Ian Walter has spent the last decade in the tropical heat of Cairns building an advice business around the demands of a close-knit community. He explains how financial planning works in a regional centre.

In a community of only 120,000 people, you can watch, and be watched. For Ian Walter, who moved to Cairns about 11 years, this closeness is both challenging and rewarding. It’s an environment where your fellow volunteers at the Life Saving Club can be either clients or potential business partners. In Cairns there are numerous opportunities to attract large, or lucrative, clients, with tourism businesses the obvious target, but with a regional town of that size it creates a problem if a business sets out to be exclusive. “We can’t really target particular groups, such as high net worth clients, because people see the AMP sign and wander in,” he says. “Here, your name is your business, and we are known socially and are part of the community.” Certainly the non-exclusivity hasn’t hurt Walter’s business – which last year merged with another AMP-authorised business owned by Ann Maree Simonato. The merged business ranks in the top 10 per cent of AMP Financial Planning practices, earning them the right to attend the offshore conference in Amsterdam this year. To qualify for the conference, which covers both business and subjects of interest, a practice has to rank within the top 10 per cent of AMP financial planning businesses for two years in a row. Of 1,300 planners in the dealer group, Value Plus ranks in the 80s. Both Walter and Simonato have specialties in corporate super and Simonato, in particular, has made a success in rolling over clients won through corporate super into personal plans. Walter believes the community-mindedness, or the more personal touch, has also rubbed off on the business and the way Walter and Simonato conduct their business. “Country, or regional, people seem to have more empathy for their fellow people, and that relates to the business. You have to be a jack of all trades, and really, you are representing Cairns in everything you do.” But at the heart of their advice, no matter the client, is quality. “It is something that AMP really stresses to us, and we stress to clients – quality advice,” Walter says. Each year AMP puts its advisers through a practicing accreditation test, which includes about 10 hours of exams, to ensure they are up to date with knowledge of compliance and products, and are internally audited every year. “Unless you are professional and ethical there is no place for you in financial planning,” Walter says. Walter and Simonato merged their businesses last year, with the belief that two men are better than one, so to speak. “In financial planning these days you can’t really afford to be a one-man show,” Walter says. Simonato has been a planner for about five years, but before that was an administration manager for AMP, so Walter has known her for as long as he has been in Cairns. The two are different, but complementary, in almost every aspect. He is 54, she is just 35. She has three children under the age of four, his children can now buy him a beer at the club. She has strong IT and administration skills, and he has a front-man, marketing persona. While this complementarity was a nice addition to the business, Walter says it was secondary to respect and trust, in terms of finding the best business partner. The merger of the two businesses also features as a stepping stone in Walter’s own retirement plan. “In succession planning, bringing new partners into the business is the best way to sell the business. We will look for a new partner in the next couple of years, and then over the next seven years or so I will retire,” Walter says. “This way when clients come to us they know they will be looked after.” Name: Ian Walter Business name and location: Value Plus Financial Services, Cairns Dealer name: AMP Financial Planning Number of staff and designation: 2 planners, 2 office staff and 2 personal assistants Area of speciality: holistic financial planning concentrating on retirement and superannuation Relevant qualification: CFP Member of the FPA: Yes Number of clients: 2100 (about 800 are corporate super employees) Funds under management/advice: $73 million Method of fee collection: A combination of fees and commissions Investment platform: Portfolio Care

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