“We wanted an independent party to assess what we’ve achieved,” was the reason given by Hewett Wealth for entering International Adviser’s Best Practice Adviser Awards.
This sentiment was echoed by the three other South African companies which triumphed in November 2019.
For Autus Private Clients, it was the firm’s “pursuit of consistent improvement”; while Ascor Independent Wealth Managers said that “being placed under such a high level of scrutiny helps us identify areas for improvement”.
Carrick Wealth added that the awards “provide us the opportunity to peg ourselves against our competitors, which then gives us the opportunity to improve on certain areas of the business”.
To get a better understanding of what drives these award-winning businesses, International Adviser reached out to them to get some insights.
Autus Private Clients
- Excellence in professional development – winner
- Excellence in client service – winner
- Best adviser firm in South Africa – winner
Having grown from a one-person business to a successful multi-generational family wealth planning company, the team at Autus said the trio of awards are recognition of all their hard work.
“The awards are confirmation of our transformative approach to genuinely customer-centric financial advice, service and overall best practice,” they said.
Nurturing talent is one of the core principles at Autus, which actively seeks not just to employ people but also help them through their professional development.
“The team of Autus in more significant than any individual.”
One area that is close to their hearts is supporting young talent into the industry. But, like every other jurisdiction, finding new recruits isn’t always easy.
Over the past 18 years, Autus founder and chairman Christo Malan has attended a lot of investment conferences and seen “the same advisers turning older but still ruling the industry”.
“The barriers to entry for young advisers prevent young professionals from entering the industry,” he told IA.
“Too many corporates still embrace the ‘sell a product and earn commission over the short term’ attitude. Rather than ‘provide a service and build a relationship over the long term’.
“If we can change this attitude, I see so many opportunities for the financial services industry professionals in South Africa.”
The company would like to see greater support and incentives from the regulator for firms taking on article clerks; young professionals who need supervised work experience as part of their training/education.
This would “give financial advisers the necessary experience and knowledge to deliver excellent financial services to clients”, Autus added.
But it’s not just attracting fresh talent to the industry that is a challenge. Another difficulty is ensuring the broader financial services sector is populated by good firms and good people and this is also somewhere Autus would also like to see the regulator act.
The Financial Services Conduct Authority needs to “embrace the right financial advisers and turn the screw on the ones that are an embarrassment for the industry”, Autus said.
Working to make firms and advisers feel protected by the financial watchdog, rather than just regulated by it, is another important area Autus would like to see the FSCA improve.
Ascor Independent Wealth Managers
- Excellence in investment planning – winner
- Excellence in digital innovation – winner
- Excellence in diversity – winner
“We take our lead from the Springboks,” the team at Ascor told International Adviser. “In their public appearances after the World Cup, they acknowledged the challenges we face as a country, but they speak with an optimism and a sense of shared responsibility.
“We have adopted the same mantra.”
The diversity on display among the national rugby team is also reflected at the wealth management firm. “It is an imperative for any South African business with a long-term vision.
“We want to invest in our community and our country and have a strong process in place to recruit for diversity, which we believe will ultimately better serve our diverse client base.”
The challenges facing South Africa mean that “the need for independent financial advice has never been greater”, the firm added.
So Ascor has invested heavily in technology to “free up its professional advisers to spend as much time as possible serving clients”.
“Over the past 21 years, we have learned that, in the investing world; time, trust and opportunity do not count much unless they are underpinned by a firm bedrock of consistency, well-tested processes and supported by a team of well-qualified and experienced investment committee members.”
Looking to the future, the key message from Ascor is that “the game has changed and you cannot continue doing business as you always did”.
It recommends that other firms should, where possible, “systemise processes and customise advice”.
“And where you develop a process, make sure that it is built around your clients’ needs.”
From the South African regulator, Ascor would like to see the watchdog throw its weight behind a general campaign to help improve the financial literacy of the entire population.
“First, to help people better manage their personal finances, and secondly to help protect them against the scourge of scams and pyramid schemes that seem to be growing in number and complexity.”
- Excellence in marketing – winner
- Best adviser support team – winner
“The world is changing at a remarkable pace and it is becoming more and more complicated,” Carrick Wealth told International Adviser.
“Clients are requiring better partnerships with their advisers and they are requiring more and more to be part of the process, as opposed to being ‘sold to’ – which is the case now.”
The outlook for the country is tough, said chief executive Craig Featherby; citing the precarious position of many state-owned enterprises, issues around the supply of electricity, water crises and the troubles facing South African Airlines.
“South Africa is about to embark on one of the toughest decades economically, politically and socially. Now, more than ever, clients will require assistance to do the very best they can with their wealth and the decisions that they have to make for the long term.”
Featherby told IA that he is incredibly proud to have won the excellence in market award, which he said reflects one of the most valuable assets an advisory firm has – its brand.
But it was the recognition for the Carrick Wealth adviser support team that was the award he truly wanted to win.
“Back-office admin teams are the unsung heroes in this business and are largely overlooked. At Carrick, we promote the concept of a team.
“Our support team is a young, dynamic group of individuals who have a genuine passion for the interests of our clients. I don’t believe that there is a single member who works at Carrick for a job, as opposed to a career.”
Advisory businesses in South Arica “must has an end goal”, he said. “Whether you execute that end goal or not is immaterial.
“In an environment which is hard, financial services businesses need for their leadership to lead through a carefully crafted strategy and through both the good times and the bad.”
When it comes to the regulator, Featherby’s wish is that they stop “painting the industry with the same brush” and take the time to “truly understand the industry better”.
- Excellence in business strategy – winner
A key theme across all of the awards winners is ensuring that their business proposition is customer-centric. Something which is at the heart of Hewett Wealth.
“We would encourage other advisory businesses in South Africa to embrace the forthcoming RDR and other regulatory changes at the outset,” the company told IA.
“This would ensure the long-term sustainability of their business and ensure that the product and advice process are focused on delivering optimal client outcomes.”
While the number of regulatory changes rolled out in recent years has “significantly cleaned up the industry”, Hewett would now like to see the regulator ease up a little bit.
“It may now be time to consolidate these successes and reduce the level and frequency of regulatory changes – at least for a short period of time.”
This could take the form of “removing some of the paper-based, tick box requirements and replacing them with outcomes-based or principles-based assessments”.
Again, the significant social and economic challenges facing the country are front of mind for the team at Hewett.
“We believe that the gradual changes in the business and political environment, taking into account public and private collaborations, will ultimately result in a better future for all South Africans.”
Positivity and progress
Speaking to South Africans ahead of the Rugby World Cup, few had any confidence that their team would make it out of the group stages – let alone go on to win.
Lovers of the game would struggle to call the final against England a graceful display of free-flowing passes, kicks and line outs.
But the outcome is what matters.
The Springboks have had several rough years with domestic and international pundits criticising their tactics, attitude and even willingness to improve and win.
But he who laughs last, laughs longest.
Financial advisory businesses across South Africa could do far worse than look to the Springboks for inspiration.