Dan Dobry
Dan Dobry

The Birth of a Profession – The Evolution of Financial Planning into a Profession

A discussion:  Dan Dobry and Geoff Hartnell London UK 

Since its establishment in the United States in 1969, the financial planning industry struggled to name, define, and defend itself against cynics and competing forces. 

Now, as the industry approaches its 53rd anniversary, the narrative has changed dramatically and financial planning is emerging as a global force that is changing the destinies of families all over the Globe. 

Financial Planning is developing into a great growth opportunity for professionals who seek to provide value to clients and assist them on their journeys in life and help them with guidance and solutions that will provide them with a plan backed by academic research and methodologies to live the life they dream of and deserve, in a world where we all our responsibility for our destinies.  

The main engine for growth globally is regulatory trends. The slow but sure transition from a “suitability standard” (a standard that will require the professional to recommend a suitable product) to a “fiduciary standard” (a standard that will require the professional to act in his client’s best interest) and the global trend of families to prefer working with a professional, who puts their interests first and understands their family challenges as opposed to a professional, who only assists in choosing a financial product or solution. 

I sat with one of London’s leading professionals Geoff Hartnell who like me has been a living witness to the evolution of the profession with more than 30 years of working with families in Financial Services, focusing on family planning. Geoff’s extensive knowledge of the industry and his exceptional communication skills have been fundamental in cementing long-term relationships with his clients.

Dan: Geoff, you have been in the industry for so many years and have been involved in the lives of so many tell me a bit about your methodology and your experiences.

Geoff:  Dan, it really has been a ride, the secret to successfully working with my clients is in the methodology. I follow this religiously and then add on my personnel ingredients and that is “caring”. When I work with clients, I do not only want to understand them. I really want to “be” them for a moment, join them on their life journey, be a part of their values, their aspirations, their dreams, and then using the methodology provided to us by academic research build a plan to live the lives aligned with their dreams. 

The methodology is: 

  1. First Understanding the client’s financial reality, would include understanding sources of income and expenditures, the client’s assets and liabilities, understanding the client’s cash flows, defining life goals. This is the basis of any plan. Without understanding this there is no point. I fund that when I sit with families and define with them their life goals I start an emotional process where sometimes, for the first time in their lives, they understand that they could become the person they most want to be. 
  2. Then I build the Investment Strategy: That can achieve the client’s life goals in the highest probability. Here I want to understand the client’s needs, capacity, and attitude to exposure to risk. 
  3. Understanding and building a risk management strategy: I use a process of building “what if” scenarios to build a strategy of risk transferring and mitigating for families. 
  4. Building a tax strategy: Understanding all tax issues in the country of domiciliate and all issues of global taxation that will affect the clients.  
  5. Building passive income: I find this more and more a focus for clients, building and understanding what happens to the family once the members stop accumulating wealth and start living off it. My plans will include the probability of achieving life goals in retirement and will research the different scenarios for living aligned with the client’s expectations. 
  6. Building an estate strategy for clients: Building a strategy for clients that will transfer as much wealth as possible to future generations considering legal and tax issues, global considerations, and client’s preferences and values. 

Dan: Geoff that’s inspiring. You have been a witness to the evolution of this profession and have had to adapt yourself to significant changes in the market. I think that when you started working in the industry, we were only an “occupation”, when did we become a “profession” and what is your opinion about the difference? 

Geoff: Yes Dan, Sometimes I feel like a chameleon, I have needed to change to adapt to new realities, regulatory but more important to the reality of understanding that if I want to help families, I need to do much more than explaining the value of a product.  Unfortunately, we still are not recognized as a “profession” pas says. 

The definition of a “profession” in my opinion is an “occupation” founded upon specialized educational training backed by ongoing academic research , the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others.  In the medieval and early modern tradition we recognized only three professions: “DivinityMedicine, and Law”, which were called the learned professions. A profession is not a trade and is not an industry. 

I wholly agree that the public needs us to be recognized as a “profession” and the impact we have on the public is no less than “Divinity Medicine and Law”. In the past century or so, new professions have emerged such as “Accounting and Engineering”, so I believe we are on the latter end of the process. To cross the line and really become a profession we all need to be recognized by the public as people who adhere to the highest ethical standards, possess special and relevant knowledge and skills derived from research, education, and training at the highest level, and are willing to exercise these skills in the interest of others. 

Dan: The world is getting smaller every day and people are crossing borders to work and better their lives. London is continually recognized as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse cities. With a population of over 8 million, London boasts over 300 languages and is home to more than 270 nationalities. The atmosphere that such diversity brings, is what makes London the fantastic world city it is today and a case study for financial professionals everywhere. Working in London what lessons have you learned on the knowledge and skills you require to serve these people? 

Geoff: Yes, that is one of the reasons I love this city. The more diversity the more the challenges. To succeed in this more and more international world without borders, we need access to knowledge and to name just a few: Understanding investment platforms that are aligned with different juridical requirements.  Global tax strategies and treaties. The challenges of purchasing property abroad and owning property in multiple jurisdictions, understanding the impact of multi-jurisdictional inflation, understanding the challenges of International Banking, opening accounts, managing accounts in home jurisdictions, understanding bank costs and how banks think and work, foreign Currency exchange, International Money Transfers, Global Anti Money Laundering, and Trusts and foundations.  There is a definite need for a more global educational curriculum, and I believe that this will be addressed by the industry leaders soon.

Dan: Geoff, it was really inspiring talking to you, and thank you for your time and sharing with us your accumulated knowledge and experience. 

Geoff: And thank you for the opportunity to document this for the benefit of others, it has been, as I said, a wonderful ride so far, and it has been a real privilege for me to be a partner in the family’s life journey who work with me. I think that not many people have in their lives had the opportunity to work in a profession that can have so much impact on people’s lives and, in that sense, we are all blessed. 

Geoff Hartnell is a Director and Independent Financial Adviser at Vintage Financial. Geoff has spent more than 30 years working in the Financial Services industry, specializing in employee benefits and investment markets. He is an experienced corporate adviser and has several clients with payrolls in excess of 1000 staff.

About the Author
Dan Dobry was the founder of the Union of Financial Planners in Israel (UFPI), served as the first Chairman and President of UFPI. Dan was the Global Council Representative for Israel for the Global Community (FPSB) from 2012 - 2018 and from January 2019 is a member of the Committee for Standards and Qualifications for the European Union (SQC).
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