Industry / Licensees

Being in the right place, honesty and transparency: the secrets of Marcus O’Sullivan’s success

In Part Two of a two-part series, New Model Adviser looks at the issue of leadership in the licensee industry. You can read Part One here.

Marcus O’Sullivan, Affinia Financial Advisers

Sometimes success comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that can be accidental, but good leadership ensures it happens more often than not.

Marcus O’Sullivan, head of Affinia Financial Advisers, says an important aspect of leadership in the licensee industry is giving advisers confidence that their chosen licensee knows what is going on, and is working with them to produce the best results.

“It’s important for us as a licensee to be in the right forums, to be in the right working groups that are made up of industry participant to talk through issues at Treasury, issues at FASEA, what’s happening at AFCA, at ASIC, those type of things, and making sure we’re in the right forums to get the right information so we can make good decisions,” O’Sullivan says.

In 2020 O’Sullivan was named joint winner of the CoreData 2020 Licensee Leadership Award, based on Affinia advisers’ assessment of his empathy and understanding of them as advisers, and of their businesses. (Affinia was also named CoreData 2020 Institutionally Affiliated Licensee of the Year.) It’s easy to understand why O’Sullivan enjoys the respect and support of Affinia’s advisers.

“We wanted to lead our advisers by getting in the trenches
and doing what they have to do as well.”

Marcus O’Sullivan, Affinia

“All of my leadership team have already done the FASEA exam and we’ve passed it, so that’s one example that we wanted to lead our advisers by getting in the trenches and doing what they have to do as well,” O’Sullivan says.

“A couple of our team who do not already meet the education standards are on the journey. I had a couple of subjects I needed to do, which I did with one of our advisers who’s the chairperson of our adviser council. We did the study together, which was really cool.”

A utilitarian framework

But being a leader isn’t all about being best mates with the people being led. Inevitably, difficult decisions need to be made and tough conversations need to be had. O’Sullivan says when these situations arise he is guided by the principles of transparency and honest, but through a lens of doing the greatest good for the greatest number.

“There’s only one way to approach tasks like that: you’ve got to approach it head-on,” he says.

“Sometimes you do have to make difficult decisions, and those decisions at times can impact other people. But we’ve got to look at it from the perspective of the protection of our licence and the protection of our community.”

“If we do the wrong thing as a licensee, that will impact our community.
If people in our community do the wrong thing, it impacts our licence.”

Marcus O’Sullivan, Affinia

“From time to time those conversations do happen, but it’s almost done in a utilitarian framework: it’s got to be for the greater good. We run this licensee with a really simple  mandate: we’re all inextricably linked to each other’s livelihoods. If we do the wrong thing as a licensee, that will impact our community. If people in our community do the wrong thing, it impacts our licence. 

“That’s the way we’ve always conducted this licensee. And I think our community likes that, because we’re all in it together.”

Honesty plus transparency equals minimal surprises

O’Sullivan says that when an organisation’s leadership is transparent and honest, there are relatively few issues that come up which are completely out of left-field

“Transparency and honest can usually take the surprise factor away,” he says.

“We try and communicate that way; in our practices and processes we try to be as transparent as we possibly can. The guidance we give advisers around our  monitoring and supervision framework, our advice guidelines are as transparent as we can possibly make them. If you can operate in that way, the surprise factor does reduce. Not to say it goes away completely, there’s always the odd curve-ball that comes at you.”

“But if I break the question down,
to do I think the future of advice is bright? Absolutely.”

Marcus O’Sullivan, Affinia

O’Sullivan says he is very bullish about the future of advice but says the future of the licensee entity is “probably a different question”.

There’s still some change to occur…particularly around this aspect of individual licensing,” he says.

“That conversation will evolve over the next three to five years, and then the future of licensees will very much depend on how that conversation goes, and what the output of that is.

“But if I break the question down, to do I think the future of advice is bright? Absolutely. The need for advice isn’t going away [and] with the process we’re going through at the moment, the number of practitioners is going to reduce.”

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