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Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The impact of the FASEA changes on accountant's 'SMSF advice'

One of the quirks of the Australian financial advice sector was that accountants had been able to offer financial advice limited to SMSFs in isolation. This made a sort of sense, as accounting clients would often seek guidance from their existing accountants when thinking about setting up an SMSF. And, after all, accountants had much higher educational and professional standards than the typical 'financial adviser', so they felt they were perfectly capable of giving advice with regards to SMSFs.

However, with the move towards 'Best Interests Duty' meaning that financial advice has to take into account the entire situation of a client, it no longer makes sense (or is appropriate) to give advice on how to setup a SMSF without taking into account the client's overall financial situation, goals, and other financial needs such as insurance, investing outside of superannuation, and the actual  investment allocations once the SMSF is setup.

Before 30 June 2016, accountants were permitted to provide advice on setting up and winding up an SMSF (and other product-related advice) under the so-called ‘accountants’ exemption’, which has now been repealed. Therefore, if accountants want to continue to offer 'advice' regarding SMSF they need to get registered as a financial adviser, and meet the educational requirements - including the new FASEA exam.


You would think that if the accountants that had previously been offering 'financial advice' with regards to SMSFs had been acting in the client's "best interests" by taking into account their holistic financial situation and needs when advising about establishing an SMSF, then passing the FASEA exam would not be particularly challenging. But apparently not so - a recent poll by SMSFAdviser indicated that only 25% of respondents planned to 'meet the new requirements and continue to give advice' (some of the respondents would have been registered financial planners, so this probably overstates the percentage of accountants that will 'upgrade' in order to be able to continue offer SMSF advice). While 23.3% of respondents said they would be unaffected by the new requirements (i.e. they don't provide any financial advice in conjunction with their accounting services), a whopping 29.7% intend to stop giving advice, and a further 22% were planning to retire by 2024 or leave the industry.

Overall, it looks like the changes will result in a much smaller cohort of accountants offering financial advice to their clients, which suggests there may be an increase in referrals of accounting clients to financial planners when they are in need of personal financial advice. Those accountants that do choose to 'upgrade' in order to be able to offer financial advice will be able to offer a more holistic service to their clients. Whether or not it makes economic sense is another matter... there is a lot of admin required when providing financial advice (eg. product comparisons and a written SOA) that isn't involved when 'only' providing accounting services.

On the other had, there has recently been a significant flow of clients away from SMSFs and into low-cost industry superannuation funds - which might indicate that some clients of accountants had been placed into SMSFs when it wasn't really appropriate for them. So perhaps the repeal of the 'accountants' exemption' was long overdue.

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