A new breed of planner: Melissa Richardson

5 min read

The Stella Network has hit its mark to bring more women into financial planning with at least one financial planner crediting the Stella Network with spring-boarding her into the profession so far. Westpac financial planner Melissa Richardson says she was inspired by the Stella Networks launch to apply for her first role as a planner.

Melissa literally fell into financial planning when she accidentally took a first year finance course without realising. She had signed up for a double degree in Commerce and Arts. But the Commerce degree had changed and she hadn’t realised and so using an old handbook she had undertaken a financial planning subject – which she loved.

“I wanted to major in marketing but found I didn’t really like it but I really loved the first year finance,” she says. While she had not known about financial planning before starting Uni, mid-way through first year she decided to drop arts completely and focus on planning.

Melissa’s first experience in financial planning was as a planner assistant while she was still at University. She worked part-time in the role for six months.

Working at Westpac

When we caught up with Melissa she had been in her role only three weeks. After studying Personal Finance, law, Tax, Investment Management and Retirement and Estate Planning, she applied for several graduate roles in 2012 and while she missed out on these, she did secure a job in the bank’s call centre.

Two years ago she started at Westpac in the call centre’s general advice team – which focused on life insurance customers. “It was my job to call insurance customer to pay their premiums,” Melissa says.

“There were a range of reasons people might not have paid, they may have changed credit cards, or had a cashflow issue, or they may have wanted to cancel their policy.

“I learned a lot about products including those that people had taken out a long time ago, perhaps when they had taken out their mortgage.”

Learning on the phone

Next at BT, Melissa worked for 6 months selling and retaining super and investment business for the scalable advice business. “It makes you comfortable talking to people,” Melissa says.

Most importantly, she was helping educate people.

“It was a good sales foundation. If you can build your skills through roles like this you have a lot of leads and you can practice techniques and find what works for you. Different techniques work for different people.

“I worked in insurance for 18 months. I just needed to top up my knowledge. In phone-based planning I found the phone didn’t bother me at all. A lot of planners like only to deal with face to face meetings, but it’s not always viable.”

There were 11 people on the phone-based team. The team also does teleconferencing and videoconferencing and can run appointments on an ipad or laptop.

Becoming a financial planner

So far so good. “Everyone is friendly and you can do what you want in terms of working extra hard and making lots of money, or you can work a little easier to achieve they lifestyle you want – as long as you are commercially and compliant you have some flexibility in your work,” Melissa says.

“Financial planning isn’t about numbers. It’s about people and making them comfortable, understanding their communication style and relating it to them in the way they understand.

“I like to spend as much time as I can, speaking to my clients, doing the strategy while much of the admin is done by assistants and paraplanners. It’s all about talking to clients and then the assistants do the research and you analyse and do the strategy.

“We have very strict processes in advice, so the advice I give is not different from advice given from those advisers who have been here for 15 years.”

The flexibility is amazing, Melissa says. “I get to develop a real relationship with our customers. We might spend 10 minutes on finance but the rest is about how’s life? What are you doing? What are your kids doing? In the call centre, I would talk to people for a deal and then the relationship would end. Now I get to build a relationship that’s going to last a longer time. I can ask difficult questions because I know these people are going to be my clients. It’s in their best interests to ask difficult questions. I can give some of myself to customers and ideally we can have that nice long-term relationship. In the call centre, I didn’t feel I had the right to ask those questions.”

What’s next

Melissa is not currently looking at what’s next. “My goal before getting into financial planning was getting into financial planning and now I’m here,” she says.

For the future, she can see several opportunities – mastering what she’s doing and in the next few years working on face to face planning. Perhaps later, private bank will be a challenge to work on HNW complex plans, she says.

“I see myself here hopefully for the next 20 years working in the banks. There are a lot of opportunities here and I’m open to where the wind takes me.”

To be a good planner:

  1. Need to be good with people and be able to empathise and understand and not be judgemental.
  2. Need to have commercial expertise and you also need to have some sales skills.
  3. Need to be good at listening but know when to ask the light bulb questions to reveal what people really want.
  4. Need a technical side.

“You need all of the above to make sure clients value you,” Melissa said.