This month’s passing of new laws raising the bar on educational and ethical standards in financial planning was the culmination of a high-risk, high-reward campaign galvanised by a small and tightly focused group.

I was privileged to act as communications adviser to that team, and my recount here of the untold back story is first hand. I have worked in and around the industry of planning since the early 1990’s, and have been fortunate to play a part in the profession of planning during recent times.

The seeds of the new legislation, including the somewhat incredible protections to enshrine the term ‘financial planner’, were sown in April, 2011, following a previous 2009 decision by the Financial Planning Association (FPA) to ban members accepting commissions.

It was then that the FPA, under a Board led by Chairman Matthew Rowe and its CEO Mark Rantall, sought the approval of its membership to commence a full-blooded march towards professionalism. An EGM in April 2011 garnered a staggering mandate – a 94% YES vote – agreeing to professionalise financial advice on behalf of Australian consumers.

Prior to that time, at the beginning of 2010, I was hired and sat in a room with Rantall, Rowe and a whiteboard. We set out the objectives: raise and uphold professional standards, weed out those operating without appropriate qualifications, and reverse the overwhelmingly negative public perception of financial planning in the post-GFC, post-Storm Financial era.

On the whiteboard was the ultimate (and probably unachievable) goal: to enshrine the words financial planner under law in order that consumers would know the person they were dealing with had earned that professional title through higher education and a commitment to a framework of ethical practice and accountability.

It was time to make a stand on behalf of consumers and most decent planners doing the right thing. Draw a line in the sand. To show, not tell. Wins ensued over the next couple of years: The Tax Agent Practitioners Board recognised the FPA as professional body in 2012, the same year the FPA lodged its Code of Conduct with the corporate cop (ASIC approved this in November 2016).

In March, 2013 the FPA rolled out a mandatory degree requirement for its members – the move seen as a clear nod to the fundamental fitness of the profession, but not universally loved.

The media dial also shifted. In the 2009 calendar year, the FPA had an almost 100% negative media track record. Positive coverage of the ‘emerging profession’ – through consistent hard work and a preparedness by the CEO to turn up, anytime, day or night and to stay on message ensured a huge volume of media mentions all heading in the right direction: upwards.

By early 2014, the ground had shifted again. Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) draft legislation (first introduced in 2010) was about to be handed to yet another federal Minister, this time in the form of the Abbott Government’s Matthias Cormann.

A nasty legislative loophole – ostensibly allowing commissions to be allowed under a ‘general advice’ exemption – had been the topic of ongoing industry and media debate. The banks had lined up to argue the case for it. And the FPA, through Matthew Rowe, went public on the ABC TV Lateline programme to denounce it as the “Wolf of Wall Street clause” and to argue the strong case to drop it.

That interview, and the one word ‘retrograde’ used by Rowe to describe the draft proposal, set the tone for the ‘new FPA’ and opened the door to the organisation gaining a decisive position in Canberra, with the new Minister, in the formulation of the FOFA legislation, and, ultimately, the new laws that passed this month.

In late 2015 I interviewed Matthew Rowe about his live national television appearance, and its impact on the course of history of the profession. Watch that video interview below.