Janet Hugo and her husband Victor.
Janet Hugo and her husband Victor.

Life experience is a good quality to look for in your financial adviser, because financial planning is about being prepared for what life throws at you. And this year's financial planner of the year, Janet Hugo, has had a wide range of it.

She grew up on a farm and lived in Johannesburg before moving to her current home in Hermanus.

Now, recognised as a leading financial planner by the Financial Planning Institute (FPI), the professional body for advisers who hold the certified financial planner accreditation, she is facing one of her biggest challenges: supporting her husband, Victor, through cancer.

It's an experience that brings home to Janet what she often tells her clients - make life-proof financial plans that go beyond selecting investments.

Victor is the investment guy in the family - a financial analyst who ran his own asset-management company - but Janet is the one who learnt how to protect what the couple built against life's hard knocks.

"Luckily, we had good cover and the financial flexibility to take the time off to deal with the chemotherapy," she says.

"But nothing prepared me for how much down time you need to support a family member through a dread disease.

"I had no idea how much time would need to be invested in the administration that goes along with several different doctors and their accounts, the tax queries on legitimate medical claims, and then the time drain of waiting.

"You always wait in doctors' rooms, no matter the appointment time. Then you wait for the test results and you wait to get better," she writes in a blog on dread disease.

Janet says she entered the financial planning profession for "purely selfish reasons" - she wanted the best for her family, and that meant making sense of the pile of policies Victor had been sold by a life assurance broker.

She started asking the "what if" questions, which led to her taking a postgraduate degree in financial planning and advanced diplomas in investment management and estate planning.

After the best part of a decade in practice, during which time she has served on the FPI's investment competency committee and the institute's board, Janet decided to put her practice, Sterling Private Wealth Group, and her advice to the ultimate test by entering the financial planner of the year contest.

To win the award, financial planners need to submit a financial plan, have their practices inspected and be interviewed by a panel of their peers. The plan Hugo submitted tackled the finances of a couple approaching retirement, and, in particular, a question they had around a property investment.

They wanted to know what investing in a retirement development, ahead of their own need for it, would do to their carefully preserved savings.

Janet answered their questions and more. She identified all the risks to the couple's finances, including their too-conservative investment plan and those "what if" questions.

Janet says many people fail to see the value of such plans - they don't know how to value the time and expertise it takes to compile them. It's an issue she will highlight during her year as an ambassador for financial planning. Incompetent advisers flourish because clients don't want to pay for quality plans, she says.