Eleanor Dartnall: standing up for her strong client-centric beliefs

4 min read

Eleanor Dartnall, of Dartnall Advisers, is an award-winning financial adviser, recognised by her peers. She has worked in financial advice since the 90s, despite having a long career which began with an accounting cadetship in one of the big banks in the 60s and fueled her love affair with all things financial.

From here she led the investment division of a large building society. Following this she moved to Perpetual Trustees where she became head of the Private Wealth, Estate and Trust Division, firstly in Perth then in NSW.

The Private Wealth division grew to a strong team of financial advisers offering a service to a wider audience; her management skills were focused on the estate and trust services and overseeing beneficiaries’ inherited wealth. Necessarily the role of manager changed, new skills were required and Eleanor moved to becoming a senior financial adviser.

Eleanor subsequently established her own practice where she set about providing a new model for the provision of advice. She has focused on being ‘the client voice’ since the beginning of her career and being a financial adviser, often challenging the status quo, hasn’t changed her. Eleanor’s client base is made up of pre-retirees and retirees, advice around complex investment strategies and complex succession planning issues.

Here Stella asks Eleanor about her career in financial advice.

Is being an adviser what you thought it would be?

I don’t believe I had a considered perception of where my journey would go, I always knew it would be hard, I knew I would have to be technically strong, and from my many years in the trustee industry, I understood clearly how emotional it could be. What I did not realise was how rewarding it can be to find solutions that change people’s lives; how challenging and exciting it is to come up with strategies that deliver on the client’s goals and objectives.

It is a joy to educate clients, to see them making their own financial decision and using this new skill in other parts of their lives.

What do you want to achieve in this part of my career?

I want to build a strong business, one that is prepared to be the voice of the client.

Today we as advisers stand at a crossroads in our profession, and we can take the easy (some say more profitable) road to the delivery of advice, or the road that gives the client the knowledge needed to take on a shared responsibility with their adviser and the knowledge needed to give informed consent to any recommendations made.

Standing at the crossroad, we need to challenge the status quo on behalf of our clients, but we also need to offer the solutions if we are not to be merely a hollow voice. With adviser provided education, the client is empowered to be the decision maker, and to provide informed consent for the implementation of the advice given.

Research I have conducted over the past nine months clearly shows that the client wants advice in language they can understand, and they want a clear understanding of the strategies and investment recommendations made. And while the next generation wants digital technology they also want a face to face relationship with their adviser.

We, the advisers, need to be the voice of the client.

As advisers, we need to be humbler about the money consumers bring to us to invest. We need to stop and consider what it took to accumulate that money, where it comes from: a lifetime’s hard work, the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, injury compensation and so much more. We need to stop and reflect on this and respect the emotion that lies beneath the request for advice.

What have been your greatest challenges?

Challenging the status quo in the industry, finding better ways to communicate with clients and ways to educate them: finding solutions that will meet with compliance regimes and at the same deliver better understanding outcomes for my clients. I am very fortunate in my licensee, they have been prepared to review what we do differently, and to give acceptance to a new onboarding process and unbundling of our advice documents. The result is clients who clearly understand their advice and clients who participate in the building of their own advice documents. Importantly this led to a shared journey between client and adviser and a shared responsibility accepted by both. 

What is currently on your mind in my business and in the wider industry?

Well, conscious of the Best Interest Duty obligations introduced by FoFA, I think I need to spend time over the Christmas break re-designing our advice document so that my business has the right framework in place to deliver advice that is embraced by the seven steps of Best Interest.

I am also completing some research I have been undertaking as I talk to clients about what they want to see in their advice documents.  

What will my next career move be?

I would like to think this is my last career, but in the coming two years, I would like to step back from advising to provide training for advisers; particularly around trusts and estate planning and the importance of both as part of the onboarding process.

Who do you think make the best advisers?

Advisers who can listen, who will take time out to fully understand and appreciate the journey the client has been on. It does not matter how young the adviser is, a real skill, is being empathetic, being a listener, hearing what is not said. The technical skills can be learned, the human skills are developed over time and with intent. They take patience and sometimes forbearance.

What is my advice to anyone considering a career as an adviser?

You will never have a better career, it is both demanding and rewarding. You will need to have patience in the early years, as you need to learn from experience as well as education, to bring value to the table when you talk to your clients. While ‘value’ is about delivering a service that is commensurate with the fees charged, I believe real value is what you bring to the table when you meet each client; your ability to listen and to understand, what your own journey has taught you, an ability to listen to what is not said, but demonstrated in the client’s body language, and much more.

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