Cover Story: Peter Nonnenmacher
Reality check
Celebrating 40 years in any job is a remarkable feat and to still love doing what you do after all those years is all the more impressive. Hillross Macarthur's Peter Nonnenmacher shares with Jamie Williamson his thoughts on the changing world of advice.

Commonwealth Bank or the Bank of NSW. Dismissing her 16-year old son's "pipe dream" of becoming a professional golfer, those were the options Peter Nonnenmacher's mother put to him when he left school in the late 1970s.

Choosing the Bank of NSW - now Westpac - Nonnenmacher's career in financial services kicked off.

I don't think you'd find a planner who doesn't get a kick out of meeting people with very little money and making two or three small changes and suddenly you've freed up significant cash flow.
Now celebrating 40 years in the industry, Nonnenmacher has witnessed the evolution of Australia's financial advice industry and has undeniably earned the right to share his thoughts on its ongoing transformation.

Starting out as an office junior in 1978 before qualifying as a financial adviser in 1987, Nonnenmacher gave 15 years to the bank, rising through the ranks to eventually lead the establishment of Westpac's investment centres and assist in the setting up of its private banking division.

Over the course of his time there, Nonnenmacher realised the value of quality financial advice; by merely implementing a bit of structure in their finances, it was possible to change people's lives forever.

"I don't think you'd find a planner who doesn't get a kick out of meeting people with very little money and making two or three small changes and suddenly you've freed up significant cash flow," he says.

"They're so much happier and less stressed. It can obviously be done with wealthy people too but it doesn't have quite as dramatic an effect on their personal wellbeing. That's what got me into it and it's why I'm still here."

Following a brief stint at Advance Bank, which later merged with St. George Bank, Nonnenmacher joined Hillross Financial Services in 1999.

The following year he established Hillross Macarthur in Campbelltown, New South Wales.

Now, 18 years later, many of the practice's original clients are still on the Hillross Macarthur books; some were Nonnenmacher's clients in the bank. The firm's team caters to 342 fee-paying clients and receive trail commissions from a further 69.

The average client holds about $490,000 in assets and is about 50 years old, though Nonnenmacher says the client demographics have shifted markedly over the years with a roughly 50/50 split in accumulators and retirees now.

"We're dealing with a lot of smaller amounts now, so it's a lot of savings plans, lending and insurance," he says.

"For the older clients it's all about paying off debts, working around growing salaries and there's obviously a bigger focus on super and retirement. Many of these clients I worked with when they were younger and so it's very satisfying to see them achieving their dreams."

Nonnenmacher is proud of the client loyalty he has enjoyed, putting much of it down to Hillross Macarthur's unwavering focus on exceptional service.

When a client arrives at Hillross Macarthur - whether it be their first meeting or their fifty-first - they are always welcomed by a personalised sign in the carpark, establishing a connection and providing peace of mind before they've even walked in the door.

"It's about making them feel at ease - we don't want anyone feeling like they're not welcome here, which is often an issue for people seeking advice for the first time," Nonnenmacher explains.

By his own admission, Nonnenmacher's practice has too many administration staff.

"You can't provide good service if you don't have people there to answer the phones and greet the clients. There are probably businesses out there making a bigger profit than us, but they probably have less in terms of service," he says.

"If you have good service, money will always follow."

Unfortunately, that mantra isn't necessarily ringing true at the moment with Nonnenmacher saying much of his admin staff's time is being chewed up by the increased compliance obligations advisers are now subject to.

While he has no interest in doing "cheap and nasty things", less compliance would be nice, he says.

"The Government wants to look after the average consumer but quite often now the average consumer can't afford to get advice because of the added compliance costs," he says.

Nonnenmacher is concerned overcompliance is creating an even greater divide, only serving to reinforce the misnomer that advice is only for the wealthy.

"You have to set your bar at a certain level and it's almost at a point where only the elite can get financial advice," he says.

"We aren't quite there yet but I certainly think that's where we are headed, which is kind of funny because the Government's intention is virtually the complete opposite. I don't think there was any commercial aspects considered when they made their decisions."

For those that haven't been priced out, Nonnenmacher says his clients are still being disadvantaged by the added requirements, adding that vetting of a large financial plan by a dealer group can add up to two weeks to a client's wait time.

"It's actually slowing up the process and making it almost impossible to get quick advice. There's so much time being wasted between talking to a client and delivering their Statement of Advice simply because of all the extra hoops," he says.

"I'm hopeful it will subside but at the moment it's the worst I've ever seen."

But, Hillross Macarthur is obviously doing something right, having taken home a number of accolades including being a finalist for the Hillross Advisory Firm of the Year award five times, winning the award in 2015.

Nonnenmacher himself has been the recipient of much recognition over the years too. For the last two years running he has been named in the top 50 advisers in the country by Barron's; he has been a finalist in the Hillross Adviser of the Year award multiple times and took out the award in 2009; in 2010 he was nominated for the Association of Financial Advisers' Adviser of the Year award; and in 2016 he was named Campbelltown's Business Person of the Year.

He was also a finalist in the 2018 FS Power50, recognising the top advisers Australia has to offer.

None of the recognition would be possible if it weren't for the many years of service and dedication to clients, nor the immense level of experience Nonnenmacher has amassed over the last four decades.

This is, in part, why he takes great issue with the new education and professional standard requirements being dictated by the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority.

"I think the industry and commentators need to have more faith in experience. There are a lot of people with a great deal of experience but many of them are going to walk out simply because they don't feel appreciated," Nonnenmacher says.

"The industry needs to appreciate that people who have been in it for a long time - like I have - do their CPD every year, they've likely got a professional designation like a CFP, and they've done a lot of work in the industry and in their business to get to where they are."

Put simply, existing advisers just aren't given enough credit because of the few "bad apples" that have chosen to do the wrong thing.

"I would love to see a little less focus on advisers that have done poorly by their clients - which is typically a very small percentage - because the industry has grown to be a lot more professional in recent years," Nonnenmacher says.

Nonnenmacher fears that a less experienced industry could lead to worse outcomes for clients as, naturally, his many years in advice have given him the confidence to be "arrogant in a good way." While he is all about client satisfaction, he isn't about to let a client's wants get in the way of their needs.

"I'm much more forthright about what clients are doing at times now. Advice isn't about going with the flow. Quite often a client will come in telling us what they need and it's up to us to tell them, 'No, you want that but you actually need this'" he says.

Nonnenmacher believes that advisers sometimes pander to their clients to ensure retention, neglecting the fact that the client is paying them to help make the tough calls.

"I find a lot of advisers don't actually advise. You've got to be upfront with people and let them know that what they want or what they're doing may not be right for them and they need to change," he says.

"Sometimes it might mean doing a complete 180, and clients will probably always react differently to that but when you're confident and you can demonstrate that they will be in a better position because of your advice, they appreciate that and it builds respect - they value what you're saying."

It's certainly a strategy that's worked for Nonnenmacher. Not only has his business gone from strength to strength, but some of the clients on his books today have been with him since his days in the bank.

And it isn't just paying clients that Nonnenmacher is helping. He is a regular contributor to the quarterly In Macarthur magazine, sharing his knowledge and providing tips on various financial planning topics with the aim of boosting his community's financial literacy.

He is also passionate about pro-bono advice, having partnered many years ago with the Cancer Council to provide services free of charge to people battling serious and terminal illness and their loved ones.

"More often than not you're working with the individual's spouse or family to see what kind of insurance policies are in place, how they're going to pay the mortgage, how much superannuation there is and what kind of structures you might need to put in place," Nonnenmacher says.

"It's generally all very simple from our point of view, but they are going through so much and probably wouldn't even know where to start. But, to be able to lift that weight and tell them they're going to be ok financially because everything is taken care of - there's nothing like it."

To that end, Nonnenmacher works tirelessly to demonstrate to his clients - existing and prospective - the value of advice.

The walls of the Hillross Macarthur office serve as canvases for beautiful, three dimensional paintings of dream retirement locations; the back wall in Nonnenmacher's office depicts a seaside setting and when you look at it, it's as though you're staring out from the balcony of your very own beach house.

Helping clients envision their dream lifestyle then and there not only helps Nonnenmacher in formulating the ideal strategy, but also helps motivate the client in achieving that very lifestyle.

Illustrating this, Nonnenmacher tells the story of a couple that has been on his books from day one. Having advised them through the accumulation phase, both are now in pension phase and living their dream retirement - regularly enjoying around-the-world cruises.

"They come back every time and tell me how fortunate they are that we were planning for them and got them to where they are," he says.

"But I always tell them that simply isn't true. We are important, but we're just the coordinators." fs

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