagine if advisers across Australia gathered in small groups (regardless of dealer group alignment or of being self-licensed) and shared ideas, asked for help, learnt new strategies and, as a result, offered to the client what the client wants, in a compliant way. Our profile would change, we would erode that statistic that suggests 80% of Australians do not seek financial advice and we would develop viable, growing businesses based on client referrals.

The story is always different

Last night I had an initial meeting with a potential new client. She brought her personal story to the table and I wish I had taped what she said, but I will try to repeat it accurately.

I listened to her story, about her many years of hard work, her fear about whether her relationship will last and whether she will lose her hard-earned wealth. We discussed a wide range of issues: her need to update her estate planning (her current Will did not reflect her wishes); her need to understand how her money is invested (she has never taken an interest); and her need to have peace of mind that she will be able to afford to retire in five years’ time.

We set a second appointment so I can begin to teach her about risk and about investing. On leaving she said: “I was so scared about coming to this meeting. I did not want to tell you about my most private fears and I thought you would think I am stupid. I am so glad I did come. I feel stronger and more able to cope with your help.”

She added, “I did not know who you were and I thought, what if I don’t like you?”

She was hoping to just have a sympathetic ear and to meet someone who would let her know she has done well. And she has. She has carefully managed her money and has built up sufficient capital to support her in retirement. How often do we hear these words or words like them? The responsibility to deliver to this client is very real.

But, how do we get the message out there – that we want to listen and do listen with a sympathetic ear, will talk in language the client can understand and will not impose on the client strategies or products they do not understand? When we can do that, we will lift our profile and be able to help more investors…

As Eleanor’s journey continues throughout 2015, we will bring you more of her thoughts and ideas, focusing in particular on extracts from her diary that address issues common to many financial advisers.

Click on this link to read Eleanor’s monthly diaries in full.


Eleanor Dartnall is the 2014 AFA Adviser of the Year. She has performed a variety of roles within the banking and financial services industry over several decades and has been a financial adviser for the last 15 years. She commenced her own practice, Dartnall Advisers, in 2006.

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