Vale Tom Collins. My ‘crazy’ mate.



Every now and then a figure walks into your life bearing the gifts of creative energy and progressive thinking wrapped in a good heart that fundamentally tilts the axis of your understanding of the world.

These rare souls challenge the status quo, celebrate every day the question ‘what if?’ and never meekly accept that things can’t change. Reject the tenets of complex, rampant capitalism over social justice. Question whether a business idea should not be pursued just because it has never been tried before. That (as my mate Tom Collins expressed in the mid 1990’s) commissions have no place in a financial planning business balance sheet… nor are they in the best interest of the everyday client.

Their ideas might be so far ahead of their time that you occasionally pause and wonder ‘is this guy maybe a little crazy?’

I have had the pleasure of meeting a few such crazies over the course of my professional life.

One became a friend.

That friend, Tom Collins, sadly passed away on 29 January, 2024.

Aged only 77, Tom’s passing is a terrible irony for a bloke who spent much of his career thinking about fixing the ills of the Australian pension system, strategising occasionally wacky ideas for improved, market-linked annuity schemes to solve the longevity crisis of people outliving their retirement savings, and conceiving fairness for all in how the burgeoning Australian wealth management system operated and should be improved and regulated.

A debilitating disease robbed Tom of more years doing this honourable work. His body was failing, but the wellspring of Tom’s ideas remained plentiful until his early exit from our lives.

The funeral earlier this week in Sydney was a celebration of Tom. Attended by his loving family, a large contingent of friends and a small but significant group of financial industry pioneers. Luminaries. People who have seen the spectacular best and sometimes worst of times since the ‘87 market crash, but who in 2024 hold highly the prized gift of Tom’s impact on them, his ideas and his passion.

I first met Tom in the early 1990’s during my stint as the editor of finance industry title Money Management. Tom had been a pillar for the John Godfrey-owned financial planning business Godfrey Weston and later Godfrey Pembroke. Tom had decided to ‘go it alone’ as a consultant to the financial sector. I saw in his newfound independence an opportunity for Tom to be shaped into a regular columnist in the then David Koch-owned newspaper and to ‘tell the readers what you really think, Tom’. The inside scoop. He took up the cause and went on to write some 60 or more columns for the title, also sparking his side hustle as a speaker, industry expert and sought after commentator.

Tom’s first column was a ripper. The only issue being that he wrote it longhand with a leaky biro on foolscap paper in his left-handed dramatic cursive, and then faxed it to me. Right on deadline. Crazy! He once ‘phoned in’ his column which I dutifully typed up, the landline handset crooked between stiff shoulder and aching neck – again on bloody deadline – as he recited the whole 1500 words down a scratchy analogue line.

At the last full stop of that effort, I said “Tom, mate, this is Money Management, not the bloody Wall Street Journal.” A rare moment of Madden restraint.

Later, Tom helped me to write a first ever story investigating the then highly lucrative but secretive master trust industry – providing me the research I needed for a story that unpacked the complexities and channels of the industry’s fee drain (a practice industry types called clipping the ticket). That story ran in the Fairfax-owned Personal Investor magazine and helped lead to various changes for consumer benefit that we see even today.

Bless you and thank you Tom. 

The financial services industry, the world in fact, needs more visionaries, more ideas people, more strong souls with a high moral compass and the chutzpah to stand up and say, “No, that’s a terrible idea. How about we don’t try to bury the real cost of this thing in the fine print.

“Oh, and let’s have lunch soon, I’ve been working up a few ideas….”

Rest in Peace friend!

– Bruce Madden

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