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Getting to Know: Brian Coker

Brian Coker lost his legs in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. But within weeks he was trying to get back to work.  He says there's no point asking "why me"...

Friday, May 19th 2017, 11:00AM

by Susan Edmunds

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a certified financial planner CM and authorised financial adviser coming from a background specialising in estates, trusts and high-net-worth clients with over 25 years experience, initially working for a law firm and then a trustee company. Currently, I work from Christchurch as a financial planner and investment adviser with Saturn Portfolio, a non-aligned financial advisory firm based out of Auckland. 

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

A simplification of some of the compliance and disclosure requirements. Although we are now required to provide clients with much more paperwork, for most clients (including professional trustees) it still comes down to a matter of trust in their adviser. Although regulators may not like that, and the intention is that clients will actually read all of the PDS documents and disclosure material, the reality is that most don't, and it still comes down to a matter of "if you recommend it as best for me, then where do I sign?" I don't take that client trust lightly and regard many of my clients as friends. I continually ask myself, "Would I be comfortable recommending this investment to my mother?" as a check for many of my elderly clients.

What's the best advice you have ever received?

To be honest and upfront with clients. That seems so basic that it should not even need to be stated, but it really extends to putting your hand up and admitting mistakes if they do happen and talking through poor performance of funds or markets. I do try and uphold Christian values and I think that if clients are treated with respect and integrity then clients will respect you in return through both good times and bad.

How was your life changed by your experience in the 2011 earthquake?

In a physical sense with the loss of my legs it was (and continues to be) a huge adjustment. My wife, Helen, and I have lost a lot of the things that we were so looking forward to, such as continuing tramping and completing the great walks of New Zealand and overseas travel. While travel is still possible, and we have had a couple of trips to the US in recent years, it is completely different, especially for Helen, where everything we do is geared around my mobility issues. Mobility and disability access are by far the biggest ongoing issue. In a supposedly enlightened country, the majority of buildings and public spaces provide very poorly for wheelchair users (and those with pushchairs for that matter!) and those with some form of mobility impairment.

In a work sense, little has changed and in fact, within a few weeks of the earthquake, while still in hospital in Hamilton, I was badgering the office for a laptop so that I could keep in touch with clients, many of whom suffered property issues. Clients have been very supportive and now it is as if my disability is non-existent when I am dealing with them - just as it should be.

A lot of people do have difficulty dealing with me as an amputee and even though they may see my obvious physical disability, they automatically assume that there must be a mental impairment as well. I did have someone early on who suggested that I could enter the Special Olympics. I thought at the time that he meant the Paralympics - but perhaps he didn't. On another occasion in a restaurant in Sydney, a waitress even asked Helen what I would like to eat rather than asking me directly.

What has been the biggest lesson in your recovery?

To look forward and focus on the positive aspects of what I can do rather than what I can't. If there is something that I really want to do then there is usually a way of achieving it. Right from the outset, I took the view that there was no point in wasting energy on 'Why me?' or 'What if?', and with Helen's help and strength we have concentrated on my mobility on prosthetics, because improved mobility makes virtually everything else easier.

Completing the New York Marathon in 2013 in a handcycle pushed me out of my usual comfort zone, but also made me realise that I can still achieve anything that I want to.

Do you have a different investment philosophy now, because of it?

I don't have a different investment philosophy as such, but there are parallels with my recovery and managing investment portfolios and it has been useful to talk to some clients about that. I think it has helped them to understand the importance of focusing on long-term goals and sticking with the long-term plan, even though there may be ups and downs along the way. Just as it would have been easy for me to keep looking back at what had happened to me and have a negative outlook, it was imperative to look forward. Although learning to walk again was a significant task, it was important that the odd fall that I had or other issues didn't discourage me from pursuing the long-term goal. In the same way, clients often want to look back and focus on that one investment that didn't perform, or a loss in one sector, rather than keeping the goals front-of-mind. While we learn lessons from the past, we need to keep moving forward and revise the plan, if necessary, as we go.

Understanding and accepting risk is important and it is very easy to be far too conservative. Again, there is the analogy of my learning to walk again and the old adage, 'no pain, no gain'. If I didn't stand up, take a step and accept the risk that I might have a fall, then I wouldn't make any gains towards my goal of walking. It would have been easy to be conservative, not risk a fall and simply accept life in a wheelchair, but that would have a negative (albeit 'safe') outcome for my quality of life; in the same way, an investor can sit on their funds in a low yielding bank deposit and actually go backwards in real dollar terms, which will negatively impact their future quality of life.

What do you expect the coming five years to be like for investors?

In a word, volatile - which is why I always stress with clients the benefits of diversification and the risks in trying to second-guess the market. The market reaction to Brexit and to the election of President Trump are good examples of negative stories that didn't play out in the markets. Geopolitical risks do remain, in Europe and the US in particular, and although corporate balance sheets look pretty good at present, there are risks of a recession in the next two to three years, as we see central banks increase interest rates.

What do you think is the biggest financial risk to New Zealanders at the moment?

I think that the biggest risk to New Zealanders at the moment is in not obtaining professional advice regarding their retirement savings strategy and investments. As someone nears retirement, next to their home, their investment assets should collectively be their next biggest asset or even their biggest. However, many New Zealanders still adopt the DIY attitude, without fully understanding the risks that they are taking on and also not aligning their investments specifically with their goals. I enjoy the process of working with clients to ensure that goals and investment strategy are aligned, addressing their investment risks and ensuring that any risks are mitigated as much as possible and consistent with their risk profile.

What's been your own worst investment?

The first investment that I ever made was when I was 12, purchasing 100 shares in Woolworths NZ @ $1.03 (it was a lot of money back then, especially for a 12 year old!) The shares never once went above $1.03 for all the years that I held them. It didn't put me off investing, but even then I realised that I needed to diversify.

Are you a KiwiSaver member?

Most definitely. I became a member on Day One, along with signing up my wife and children. It is such a no-brainer, even though the Government has reduced its contribution. 

If so, what's your strategy?

My philosophy is to invest the minimum possible into KiwiSaver (ensuring that any Government contribution or benefits are maximised) and doing all other retirement savings alongside this, which gives flexibility, so that not all retirement savings are subject to the KiwiSaver rules, such as locked-in periods which may be subject to change in the future.

What is one thing people might be surprised to know about you?

Many people know that my wife and I are very keen gardeners with a particular interest in rhododendrons, but not many people know that I sing in a community choir and started taking singing lessons a couple of years ago.

Tags: Getting to Know

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AIA 4.55 2.55 2.95 3.29
ANZ 4.44 ▲3.15 ▲3.55 ▼3.75
ANZ Blueprint to Build 1.68 - - -
ANZ Special - ▲2.55 ▲2.95 ▼3.15
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ASB Bank 4.45 2.55 2.95 3.29
Basecorp Finance 5.49 - - -
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BNZ - Std, FlyBuys 4.55 3.15 3.22 3.85
BNZ - TotalMoney 4.55 - - -
CFML Loans 4.95 - - -
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Credit Union Auckland 5.95 - - -
Credit Union Baywide 5.65 3.95 3.85 -
Credit Union South 5.65 3.95 3.85 -
First Credit Union Special 5.85 2.95 3.45 -
Heartland Bank - Online 1.95 1.85 2.35 2.45
Heretaunga Building Society 4.99 3.80 3.90 -
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HSBC Premier 4.49 2.19 2.45 2.69
HSBC Premier LVR > 80% - - - -
HSBC Special - 2.25 - -
ICBC 3.69 2.29 2.69 2.99
Kainga Ora 4.43 2.67 2.97 3.13
Kainga Ora - First Home Buyer Special - 2.25 - -
Kiwibank 3.75 3.34 3.34 4.14
Kiwibank - Offset 3.75 - - -
Kiwibank Special 3.75 2.49 2.49 3.29
Liberty 5.69 - - -
Nelson Building Society 4.95 2.99 3.24 -
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Pepper Essential 4.79 - - -
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SBS Bank 4.54 ▲2.89 ▲3.29 ▲3.49
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Select Home Loans 3.49 3.34 2.99 3.34
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The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 4.40 2.49 2.89 3.19
The Co-operative Bank - Standard 4.40 2.99 3.39 3.69
TSB Bank 5.34 3.30 3.69 4.04
TSB Special 4.54 2.50 2.89 3.24
Wairarapa Building Society 4.99 3.55 3.49 -
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Westpac 4.59 3.15 3.49 3.89
Westpac - Offset 4.59 - - -
Westpac Special - 2.55 2.89 3.29
Median 4.54 2.78 2.99 3.29

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