Featured Profile: Pene Lovett
A hidden talent
Financial Planning Association chief operating officer Pene Lovett says she is testament to the value of financial advice. She tells Jamie Williamson about her experience.

Self-described as the only non-creative in a creative family, and despite a passion for modern art, Pene Lovett realised early on that an artist's life wasn't for her. Though she chose to satisfy her soul by studying art history, Lovett decided on a profession typically viewed as being at the opposite end of the career spectrum: accounting.

"Early in my career I ran a software company, which wasn't easy. The company got sold and I lost my job, so I decided to finish my CPA qualification. Then I set up my own business because I never wanted to be at the disposal of an employer again," Lovett explains.

One fall does not define your career, it should motivate you.
She spent the ensuing years helping small businesses with their finances, but eventually became disenchanted.

"I was bloody good at what I was doing, but I just kind of got over trying to make money all the time. I wanted to do something meaningful - I wanted to work for a cause.

At the same time, and rather fortuitously, the Financial Planning Association of Australia was establishing its Future2 Foundation. It was also looking to recruit for its finance team.

"I wanted to work for a charity but I didn't have the kind of experience necessary. I was actually drawn to the FPA because of Future2 and now I'm the chair of it," Lovett says.

Having started in the finance team in 2011, former FPA chief executive Mark Rantall saw something in Lovett and gradually increased her responsibilities and the level of oversight she had at the association.

"For a long time I was too afraid to step up, probably because I was afraid of failing like I felt I had when I lost that job in the early days. I had retreated into my shell and chosen not to pursue any more leadership roles and I shouldn't have done that," she says.

"I was kind of hiding my talents but I wish I hadn't let that failure get to me so much - one fall does not define your career, it should motivate you."

That's what she tells the people she mentors through the CPA program and also Financial Executive Women, of which she is on the board and a founding member. Lovett credits her mentees as being her career inspiration, having mentored one woman for over a decade and mentored another man to the point where she was able to appoint him to take over her role after having hired him years before.

"I love seeing people progress in their careers. I think the key when you're in any kind of mentorship or leadership role is to encourage those you're working with to take risks and to guide them. Seeing them achieve bigger and better things is the ultimate validation," she says.

Lovett says the relationship with one of her mentees has now turned into a two-way street.

"We've known each other so long that there is no need for preliminary conversations about our weekends, it's purely about work. If I need to blow off steam or want another perspective on something, I'll call her," she says.

While helping others progress Lovett continued progressing herself, taking on the role of chief operating officer at the FPA in June 2012.

"I've been a finance person for almost 20 years and, having also mentored a lot of finance people, I know that we are quite black and white. A black and white person managing a bunch of black and white people is simple, but now I manage a whole range of people across all different aspects of the organisation and that's something quite different. You've essentially got to learn to speak in different languages," she explains.

Despite identifying as one of these black and white finance people, Lovett admits she is a finance person who should know more about her own finances than she does, saying that she spent years being too ashamed to seek help.

"One would generally think that when you get older and you earn a decent amount working in a finance-related role that you would know everything about your own financial situation, and so you become too embarrassed to ask for help," Lovett says.

"My friends would always talk about what they were doing with their finances but it was never in specifics. Finally, a few years ago the FPA ran a campaign that really resonated with me and made me accept that it was time to do something about it."

Lovett describes the decision to engage a financial planner as having been life altering for herself and her husband.

"It really is just about having an intermediary there to help us navigate the things we're unsure of. Sometimes in relationships one person may tend to dominate the other, which I would say - and others have said - I'm that person," she smiles.

Lovett says her financial profile is risk averse - so much so that she never cuts the tags off the clothing that she buys.

"I don't even know why because I never take them back, it's just this strange thing I've always done. It can be quite embarrassing when people see it hanging out or spot the outline of the tag underneath the fabric," she laughs.

So, having a mediator to help decipher what she was comfortable with gave her and her husband confidence in their finances.

"It meant that we were able to agree on what it is we both want to do in life, and actually helped us realise our dream."

The dream? To own a farm.

"We asked our planner if it was realistically something we could do, and I think my husband walked into that room already believing that he was going to say no," she says.

But he didn't, in fact he encouraged them to do it and now they are the proud owners of a 100-acre farm in the NSW Hunter region - perfect for Lovett who settled in Australia after travelling around Europe and deciding that her native Auckland was too small.

Every second weekend is now spent there and Lovett says it's also afforded the time to indulge her other passion of reading.

"It's just rock and bush with a big shed on it, and there is no WiFi or television so I have plenty of time to concentrate on books which has meant that I'm now able to be part of a book club too - it might not seem like much but it's been life changing to have the free time to do the things I couldn't before," she says.

Time is something that Lovett, with her roles at the FPA and FEW, is generally short of, but that didn't stop her putting in extra hours to establish a partnership between the two organisations aimed at encouraging women into financial planning.

"When I first came into financial services I thought surely this industry has evolved past doing things specifically for women, but we clearly haven't. I honestly can't tell whether the lack of gender diversity in our industry is getting worse, or if it's just because it's a conversation that's getting louder," she says.

"I am testament to the value of financial advice and how life changing it can be so making it more inclusive, for both the industry and consumers, is so important."

Lovett concedes that it won't happen overnight but that's fine with her, saying she has always needed a constant challenge.

"I have always been a background person, I'm the person that makes the place work. I do have ideas, but I'm the one that makes sure they become a reality. I love being at the FPA because I never feel like I've finished - there's always more work to be done." she says.

"I'm here to help my staff and serve our members by making them as happy as they can be, and that's what I'll continue to do."

"I'm a firm believer in the TripAdvisor concept - everyone jumps to make a complaint, but few people will go out of their way to compliment you. Our members keep us accountable, and so as long as I'm here I'll do my best to make sure we're doing all we can."

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