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People: New FPIA chair outlines vision

Ann Cunninghame meets the new president of the FPIA, Paul O'Brien, and finds out where he wants to take the organisation.

Friday, April 27th 2001, 3:59PM

by Paul McBeth

There's no question that new Financial Planners and Insurance Advisers Association (FPIA) president Paul O'Brien has a busy life. Just back from school camp with his 10-year old son Liam, he was already on the road when Good Returns caught up with him - his job involves looking after financial planners and insurance advisers in the lower North Island for one of the major financial services companies.

When he's at home in Palmerston North, O'Brien fits in a string of other responsibilities such as chairman of the Manawatu Chamber of Commerce, a position on the trust board of The Science Centre, Manawatu Museum & Art Gallery, a couple of sports boards and another cultural board. In between all that, he lectures at universities... on maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

O'Brien was concerned this story would be "just about boring education issues". While he's passionate about education and industry standards, he's keen for FPIA members to have some fun and to enjoy meeting together and sharing ideas. He says there's a lot to keep him occupied in the 340 days left of his term.

How long have you been associated with the financial services industry?
I've been involved in the industry for well over a quarter of a century. Throughout that time, I've been a member of the Life Underwriters Association (in the '70s and '80s), the Investment and Insurance Advisers Association (in the '80s), I was on the board in the '90s and then on the inaugural board of the FPIA in 2000.

A lot of members aren't aware that, during the last five years, I have enjoyed driving the new education track. I've chaired the professional development committee and, in conjunction with Massey University, have developed a Diploma in Risk Management.

My involvement with the Professional Development Committee will continue as will my sitting on the Massey University Insurance Management Board.

Tell me more about the new Massey Diploma
The Diploma in Risk Management has been offered for the first time this year and comes under the Department of Finance, Banking and Property Studies. We were forecasting 300 students, but 620 have already enrolled.
It definitely shows that there's been a gap in the education market for those aspiring to be chartered life underwriters - in fact, I'm currently the only chartered life underwriter in Manawatu.
 
In your new role of FPIA President, what are some of the key issues you'd like to tackle?
Something I'm very keen on, as well as ongoing education, is that we have some form of regulation for the industry. I have to stress that this is really my personal viewpoint at the moment as it hasn't yet been ratified by the board, although this idea does have the support of outgoing president Andrew Charles and chief executive Phillip Matthews.

Basically, anyone can come into the industry at the moment. They can be a fishmonger on Friday night and a financial adviser on Monday morning without any qualifications, experience or adherence to a code of ethics.
My suggestion is that regulations should be implemented to make it mandatory to have financial planning or insurance advising qualifications and to belong to an association that has a code of ethics, provision for ongoing education and so on before you can hold yourself out as a financial adviser.

Our members do a raft of good things; they hold qualifications and work to a high standard. But, at the moment, someone else coming in can very easily tar the good name of the industry.

I met with Government Minister Steve Maharey last month and have had earlier meetings with the Senior Whip, Tukituki MP Rick Barker, to obtain support for some regulation. It's being furthered by a Private Members' Bill - Rick Barker made the offer of that when he addressed the Hawkes Bay branch meeting last April - and I'd like to see something before the House by the end of June.

Another thing I'm passionate about and that's the conventions. They provide the vehicle for compacted education delivered in a fun way and they also give members the chance for social interaction.

I'm really looking forward to the July meeting in Christchurch; then we've got Manawatu in 2002. The association generates enormous sponsorship for these conventions, which means that members can enjoy some significant benefits.

Just looking at those people who are working in the industry currently, is it a concern to you that they seem to be getting older?!
There's definitely a shortage of people in their 30s and 40s that have the ability to buy the portfolio and client base of the greying and retiring client advisers. We've got a situation where a lot of those people have no succession plan in place and they're going to find it very difficult to sell at a realistic price.

It's also a gap in the market from the point of view of our clients; those earlier on in their individual financial planning who may perhaps relate better to an adviser nearer their own age.

Of the 620 people enrolled for the Massey Diploma, about 30 per cent of them are from outside the industry. So that might be one answer to the greying advisers' prayers!

Paul is a staff writer for Good Returns based in Wellington.

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