The ultimate accolade

The FPI Financial Planner of the Year competition is renowned for its rigorous evaluation process that showcases the exceptional skills and abilities of the finalists. Lara Warburton, CFP®, stood out among a group of finalists including Thomas Brukman, CFP®, and Noel de Kock, CFP®, to secure the coveted title.

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The FPI Financial Planner of the year, Lara Warburton.
Lara Warburton, CFP®, Managing Director, Integral Wealth Management

Congratulations on your achievement, Lara! What does winning the award mean to you?

The gala awards dinner is such a special occasion. The FPI pulls out all the stops to make it special, and many industry stalwarts and previous winners attend each year. It is a celebration of all that is good in our profession – young achievers excelling in their studies, meaningful contributors to our profession, practices that excel and of course, the FPI Financial Planner of the Year, which is the final award of the evening.

Lara Warburton giving her acceptance speech after receiving the FPI FP award.

Integral Wealth, the business I manage founded in 2016, was a finalist in the Professional Practice Award category, so I felt like a winner already, but nothing could have prepared me for when my name was announced as the winner. I felt so elated and excited. I was overwhelmed by all the people who came to personally congratulate me and the fuss everyone made about me, especially by many of the previous award winners who were there.

Since then, I have been inundated with flowers, emails, calls and WhatsApps, I have received hundreds of LinkedIn contact requests and I can see that many of my clients see me in a different light. It has been quite overwhelming and incredibly exciting. I underestimated the warmth and recognition I have received from financial planners, as well as from industry players like the product and service providers we work with. Our profession is kind and gracious.

What was your motivation for entering the award?

When I entered the competition, I knew that winning the award would be the ultimate accolade for me as a financial planner. I have always strived to keep informed on changes in our profession and with best practices in all we do, and being a finalist or winning would bring a great deal of personal satisfaction. Winning the award would be an endorsement of excellence and the highest achievement possible. I know how highly regarded this award is in our profession, and I know many of the previous winners whom I respect tremendously. Winning the award also brings professional recognition – recognition from one’s peers is high praise indeed as they truly understand all the challenges we face.

What has been the highlight of your career (besides winning the award)?

There have been many highlights in my career regarding clients’ lives that have changed, and the gratitude I have experienced from them. My career started with me working for two unit trust companies, first at Investec and then at RMB. I was made a director of RMB Unit Trusts when I was 29 years old, and that was a career highlight for me at a young age. I always planned on being a corporate employee and entrepreneurship was not part of my plan. Almost eight years ago, circumstances forced me into starting my own business with some colleagues, and I am immensely proud of the business we have built, the procedures I have put in place and our business’ successes as we grow. No-one can prepare you for the challenges starting a business brings!

What do you consider the most important trait of an accomplished financial advisor?

I knew that winning the award would be the ultimate accolade for me as a financial planner.

It is hard to identify just one character trait as the most important, so I’ll start with a few. Listening well and hearing what we are being told is one of the most important. Each client has a different interpretation of their life events, and we cannot cloud our need to be objective with our own biases. Wanting to learn more and being able to admit when we are not experts and need additional resources is also important – to know what we do not know. I think humility speaks to both traits – our work is about our clients and not about us, and we need to remember their importance and not our own through the service we provide.

What changes would you like to see in the profession?

Our profession is constantly changing and evolving, and it has come such a long way. The FPI has a long proud history of driving and recognising professionalism along international standards, and there are other professional bodies also driving best practices.

It is pleasing to see young people joining the profession who want to achieve the CFP® designation and recognise the importance of high standards in our profession.

I have been concerned about some of the products that are aggressively marketed, especially complicated products with hidden costs and exit penalties. It is good to note that the new Conduct of Financial Institutions (COFI) Bill is placing the onus on product providers to take more responsibility in this regard.

As this year’s FPI ambassador, how will you use the platform to motivate change?

Winning the award is a great incentive and the competition process has been an incredible gift.

The financial services industry in South Africa is world-class, and we rank highly in many areas as confirmed by the World Economic Forum global competitiveness reports. My biggest concern is that these services are not the experience of many under-served members of our communities. Poor financial education at school and low levels of literacy preclude many people from experiencing the best of our profession. Low contributions usually have higher fees as many providers shy away from this sector.

I believe every South African citizen and organisation should be focused on this transformation issue – for South Africa to prosper and thrive everyone needs to have access to banking, investments and life assurance that is appropriate and affordable. Many financial planners do pro bono work, and I would like to see this reach extended. Trust is low in this sector of the economy, it’s not a profitable sector if priced correctly for the consumer, but it is key to our political and economic stability and the future of South Africa. I am not sure how much scope I will have to actively drive this in 2024. It has always been my retirement plan to champion this cause.

How should the profession improve clients’ experience of financial planning and ultimately their financial planning outcomes?

We often respond to what clients ask for. We need to remember that many clients have a limited understanding of the scope of work we cover. Some still view us as product salespeople or investment allocators selecting portfolios. Many do not ask for more service than what they currently receive.

Long-standing clients have annual reviews, but it is a good idea from time to time to review each client as if they were a new client. Start from scratch and review where they are now and if there are any improvements or changes to be made. We need to keep reminding our clients of the full range of services we provide, not just the ones they see at present. I have realised when doing this myself that many clients think our work only happens when we sit with them for a review. They don’t see what goes on in the background.

Please share a message of motivation for those who have considered competing for the FP of the Year Award.

I encourage every financial planning professional to enter this competition at least once. It has been the most remarkable opportunity to review how I work, and that has been invaluable. Enter this competition for yourself and view it as part of your personal growth as a professional. The process itself is extremely thorough and helps us to see our shortcomings and gaps. The panel interview with industry experts provided valuable insights into what we should be focusing on. Winning the award is a great incentive and the competition process has been an incredible gift. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Step out of your comfort zone and enter the arena. It’s the only way to grow as a person and as a professional.

The three 2023 FPI FP award finalist pose with their awards.
Lelané Bezuidenhout with Noel de Kock, Lara Warburton and Thomas Brukman.