Originally published |21 September 2015

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t poke the bear!” but what does it mean.

As we know, bears spend quite a long period of time in hibernation, and for the most part, they are a non-violent animal. However, when poked and antagonised, they become aggressive and angry. As such the phrase, “Don’t poke the bear” came to be.

We can take this one step further and overlay a pop culture reference.

In 1977, acclaimed director, George Lucas, introduced the world to Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. We all know the story of Luke Skywalker and his fight against his father, Darth Vader. It was in this movie that we were also introduced to, in my view, a very loveable character, the 200 year old Wookiee, Chewbacca. Chewbacca is the companion of Han Solo, the former Imperial officer, come smuggler, who saved Chewbacca’s life when he refused an order to kill him. In order to repay his debt, Chewbacca became Han’s protector and so the story continues.

In my opinion, Wookiees are very similar to bears. In all of the Star Wars movies I have watched, Chewbacca was relaxed until provoked and then became aggressive.  It was during one such scene that the phrase “It’s not wise to upset a Wookie!” arose.

So who is your “Wookiee”?

Every Australian Financial Services Licensee (AFSL) has a compliance team, who are there to help the advisers make better decisions about the quality of advice they provide. The compliance team is also the protectors of the Licence. In that they ensure that Legislation and Regulation is being adhered to.

To me, compliance is the Wookiee of the financial planning world. They are living in the universe and have decided to fight alongside the Republic in a bid to ward off the Imperial Empire.

For the most, compliance people are there to stand by your side and to battle in the trenches. The compliance team will become your protector as if they owe you a “life debt”.

But what happens if you anger them or treat them badly?

There is a classic scene in Star Wars Episode 4 when Chewbacca and R2-D2 are playing a form of chess on board the Millennium Falcon. R2-D2 makes a move and Chewbacca is not happy. This is the interaction after Chewbacca growled:

C-3PO: “He made a fair move. Screaming about it can’t help you”

Han Solo: “Let him have it. It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee”

C-3PO: “But sir, nobody worries about upsetting a droid”

Han Solo: “That’s ‘cause droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that”

Chewbacca: “Grrf”

C-3PO: “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2, let the Wookiee win.

Unlike our friends the Wookiees, if you treat your compliance team poorly, they are not going to rip your arms out of the socket, but they won’t necessarily be on your side when something goes wrong, either. When I think of all of the complaints I have investigated in the last couple of years, it is easy to defend an adviser who seeks help and assistance and works with the compliance team then it is for someone who has been antagonistic and difficult.

Even though I have had some intense dealings with them in the past, I also believe that this is the same for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). ASIC want to help Licensees improve and provide better services to mums and dads, but to do that, they need help. They need Licensees to be better protectors of the Regulations and Legislation. They also need advisers to ensure they are fighting on the side of the Rebel Alliance and not on the side of the Imperial Empire.

And of course, what happens if you “upset the Wookiee” that is ASIC? They will investigate your licence and prevent you from doing what you do best, if you are shown to be breaching legislation.

If you want to ensure you keep on the right side of your compliance team, remember the golden rule….

“It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee!”