Goal-setting or Goal-washing? What advisers can learn from the space program…

“The future does not exist and cannot be predicted. It must be imagined and invented” Gelatt (1989)

On May 25, 1961 USA President John F. Kennedy delivered an ambitious speech seeking Congress support to a project that would be ‘…more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth before the end of that decade’.

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins confirmed the role of Kennedy’s goal years later in a interview with the Washington Post when he described the decade of effort which cost approximately $25B and engaged approximately 400,000 workers as a ‘..very fragile daisy chain of events’. Without Kennedy’s goal, made even more powerful and untouchable when he was assassinated two years later in November 1963, the daisy chain would have been too fragile.

Goals provide a focus for attention, debate and action.

They energise and fuel required persistence and alternatives when forward paths become impassable. Fundamentally the role and power of goals is to support any effort towards a previously unachieved outcome or unmanageable situation.

Predictably, history is full of tyrants, institutions, families, community, political, social, religious, and business groups, who have successfully masqueraded their own self-interest by using goals supposedly in the best interests of others they want to influence.

This ‘goal-washing’ is endemic in financial services by those whose self-interest is fundamentally about product choice.


On October 5, 2016 AMP, Australia’s largest combined insurance and advisory firm, officially launched AMP Advice.

Advice from AMP’s new division was based upon what AMP management referred to as a ‘goals-based approach to advice’. AMP’s advisers could now use a new approach within the AMP Goals Explorer Centre equipped with smart touch screens and staffed with team members referred to as concierges and coaches.

Rob Caprioli, then head of AMP Advice and Banking, reasoned as only a minority of Australians were seeking financial advice, customers needed a different experience to be more ‘empowered’ and feel more ‘in control’ and ‘less pressure’ found in the traditional advice approach.

He’s was right.

But in less than two years, the hidden intent of AMP’s management became a bit clearer.


On Monday 16 April 2018, Jack Regan the head of AMP Advice at the time, became a witness before a public hearing of Justice Hayne’s Royal Commission being asked to account for years of his company’s intent to charge customers fees for no service. Jack was left holding the can for a systemic, industry wide practice of masquerading best interests as product sales and maintenance.

Jack acknowledged AMP’s failures to inform the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) of breaches of advice and for neglecting to address advice breaches. He conceded AMP had continued to make misleading statements to ASIC due deliberate business decisions. AMP’s Chairman, CEO, General Counsel, two Directors were to leave the company in the following six months of Jack’s time in the witness box.


Most goal-setting initiatives in financial services resemble the attempts by AMP’s Goal Explorer Centre. Dreamed up by marketing teams whose primary objective is to sell more product.

They fundamentally missed the fat clue from astronaut Michael Collins.

It’s not the goal, it’s how the goal helps navigate life’s fragile daisy chain of situations, circumstances and behaviours whenever we seek what is still unachieved or still unmanageable in our lives.

Whether our goals are as big as President Kennedy’s or not, life goals are only a start and re-start point for valuable relationships with impartial advisers whose value will be determined by their clients as they navigate their many life choices.

Life goals are serious mis-selling tactics – ‘goal-washing’ – when done by those whose intent and remuneration boils down to a choice of product.

What do you reckon?



[This is an extract from Jim Stackpool’s forth-coming book – What Price Value – due for release Spring 2021 – click here for more details]
Photos Credit: Shutterstock_1113141305
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