Getting to Know: Rod Severn
He was pronounced dead in his early 20s - but he's making the most of his second shot at life at the helm of the PAA.
Thursday, April 13th 2017, 10:16AM
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Rod Severn and I am the CEO of the Professional Advisers Association. We represent members in the Risk, Mortgage and Investment advice sectors of the industry.
How did you get into the industry?
After working for a number of years in the somewhat stressful world of corporate sales management, I was contemplating hanging up my boots and going fishing. However, I was saved from this early retirement when Andrew Kerr, then one of the board members of the PAA, shoulder-tapped me to take a three-month contract to manage the association. I had known Andrew for many years and he knew my background and management skills, so I was delighted to be asked.
I must admit, as someone who likes to do whatever I do well, I knew I would have to undergo a bit of a learning curve as I came to understand the nuances of the industry. I'm pleased to report, everyone was very welcoming and supportive.
Three years later and I can honestly say, I have loved every minute – the challenges as much as the successes. This has been made possible by an active and supportive board, highly competent and professional staff, an engaged membership at a time when the industry is evolving. What more could you ask for?
If there was one thing you would like to change about the financial services industry, what would it be?
Simple: getting more New Zealanders quality financial advice so that they are financially better off now and in the future. We strongly believe that people who use advisers are better off for the experience. This is the belief that underpins Financial Advice New Zealand and the three core outcomes identified during the consultation stage: lobbying and advocacy; standards; and promotion of good advice.
Currently, New Zealand only just ranks ahead of poorly performing Ireland and Greece when it comes to insurance coverage in the OECD nations and that is not good enough.
For many New Zealanders, if they were to lose their jobs, they would be in severe financial stress within four weeks. What would happen to their houses, their families, their health, their marriages? So many lives would be impacted but the other tragedy is, this is an avoidable situation. Advisers can help prevent this – through helping Kiwis with their investments, be that housing, shares, or other investment types; by helping them make the most of their KiwiSaver; by ensuring they have the right protection in place should life throw one of its many curve balls, and in many many more ways.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Never look back. This doesn’t mean don't reflect on the past but it can't be changed. During my years in the IT industry, whilst looking to get my foot on the first rung of the corporate success ladder, a great boss of mine offered me my first management role.
I wanted to get into management, but I was nervous that I would not make the grade and I didn't want to disappoint him, my colleagues or myself. I asked Peter for his advice and he said, “Rod, we think you have what it takes, otherwise we wouldn’t have asked you. You will make mistakes, that’s part of the learning process, but we will be here to help and guide you. Don’t look back. Don't regret the opportunities you let pass by. Look forward and embrace the challenge”. The other bit of advice my mother-in- law says is “always walk with purpose, even if you are lost!" That works too!
What surprised you about the industry when you first started with PAA?
I was impressed by the genuine passion advisers have about wanting to improve New Zealanders' lives. They were also very keen to sort out some of the misconceptions and ambiguity within the industry as well. I thought this was outstanding. RFA vs AFA vs QFE,class advice, standards etc. The list goes on. Hopefully we will get some progress and clarity when the new legislation is finalised. I was also welcomed enthusiastically be the members who didn’t seem to think it a problem that I was new to the industry. I got far more flack for being an Australian!
What could financial advisers learn from other industries?
If we want to be considered a profession, not an industry, we need to raise the bar when it comes to qualifications and standards. That covers off the knowledge aspect. The wisdom only comes with experience but we have to start with knowledge. I am not necessarily a fan of heading down the Australian path of forcing all advisers to be tertiary qualified but I do believe, if you want the public to have the trust and respect we want them to have in us, we need to demonstrate a level of qualification commensurate with that. Now, of course qualifications don’t necessarily equal competence, but people act from a position of confidence and a trust. We expect this of teachers, lawyers, medical professionals and tradespeople. Why wouldn't we want this for ourselves. We need to step up before we can expect the wider public to step up. After all, it is their money!
Are you a KiwiSaver member?
What is your investment strategy?
I have two funds, one in Australia and one here. I have gradually moved the funds from aggressive to balanced as I have gotten older. They are managed by advisers, but my very astute wife and I keep an eye on things. So far, they have done a great job for me.
Outside of work what do you do?
When my wife and I got engaged, she said she didn't want an engagement ring, she said, "go and buy yourself a boat". I'm not sure how much she thought I was going to spend on a ring and maybe she just didn't want me around much at the weekends but I have a boat and I love to get out and fish. Auckland has wonderful harbours and the Hauraki Gulf is an ever-changing maritime playground. There isn't anything quite like landing a lovely big snapper and having it for dinner that night. Although I must say, the fishing this summer has been spectacularly average.
I also love to garden and grow veggies. There is something very satisfying about planting seeds, nurturing them and then harvesting and eating food you've grown yourself. I grow a lot of tomatoes – just ask my wife! So, I make jars and jars of tomato relish, chutney and pasta sauces but only when the fishing's no good!
I like to keep my brain active as well. I do “Wasgij” puzzles (jigsaw backwards) which have 1000 pieces with no picture! They do test you but I love them. I also do crosswords and read a lot.
What would you say if one of your kids told you they wanted to be a financial adviser?
I have five young adult children (just one of the joys of a blended family) and I would be delighted if any of them wanted to become an adviser. I would recommend that they get a qualification, find a good adviser to work with, join an aggregator group, join the PAA and work hard to build their networks and book. I would fully support their decision.
What’s one thing people may be surprised to know about you?
When I was in my early 20s, like most young men who thought they were bullet-proof, I raced boats in Sydney. Just 5km/h outside the Australian water-speed record for our class of boat, the steering cable snapped forcing the boat into three barrel somersaults in the air and doing a lot of damage to me in the process. I was pronounced dead on the operating table. Apart from almost drowning, I had smashed my spleen, which was subsequently removed, broken every rib on my left side and four on my right, punctured a lung and needed 120 stitches to put me back together. I was a mess and was off work for three months. Fortunately, my insurance saved me financially! Turns out, I wasn’t invincible after all. I haven’t raced a boat since, but I do look at life with a very different respect and attitude. A near death experience will do that.
If you weren’t in this job what would you be doing?
Easy. Fishing. But the financial industry is for keeps. Once you're in, you're in for the long haul because good advice must always be shared advice. There is lots to do in the regulatory and legislative space, plenty to do in promoting the value of advice to all Kiwi’s, educating people that they can and should use an adviser, increasing the level of financial literacy taught in schools and unifying many of the different groups, associations, product providers and advisers around training, conferences and networking events. Just as I was told, don't look back, I would want to keep looking forward; to stay involved in the industry in some form, as a mentor or board member. There's always plenty to do ...when the fish aren't biting.
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