2019 Financial Planner of the Year Hardi Swart (left) receives his award from FPI CEO Lelané Bezuidenhout on July 17 2019. Picture: SUPPLIED
2019 Financial Planner of the Year Hardi Swart (left) receives his award from FPI CEO Lelané Bezuidenhout on July 17 2019. Picture: SUPPLIED

2019’s Financial Planner of the Year learnt his first big lesson about financial planning with first-hand experience of how families suffer when the  breadwinner fails make plans for their premature death.

And as if that wasn’t enough, his family’s precarious position was exacerbated when they trusted a broker who was only out to make a commission and invested precious funds in two property syndications that subsequently failed.

Hardi Swart, was named the 2019 winner at the Financial Planning Institute’s (FPI) annual awards dinner on Wednesday night. Yesterday he shared his journey to becoming a financial planner and the lessons he learnt along the way with his peers at the FPI’s annual conference, which focused on how advisers can “add value’’.

Swart holds the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) of the Year accreditation and is the MD at Autus Private Clients and Family Office, which he founded in 2012.

The two-time finalist obtained his CFP after completing the post-graduate diploma in financial planning at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, among other qualifications. The Financial Planner of the Year award is open only to members of the FPI who hold the CFP accreditation and abide by its code of ethics.

The FPI says Swart set himself apart from other entrants for the award — including runners up Craig Turton from Chartered Wealth and Johan Swart of PPW & Associates — was the depth of his knowledge, the immense detail of his financial plans and exceptional personal commitment to clients.

“The award, for me, is a recognition that financial planning is about more than just excellent advice that is given, but about becoming a lifelong and coach to friends — not clients,” Swart says.

From farming to finance

A farm boy from a small town in Mookgophong, formerly Naboomspruit, in Limpopo, Swart says he’s learnt five key lessons in his financial planning journey. The first is never to procrastinate, putting off what you could do today until tomorrow. He says he had a wonderful childhood on a farm with loving parents, however, his father did not care much for financial planning. He had no life cover and had an outdated will when he was killed in an accident.

Our biggest wealth is the people we love and our families, so it’s important to always remember when we advise people that they are human first
Hardi Swart, 2019 Financial Planner of the Year

Swart’s mother had to  work two jobs to make ends meet and keep the farm. This not only put the family under financial strain but emotional strain too.

The second tough lesson Swart learnt was when his family engaged a broker who was more concerned with selling products than serving their client’s best interests. The first broker pressured them to invest the bulk of the proceeds of the eventual sale of the farm in two popular property syndications, Sharemax and Picvest, that would go on to fail causing investors to lose millions of rands.

“The first broker had promised high returns in a short space of time and guaranteed returns but did not diversify our portfolio which increased our risk,” Swart says. This tough but valuable lesson taught Swart that when an investment sounds to good to be true it probably is.

A second broker then took Swart and his brother for a ride by selling them 10 endowment policies, even though their tax and other circumstances did not warrant these policies. The only reason the broker sold them so many policies was because he wanted to win a competition for the most policies sold. Swart says mentors taught him much about proper financial planning that puts clients’ best interests first, so he will never fall prey to brokers acting for their own interests ever again — another lesson learnt.

More recently, Hardi and his wife came close to losing one of their twin daughters during his wife’s pregnancy and had to make some tough decisions about the risks to their lives and when to deliver them. This, he says, taught him about the need to remember that financial planning is not just about numbers but also about people.

“Yes, we are advising people about money but our biggest wealth is the people we love and our families, so it’s important to always remember when we advise people that they are human first,” Swart says.

Enjoy the journey

He says the final lesson he has learnt is that life is a journey and not a destination.

In financial planning, good advice will help you plan for a savings event, death, disability and retirement, but “the real value proposition of financial planning is the journey we go on with our clients. Things change because of life events. It’s important to walk the road with your client, to take the journey”, Swart says.

He currently serves on numerous industry bodies and he is a member of the Investec Academy and the Allan Gray National Advisor Forum.

“I am in awe of the years of dedication and hard work it has taken for each winner to get where they are. There is no such thing as luck, only hard work, dedication and professionalism, Lelané Bezuidenhout, FPI CEO, said of the 19 planners who have won the award since its inception in 2001.

Candidates for the award are required to submit a detailed case study, have their practices inspected by a panel of their peers, and show their skills and expertise during a panel interview on various topics including legislation, industry trends and technical information.