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Getting to Know: Stephen O'Connor

Stephen O'Connor made the leap into investment advice in 1987. But that didn't put him off - he went on to become a key figure in the independent financial advice sector in this country. He is keen to see advisers lift their game and become recognised as a profession.

Friday, May 12th 2017, 12:19PM

by Susan Edmunds

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Stephen O’Connor, aka SOC. I am married to Barbara and we have two adult children. I am a Certified Financial Planner professional, an Authorised Financial Adviser and the principal of Invercargill-based Mitre Wealth Management. We offer fee based advice (predominantly wealth management) to our client base of around 100. I employ an amazing assistant, Janna, who has been with me for 13 years. I have served in multiple industry roles over the years, including IFA President in 2004/5 and FPSB Board Chairman in 2009/10. I am a member of the current Code Committee, but will become redundant once the new code is developed and comes into force.

How did you get into the industry?

After completing a commerce degree at Otago University and working as a Chartered Accountant, I decided it would be a good idea to go work as a client adviser at an NZX firm... the year was 1987! Following that, I was approached by Ken Swain (who I had worked with during my time as a CA) to join his National Mutual aligned advisory firm as General Manager. It was during my time at Swains that I not only gained valuable knowledge of the risk management aspect of financial advice, but was first exposed to the concept of comprehensive financial planning. In 1992, I established Southern Investment Services Ltd, which now trades as Mitre Wealth Management.

If there is one thing you would like to change about the financial advice industry, what would it be?

To have the provision of financial advice recognised as a profession. To achieve this, it is essential for us all to raise the bar, for the benefit of the industry and for the benefit of New Zealand. I truly believe we are extremely privileged as advisers to belong to an industry which is so rewarding. These rewards are far more than financial or the flexibility of lifestyle that this career offers. The most important rewards are those that are gained from the satisfaction of being able to make a difference in people’s lives! However, this privilege brings with it responsibility. It is our responsibility to ensure that we always act in the best interests of our client. It is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to up-skill and to review and improve our business practices, and it is also our responsibility to ensure that our actions enhance the reputation of this emerging profession that we all belong to.

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

If you are going to rush…rush slowly!!

What could financial advisers learn from other industries?

To put aside their self-interest and work together in a cohesive manner for the betterment of all stakeholders.

Are you a KiwiSaver member?

Absolutely!

If so, what’s your investment strategy?

Balanced.

Outside of work what do you do?

Where do I start? I am active in the Southland community, serving as a Trustee of the Community Trust of Southland, the Catholic Education (Invercargill) Charitable Trust, and Chairman of Southland Disability Enterprises Ltd. I am a Life Member and past President of the YMCA of Invercargill, a former Director of Rugby Southland, a past President of the Marist Rugby Club and a past President of the Rotary Club of Invercargill. I am still actively involved in Rotary, currently serving as club secretary and continue my interest in grassroots rugby as the treasurer of the Marist Supporters Club. I am an avid Stags, Highlanders and All Blacks fan and a regular attender at the Sharks basketball fixtures. I enjoy staying in shape through regular gym attendance (at the Y of course!) and getting out on my mountain bike. Barbara and I particularly love riding the extensive trail network in and around the Wakatipu Basin, which we do from our base in Arrowtown as often as possible during the warmer months. However no ride is ever undertaken that doesn’t include a compulsory stop at a café or winery to refuel.

What would you say if one of your kids told you they wanted to be a financial adviser?

Come work for me! Well, maybe once you have worked for someone else. Seriously, I would say that this is one of the most rewarding and flexible careers that you could consider and, provided you are good with people and prepared to learn, there is every chance of success. One of our children is a potential candidate - our daughter works as a Property Finance Account Manager for ASB in Christchurch, having completed a degree in Finance & Economics. Our son, on the other hand, seems destined for a somewhat different career; having completed a green-keeping apprenticeship at the Invercargill Golf Club, he has just embarked on a 12-month internship at the Pebble Beach golf course in California.

What’s one thing people may be surprised to know about you?

On occasion I am partial to a quality Cuban cigar, generally enjoyed with a good port.

If you weren’t in this job what would you be doing?

I think I would be in travel. I really enjoy planning trips away and have been known to put together a full itinerary for friends visiting from overseas. I also enjoy acting as tour guide for visitors to our region, but I guess that’s understandable given we live in one of the most picturesque parts of the world!

Tags: Getting to Know

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