Letters to the Editor || Banks and big business – Cynthia Murray

With all the publicity into banking and finance, I am disgusted and embarrassed to admit that I was a financial planner for 15+ years. I was involved in establishing the 70 Personal Investment Centres of Westpac, which appeared in 1987 and after nagging my "boss" for some time, was told to "shut up, pack your bags and get to Tamworth" which I did at the end of 1987, opening the Tamworth PIC in February 1988 and covering a territory from Denman, to Mungindi, to Tenterfield and and several outside. Despite having Ag Sc. qualifications, I had been involved in the Investment world for some time so was thrilled to be able to merge my two areas of interest.

The example that I had used to the Bank to establish the centres was "a grazier goes into the Bank in Moree with his wool or wheat cheque and asks "what should I do with this" and instead of being given an AGC Debenture Application (AGC being a wholly owned subsidiary of Westpac) or a Term Deposit application, they should be able to sit down with a trained/qualified person to ascertain their goals, aspirations and needs and to guide them to retirement. We had an "approved" investment list, that is investment products that had been approved by the "hierarchy" of the Investment Division of the Bank.

Our salary was THE SAME AS ANY OTHER BANK OFFICER, IF A GRADE C MANAGER, WE RECEIVED THE SAME INCOME AS A GRADE C MANAGER OF A BRANCH OR IN INTERNATIONAL DIVISION OR PERSONNEL DIVISION, we did NOT receive any commission from Fund Manager, all that went directly to the Bank. We had been trained to "meet the client needs, to do the best for the client" and this is what I was proud to do.

After meeting with a client (face to face) a written recommendation was to be provided, about 45 pages normally, which provided all the details of the recommended investments, the anticipated level of income (but not guaranteed), a potential tax outcome, all risks and benefits and also to provide the "prospectus" for each investment (replaced in later years by the PDS (product disclosure statement)). Interviews WERE NOT conducted over the 'phone but face to face, a good deal can be "seen" when talking with a person face to face.

The recommendations were delivered person to person to the client, or in some rare situations, posted to the client and followed up with a visit to explain the recommendation and answer any questions. Sixty hours a week were nothing in my day and being a Manager, without overtime, but I loved my work and met many wonderful people.

All this changed when the Bank entered into an alliance with AMP in the mid 90's, we were no longer permitted to "sell" insurance. Even though we may have seen the need we then had to "refer" the client to an "Insurance Advisor" (I was not happy and said so to the hierarchy). Subsequently the Insurance personnel who had been used to living on and receiving exorbitant income via commissions started to complain about their reduced income, needless to say the Bank capitulated to AMP and our salary structure was varied so that although we continued to receive our bank aligned salary, we were "encouraged" to place investments into products that paid the Bank larger commissions and encouraged by way of targets and rewards for "being up the ladder". Counter staff in branches were given target to obtain referrals to either the PICs or the Life "advisers" with $ restrictions placed on where to forward the referral. If the client only had $50k or less had to go to life, those with over $50k were to go to the PIC but then if the PIC found that Insurance was required then the referral was forwarded to "Life". Clients were not happy. On many an occassion, to receive the reward, the counter staff would forward a "joint" potential to Life "because they only had $50k each"....total of $100k available for investment! The Life advisers never sent a referral back to the correct area.

Training had continued and we had a "PIC" meeting for a day in Sydney every month and an Annual Conference with our colleagues from other states. In 1996 a "new" State Manager had been appointed (I had been offered the role and would have accepted it if "I can work from Tamworth and there was no reason why I could not".

However I did not receive the new role and subsequently the "new" State Manager (who I had trained) called to the office and advised "that you are redundant effective next Monday, pack your bags, goodbye"..I was living in a bank house, I drove a bank car hence had to remove tenants from a home I had purchased in Tamworth, acquire another vehicle and look for work. When the Manager asked "how long does it take to drive from Charlestown to "MUN GIN DI" (sic) (he came from Bendigo!!) and I answered "about 8 hours" I knew the Bank had a problem.

I was subsequently picked up by the NAB and found that it had even worse problems, it would take a member out of a branch and "you are a Financial Planner"...haha. I had one chap posted to work with me "but you cannot provided him with advice, he is trained"...had been a pizza delivery man and had three weeks training by MLC!! Then with bells and whistles it announced a "new programme and salary structure"...once again "sales driven" and initiated by "T2A"...being "Transition to Advice" which confirmed that investment placements had been made "without advice". Some staff left because they were not going to be able to receive the level of salary that they been had and one chap I knew in Tamworth left because he could not meet the mortgage on a new home. Shonky practices were prevalent and once again I complained, (whistle blew) but at the end of 2004, "your services are no longer required). One chap being "lauded" for his ability and had come from Westpac, but none of my (ex) colleagues at Westpac or Regional Managers of Westpac had even heard of him, was subsequently removed by the NAB and charged with theft of vast amounts from elderly clients.

On leaving both Westpac and the NAB I was prevented from taking any clients, however; if the client elected to follow me, nothing could be done and so I did have a client base when in 2005 I set up on my own (but still had to have a licence which cost me in the vicinity of $30k a year (taken by my Dealer from my income).

Having been spoilt since well before 1987 by way of reduced fees on bank accounts, virtually no interest on a mortgage, provided with a house for virtually no rent and a car, petrol, office, 'phone and insurances, I went to a situation where all those had to be met at commercial rates and from that which I received by way of fees from my clients.

With the GFC of the late 2000's I had been forced to sell my home in Tamworth and moved to Bendemeer, bad mistake as I did not take into account the cost of petrol (costs about $18 a return trip to Tamworth). At the end of 2013 when I was able to access Centrelink (which I never wished to do) I was forced to retire....am bored stiff, had hoped to work for many years and always said if I was still clear in the head I would work to 75!

I was audited every four months for all the years that I worked and never received a poor audit...just should have kept my mouth shut and not complained....but then again, would not have the clear conscience that I do

Cynthia B Murray JP., Dip Ag Sc.ASIA, ACIM, EDY, Dip. Fin Planning (Deakin Uni) All achieved before mid 90's.