The 2015 SMSF Awards

The 2015 SMSF Awards

The 2015 SMSF Awards
SMSF Adviser presents the winners of the annual SMSF Awards, which recognise the best performing operators servicing SMSF professionals today

Superannuation and retirement savings have arguably never been higher on the national agenda. The last two federal Budgets have made it clear that government subsidies in retirement are expressly becoming a safety net, not something that can necessarily be relied upon to fund retirement, particularly a comfortable one.

Quality SMSF service providers are, therefore, a necessity for SMSF practitioners as they look to grow and manage their clients’ retirement savings. For the second year running, The SMSF Awards has recognised excellence and innovation among SMSF service providers.

To determine the winners of this year’s awards, SMSF Adviser chose to send a carefully constructed survey to its database of SMSF professionals. This year, the survey attracted more than 1,000 participants.

SMSF Adviser worked closely with an Advisory Board to create this year’s SMSF Awards survey. The board comprised seven leading client-facing SMSF practitioners who are involved in running an advice practice and understand the impact service providers can have on the day-to-day running of a business. However, SMSF Adviser stresses that the Advisory Board was not involved in selecting the SMSF Awards winners.

Now, SMSF Adviser is proud to present the winners of the 2015 SMSF Awards.


Compliancereporting obligations have arguably been hardest hit by the technological shake-up that has transformed the SMSF sector. The actuarial certificate market has not been immune, with automation increasingly applied to the production of actuarial certificates, and business models adjusted to suit.

However, chief executive of Accurium Tracy Williams believes technology alone is not the key to a successful actuarial certificate business.
“There’s a misconception that providing actuarial certificates is just an automated business and that’s far from the case. Technology is very important, but behind our online business we have a team of about 20 people, many of them actuaries,” Ms Williams said.

“Many in the industry would be surprised to know that our team gets actively engaged with more than 35 per cent of actuarial certificates. There’s no substitute for this expertise and it’s a big part of the value we provide our clients so they can be confident in working with their SMSF trustees,” she added.

However, Ms Williams said Accurium was amongst the first to provide online actuarial certificates, and stressed that continuing to innovate and adapt is a crucial part of doing business in this sector.

“You can’t stand still: it’s a competitive market and price, efficiencies, accuracy and speed are critical factors. To deliver all those we need to continue to be innovative; continue to adopt leading-edge technology; and continue to provide additional value to accountants and SMSF practitioners,” Ms Williams said.

And it seems SMSF practitioners are generally happy with the services the market can offer – the actuarial certificate category had the highest average levels of satisfaction. The average score for delivery was 4.22 out of 5, followed by quality at 4.15, pricing at 4.12 and technical support at 4.09.

As well as continuing its work in the actuarial certificate market, Accurium intends to continue focusing on the pension phase for SMSFs and to expand the retirement specialist services it provides.

“Accurium focuses on the pension phase for SMSFs and educating the market that retirement is very different to accumulation. Longevity risk, inflation risk and investment risk all carry more importance for SMSF trustees in retirement,” Ms Williams said.

“The SMSF industry has grown so quickly and been so prominent in national discussion that it is easy to forget that it’s still a developing market.”


Over the past decade, demand and disruption have forced the SMSF administration industry to evolve significantly. As SMSF members become progressively younger and technology continues to evolve at lightning pace, the service offerings of SMSF administrators have had to change to stay alive.

“We have seen a shift in the profile of trustees and practitioners that own or work with SMSFs as they have become a more mainstream superannuation solution. In response to this, we have seen the emergence of new services and new technology offerings to make it easier for people to set up and manage SMSFs,” said general manager of Super Concepts Peter Lalor.

“SMSF administration is undergoing rapid change. Trustee and practitioner expectations are evolving quickly and competitors are generally looking for cheaper ways to deliver their services.”

This year, competition was fierce, and satisfaction with SMSF administrators was even across the board. The average ratings for quality, delivery and pricing each came in at 3.33 out of 5.

To remain competitive, Super Concepts – which has been in the market for almost 30 years – has focused on “differentiation, innovation and automation”.

This has been particularly crucial given the proliferation of online administration suppliers.

“Most SMSF administrators do a good job of preparing accounts and lodging the SMSF’s tax return – some trustees value this service. But today that type of service really is a commodity and it is in this part of the market that we see fierce competition and price pressure,” Mr Lalor said.

“To really stand out, you have to do more than historical accounting and tax work. You have to work with the client to help them make the most of the opportunities they have with their fund. That is a service that most customers really value – far more than historical accounting and tax work,” he said.

“The points of differentiation are services that educate trustees and practitioners, make them aware of the things they can do in their fund and then help them implement strategies to take advantage of them,” he added.

Mr Lalor is optimistic about the future of the SMSF sector, and said Super Concepts plans to continue its work with trustees and practitioners, with a focus on innovation that makes it easier for people to set up SMSFs and manage them.


Smsf Auditors are in a unique position within the SMSF sector in that they are one of the few professional groups SMSF trustees are obliged to engage with on a regular basis.

Data from the SMSF Awards shows that in general, satisfaction levels with SMSF auditors are good, with an average rating for quality of 3.88 out of 5. This was followed by feedback at 3.78, pricing at 3.76 and delivery at 3.72.

In recent years, the SMSF auditing industry has come under intense regulatory pressure, particularly with the onset of auditor registration. From a business perspective, price pressures and technological innovation have also heated up competition in the market.

Although ASF Audits has specialised in SMSF audits since 1994, the company acknowledges that change is necessary to remaining relevant and competitive in the ever-growing SMSF sector.

“The opportunity to capture this growth meant we had to look at ways to access and complete work which was being completed interstate,” said Richard Smith, managing partner at ASF Audits. “Initially a lot of our communication was via email, including receipt of fund working papers. However, this was – and still is – fraught with security issues that we were not willing to put aside as low risk. Therefore in 2009 we started to investigate and invest in technology.”

ASF Audits is also focused on integrating with all SMSF software providers to give end-users an efficient and accurate SMSF audit.
“We have embraced changes in technology and believe that this is the way forward. Investments in technology are not cheap, especially when it is not an off-the-shelf product,” Mr Smith added.

In addition, to maintain its client base, the firm is focused on creating its own points of difference.

“We have maintained our core values of quality and service. However, there needs to be a differentiation in how you operate. Many businesses have chosen to offshore; however, we made the decision that harnessing and developing smart technology was the way forward,” Mr Smith said.

Further investments are in the pipeline for ASF Audits, he added, and the company’s focus remains on continuing to deliver “the same high quality service to our clients”.


It goes without saying that a deed is crucial to an SMSF’s operation and must be strategically planned and structured to ensure it meets the fund members’ needs. This space, much like the rest of the SMSF sector, is being transformed by continuing advances in technology.

Entrants in this category were judged on deed delivery, quality of documentation, technical support and pricing. Across the board, voters were most satisfied with their deed provider’s delivery, with an average rating of 4.04 out of 5, followed by quality of documentation at 3.96 and technical support at 3.84.

Pricing was the category professionals were least satisfied with, scoring an overall ranking of 3.83 out of 5.

According to NowInfinity’s principal, Grant Abbott, while the “first and foremost” necessity is an up-to-date deed written by an experienced SMSF expert, practitioners also need to “move with the times” and use cloud technology to remain competitive in this space.

“Technology is the life blood of NowInfinity and affords us a great opportunity to work with an ever increasing number of cloud partners to enhance the end offering to the adviser and ultimately the end consumer,” Mr Abbott said.

“With cloud technology there is an opportunity to build extra value, such as ABN/TFN, ASIC registration, data management, digital signature, cloud storage, multiple-combinations, strategy workflows and the list goes on,” he added.

“As such, NowInfinity can pack a lot more value into the strategy and documentation piece – well beyond the traditional legal offering.”
NowInfinity plans to continue to build on and diversify its offerings – in the SMSF sector and beyond.

“We are not just SMSFs anymore and are equally adept at building tax-based packages for accountants with start-up and existing clients.
“We are about to release an employee share plan offering and see some great possibilities with peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding once the government gets its act together,” Mr Abbott said.


Software is without doubt, one of the service provision areas that is growing exponentially when it comes to its importance to the modern SMSF practitioner. As a key driver of the automation of SMSF compliance work, software is viewed by practitioners both as a threat and an opportunity.

Class Super, however, believes firmly in the opportunities SMSF software can bring to a practice. On previous occasions, chief executive officer Kevin Bungard has stressed that increased efficiency driven by technology helps practitioners build scale in their business by freeing up their time so they can focus on providing value beyond basic compliance work.

The provision of SMSF software is not without its hurdles, however, with a key challenge being the progression of SMSF businesses.
“The predominant challenges that Class Super has always faced have been the evolution of the business models within the SMSF sector and how we shape the product offering to accommodate this,” Mr Bungard said.

“Our roadmap has always considered how advisers, brokers and instos all fit into this model – this is where our customers find the value in our offering.

“With regular release updates and a consulting team able to assist our customers with tailored integration, our customer retention rates are just under the 100 per cent mark. We feel highly confident that this reflects both our value and leadership in the SMSF space.”
Mr Bungard describes the last decade as a “watershed” for the SMSF software industry, and believes there are still “plenty of areas” Class Super can add value to, including audit and meeting legislative requirements.

“We have a commitment to innovate that is second to none in the SMSF sector. We listen to our customers and work closely with them to deliver enhancements and new features on a monthly basis to ensure our offerings are always market-relevant,” he said.

Across the board, SMSF practitioners were most satisfied with SMSF software providers’ ease of use, rating it 3.65 out of 5. This was followed by support at 3.53 and pricing at 3.47.


Australian equities are, historically, a favourite among SMSFs. In fact, SMSF investors are often criticised for their bias toward domestic markets. In many ways, however, the SMSF love affair with Australian equities has re-shaped the domestic market.

This year’s winner, Perpetual, believes the rising quantum of superannuation money – and SMSFs in particular – has been the biggest distinguishing feature of the Australian equities industry over the past decade.

As such, SMSF practitioners regularly rely on Australian equities providers to help them grow their clients’ portfolios. This year, across the board, voters were most impressed with the expectation of future return Aussie equities providers could offer, with the average rating for this category finishing at 3.73 out of 5. This was followed closely by quality of reports at 3.71 and reliability of returns at 3.70. Pricing had the lowest rating, coming in at 3.47 out of 5.

Perpetual recognises that to keep its competitive edge, an Australian equities provider needs to realise that SMSF investors require a unique style of investment strategy, tailored to their investment demands and goals – which include greater tax-effectiveness.

“A lot of investment strategies [and] products offered to SMSFs still reflect a traditional mutual fund benchmark-aware product,” said portfolio manager at Perpetual, Vince Pezzullo.

“At Perpetual we recognised that ‘me too’-type strategies that mimic existing products will not work,” he added.

Perpetual also prides itself on being able to outperform down markets, something that particularly appeals to SMSFs, which often have large cumulative investment balances to protect.

“We think practitioners are looking for strategies which have a strong record in delivering consistent excess returns over the long term with lower-than-market volatility,” Mr Pezzullo said.

“Perpetual has a strong long-term record of outperformance and consistently applies our value and quality approach to keep volatility lower than the market indices.”

Mr Pezzullo describes Perpetual’s growth in recent years as “rapid”, with strong investment inflows alongside solid market returns. Future products that Perpetual will offer will be dependent on where the firm sees a need to provide investment solutions for SMSF and direct clients, he added.


As practitioners are well aware, SMSF members are typically a more conservative breed of investor. Often, practitioners look to fixed income to diversify a portfolio through a relatively low-risk and reliable income stream.

Average ratings this year for fixed-income providers were steady across the board, with quality of reports and updates coming in at 3.75 out of 5, reliability of return and expectation of future return at 3.68, and pricing at 3.57.

This year’s winner, Macquarie Investment Management, believes the fixed-income industry has become increasingly focused on the development of retirement products for clients.

As such, competition among fixed-income providers is fierce, and Raj Gohil, CFA, head of distribution at Macquarie Investment Management, Australia said Macquarie has responded by looking to exceed clients’ investment objectives.

“The SMSF environment is very dynamic and we balance innovation with a solid investment process,” Mr Gohil said. “It is important to deliver ‘true-to-label’ fixed-income outcomes for clients in all market conditions. This means a focus on capital preservation and consistent income generation.

“Our commitment to extensive in-house research and a strong risk management framework underpin our processes and investment solutions.

“We offer a comprehensive and, we believe, innovative range of cash, credit and fixed-income solutions aiming to provide investors with the expertise and flexibility to achieve their investment objectives. We have a strong pedigree in this area and have been managing SMSF investments for many years. We also have strong relationships with the adviser community which allows us to provide high quality insights and education – not just product,” he added.

Mr Gohil added that he believes fixed-income products are underrepresented in SMSF portfolios, especially when compared to global asset allocations.

“In general terms, fixed-income investing can potentially provide investors with benefits such as assets with a focus on capital preservation, income generation and diversification,” he added.

Macquarie is looking to maintain its momentum in the SMSF sector, with Mr Gohil stressing the importance of balancing “innovation with a solid investment process”.


Term Deposits are a tried and true favourite among SMSFs. Although interest rates are at historic lows at the moment, the desire for capital preservation and a generally conservative risk profile remains strong. In fact, on average and across all term deposit providers, voters were most satisfied with the returns term deposits could offer, with an overall score of 3.59 out of 5. This was followed by ease of administration at 3.50 and flexibility at 3.40.

Despite criticism that SMSFs have a consistent over-exposure to cash, ING Direct – which has offered term deposits for SMSFs since 2009 – argues the case for term deposits is strong in a retirement income portfolio.

“Cash investments are often used to provide a defensive allocation in a retirement income portfolio,” said Tim Newman, ING Direct’s head of product.

“Cash investments provide flexibility and do not need to be held within a single account. Investments can be spread across a series of short- and long-term deposits, as well as at-call accounts to provide SMSFs with their desired mix of interest payments and liquidity,” Mr Newman said.

However, Mr Newman acknowledges that SMSF members need to be proactive when picking their term deposit offering.
“While cash investments are often used as a defensive allocation in an SMSF investment strategy, a competitive interest rate remains important within the SMSF sector.

“Also in this period of low cash rates, choosing a term deposit with no fees or charges is important to ensure returns are not eaten away,” said Mr Newman.

The market is seemingly flooded with term deposit offerings and, as Mr Newman said, in the past few years the transparency and availability of term deposits has evolved, with increased competition driving “significant growth” in the market.

As such, standing out in this market means providing a combination of value for money and customer experience, Mr Newman added.
“Digital distribution and rate comparison tools have given customers, including SMSF trustees, a broader, more informed choice when it comes to choosing a term deposit provider,” he said.

According to Mr Newman, ING Direct plans to continue with its “competitive” fixed rate and at-call cash offering for SMSFs.


SMSFs HAVE long been credited with championing the growth of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in Australia, and it seems that across the board SMSF practitioners are satisfied with their ETF providers. The average rating for ETF providers’ reliability of return came in at 3.91 out of 5. This was followed by expectation of future return at 3.83, quality of reports and updates at 3.77 and pricing at 3.71.

Vanguard Australia, which has been in the ETF space since 2009, believes ETFs remain a popular choice with practitioners and their SMSF clients due to their low cost and the transparency and control they offer. In Vanguard’s experience, popularity remains on the rise.

“Compared to our experience with ETFs in the United States, the Australian ETF market has been a little bit slower to get started,” said Rodney Comegys, Vanguard’s head of Investments Asia-Pacific. “However, it is now at a stage where it’s really appealing to a broad range of investors, whether it be SMSFs or advisers who are embracing a fee for service-based business model – even institutions are using ETFs to obtain certain exposures they want to the marketplace”.

Given the popularity of ETFs with SMSFs, the marketplace has become increasingly populated by ETF providers. Vanguard believes its investment management process, risk management oversight, and trading expertise has contributed to its success among the competition.

“We manage our funds with a long-term perspective, with the goal of providing returns consistently better than those of competitors. Our low-cost structure gives our funds a performance advantage because we don’t have to reach for riskier returns in order to be competitive,” said Mr Comegys.

Today, Vanguard manages over $3.5 billion for Australian ETF investors, and has no intention of slowing down.

“We are constantly evaluating new opportunities to deliver for our clients, but for us this does not mean implementing investment fads. We will only launch new ETFs that are aligned with our investment principles,” said Mr Comegys. “In addition, we believe that the continuing education and support we offer to advisers and clients about ETFs will be crucial to our ongoing success in this market.”


SMSF practitioners have a growing pool of investment platform providers to draw on. However, there are some essentials, including product availability, useability, technological capacity and pricing that practitioners look for when selecting a provider. Across the board, SMSF practitioners were happiest with product availability of investment platform providers, rating it 3.83 out of 5. Useability followed at 3.70, technological capacity at 3.65 and finally pricing at 3.52.

This year’s winner, CommSec Adviser Services, has seen extensive change in the SMSF market, including ramped up competition as the SMSF sector becomes increasingly lucrative, but is confident of its position.

“One in four SMSFs in Australia has a relationship with CBA in some way, shape or form for their SMSF, whether that be for their cash investments or their online trading. So we’ve carved out a pretty good position in the SMSF market,” said Eric Blewitt, general manager of CommSec Adviser Services.

To optimise its point of differentiation, Mr Blewitt said CommSec Adviser Services focuses heavily on “ease of doing business” for its adviser client base.

“Advisers don’t want to be caught up with lots of administration,” Mr Blewitt said.

Also, while price is a key differentiator and selling point for many advisers, Mr Blewitt believes “fundamentally” that a holistic offering is key to capturing the market.

“In a post-GFC environment, what we’ve tended to see across many advisers and clients is there’s been that genuine flight to quality and a flight towards those trusted, well-known brands that possess significant financial strength,” Mr Blewitt said. “I think that’s very important when dealing with clients’ super assets – a good solid base with a compelling value proposition, which is good value for money.”


Lending is a touchy subject in the current market, with interest rates at record lows and evidence of overheating surfacing in Australian capital cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney. SMSF lending also continues to be a hotly contested issue, and is often still blamed for inflated housing markets.

This year’s winner, Macquarie, has implemented a clear set of measures to manage credit risks associated with SMSF borrowing. These include minimum SMSF asset positions with the aim of lifting credit quality; liquid asset requirements for the fund to ensure the SMSF has a level of liquidity to manage unforeseen expenses; and prudent servicing and acceptable income guidelines, also taking into account the age of the members of the fund.

“Our policy provides conservative parameters as a level of protection to the SMSF trustee. It’s also important that the SMSF trustee acts appropriately in developing and managing the investment strategy of the SMSF to make sure they manage risk,” said Richard Chesworth, associate director, personal banking, Macquarie.

In the years since LRBAs were first permitted, SMSF lending has become a “mainstream offering”, Mr Chesworth said – and competition for SMSF money is fierce. To stand out, he believes, a service provider needs to push beyond just the simple provision of a product.

“It’s not just about providing a loan product, it’s more about delivering an overall solution that meets the needs of the broker and client, plus focusing on ensuring loans are approved in a timely way, so they can be settled on time,” he said.

“We’ll continue to support prudent lending opportunities under the framework we have in place, in line with industry regulation, and be adaptable to the direction of the SMSF lending market. We’ll also continue to support brokers in meeting the needs of their clients. It’s all about service and support,” he said.

Average ratings for SMSF loan providers were again steady this year, with credit policy satisfaction coming in at 3.60 out of 5, interest rates at 3.53, and ease of doing business at 3.38.


Insurance has become an increasingly important part of the superannuation environment, particularly given SMSF trustees are required to consider insurance coverage for fund members. Further, with an ever-increasing pool of SMSF trustees, insurance providers have been eyeing the SMSF market and creating more targeted offerings for SMSF members.

And it seems that, overall, practitioners are satisfied with the SMSF insurance service providers on the market. On average, quality and range of policies were the highest ranking criteria for insurers across the board, scoring 3.81 out of 5. Ease of doing business came in second at 3.68, followed closely by pricing at 3.67.

AIA Australia, which has provided an SMSF insurance offering for approximately four years, acknowledges the market pressures involved in securing SMSF business, and takes a diversified approach to keep its clients happy.

“We have been working with our partners to educate trustees on their obligation to consider the insurance needs of fund members and providing an easy solution to help them meet that obligation. When it comes to competition in the market, we have invested heavily in getting our product on more investment platforms, which trustees are increasingly demanding,” an AIA Australia spokesperson said.

“In order to respond to current pricing pressures, we also structure the product to ensure it is easy for customers to navigate the complex tax and legislative requirements, such as for life and TPD cover within super and income protection cover outside super,” the spokesperson added.

To keep its edge within an ever-growing crowd of SMSF insurance providers, AIA Australia stressed it simply “has to be easy for trustees to do business with you”.

“SMSF solutions need to be user-friendly, have an online quoting and transaction capability, and use a multi-purpose underwriting model – that is, underwriting which is geared to the level of cover you are seeking. This might vary from answering a few questions, carrying out short-form underwriting, or completing a full personal statement,” the spokesperson said.

AIA Australia plans to continue to support and collaborate with its partners in developing products for SMSFs. It also intends to maintain a focus on education, particularly with respect to legislative requirements.


Traditonally, SMSFs have been underexposed to global equities, with portfolios typically having a domestic bias. However, as the hunt for yield continues in this low interest rate environment, SMSF trustees and their practitioners are looking to international markets.
According to Magellan’s head of distribution (retail and institutional), Frank Casarotti, SMSFs are a major driver of growth in Magellan’s global equities offering.

“We can interrogate our register and notice more and more trustees of SMSFs, because they’re genuinely getting an exposure to quality companies that they can’t get on the ASX,” Mr Casarotti said.

There’s no shortage of global equities providers, but Mr Casarotti acknowledges that a key to attracting SMSF investors is understanding they’re typically different to standard retail investors.

“I would definitely say they are conservative and I think they hate surprises,” Mr Casarotti said.
“Also, with SMSFs, it’s just as much about protecting the capital and protecting the downside as it is giving the SMSF a decent contribution to their total portfolio returns. Protecting the downside is critical.

“We’re not immune from market downturns, but if the market drops we’d like to think we drop less than and if the market recovers we’d pick up a lot of the upside,” he said.

“We’re very transparent in what we’re doing and the strategy. And we’re trying to make it relevant for Australian investors as distinct from a global fund manager based offshore. So what we’re trying to do is bring an Australian strategy for Australian investors that invest in offshore companies,” he said.

Across the board, with all global equities providers, satisfaction with quality of reports was highest, with a score of 3.79 out of 5.
This was closely followed by expectation of future return on 3.78 out of 5, and reliability of return on 3.72. Satisfaction with pricing came in last at 3.56 out of 5.

The 2015 SMSF Awards
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