The gift that keeps on giving

Hester van der Merwe CFP® looks back on her experience of winning last year’s FPI Financial Planner of the Year Award.

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As you well know, our industry is highly competitive, severely regulated and still working towards broad recognition of our professional status. Ultima Financial Planners is a well-established financial planning firm. In fact, we celebrate our 21st birthday this year.

We believe that our strength lies in the combination of our expertise in financial planning and our devotion to our clients. Entering the FPI’s Financial Planner of the Year competition played to both these strengths – for me personally and for the business.

The journey

Entering the competition entails putting your business, your policies, your client offering and your technical skills under the microscope. I know that these should always be in tip-top order – but the competition requires you to view everything you do with a more critical eye, as you know you will be scrutinised by a panel of judges.

At the end of the competition, you know that your financial planning and advice process has been rigorously tested and evaluated.

While daunting, this is what makes entering so worthwhile, regardless of the outcome. I learnt something about myself at every step of the journey: from putting together my application, to hosting the judges on a (virtual) practice visit and putting myself through a gruelling panel interview.

At the end of the competition, you know that your financial planning and advice process has been rigorously tested and evaluated. We are fortunate to have mostly passed the test and it gives management huge comfort to know that we are indeed delivering in terms of quality, accuracy and innovation – and doing it all with a caring touch.

I believe that every committed Certified Financial Planner® should seriously consider entering the competition at least once in their career. I found immense value in being forced to move out of my comfort zone.

The destination

Winning the competition has been such a positive reinforcement of my ambition to do the best I can for all my clients and for the business. Many of my clients have confirmed that they appreciate my commitment to self-improvement. They say that the award has served as affirmation of their trust in Ultima as their preferred financial planning partner.

Every successful client relationship is built on trust, and it gives clients enormous confidence to know they are working with someone who has been voted the best in the business.

There have been many speaking opportunities on radio and TV, not to mention the chance to express myself in articles in the print media. This has been valuable in cementing myself as a thought leader in the industry – especially in financial coaching, which is fairly new to the industry. We have gained a huge amount of advertising exposure through the placement of these press activities. It is hard to estimate the rand value, but it is certainly a five-digit figure.

Every successful client relationship is built on trust, and it gives clients enormous confidence to know they are working with someone who has been voted the best in the business.

The afterglow

While the exposure has been fantastic, what stands out for me most has been the opportunity to reach more people and create an awareness that financial planners are true professionals who belong to a world-class professional association, the Financial Planning Institute. Many members of the public are still not aware of this fact and in my opinion this public education role is as important as making sure we give stellar advice to our clients. This is something we can all do in small ways as we go about our daily business.

Hester van der Merwe CFP®, Ultima Financial Planners

Another benefit which I really did not expect was the impact my entering the competition had on our younger staff.

If you have a winner in the team, it turns out, everyone is uplifted and excited to potentially be the next success story. We have recruited four staff members younger than 30 in the past two-and-a-half years. Winning has inspired them to strive for success and shown them that the sky truly is the limit.

Last but certainly not least, winning the competition has produced unique opportunities for the practice to strengthen and expand our client base. Being named the 2020 Financial Planner of the Year coincided with a total rebranding exercise in Ultima’s 20th year – I could not have planned it better myself!

Our website has been buzzing with interest and all our financial planners have been extremely busy speaking to prospective clients, as well as servicing our existing clients.

Over to you

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the Financial Planning Institute for giving me this life-changing opportunity. I encourage every Certified Financial Planner® out there to show your support for our industry by entering the competition. It will not only make you a better planner, it will also strengthen the standing of our profession and help build a brighter financial future for all South Africans.