A limited financial services licence for accountants advising on self-managed super funds (SMSFs) has been finalised but its appeal is diminished by a fairly restricted framework.
Accountants can continue to advise on the set-up or closure of SMSFs until the accountants’ exemption expires on 1 July 2016. Past that they will need to operate under either a limited or full Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL).
The limited licence allows practitioners to advise on setting up or closing SMSFs, but also to give class of product advice. However, it does not allow the recommendation of specific products.
The regulations state that, for example, “a financial services licensee may give a recommendation about term deposit products but must not make a specific recommendation that a person deposit their money into a term deposit product offered by a particular bank or building society”.
The limited AFSL does not allow accountants to provide more complex or holistic types of advice, such as transition to retirement or insurance advice.
To qualify, practitioners must also be a member of one of the three joint accounting bodies.
Any accounting firms that apply for the limited licence in that three-year period up to 1 July 2016 also have a further three years in which they are exempt from some of the more onerous AFSL requirements, including the responsible manager obligations.
The SMSF Professionals’ Association of Australia (SPAA) backed the new regime, but said it would be pressing to have SPAA membership recognised alongside CPA Australia - The Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Institute of Public Accountants - as qualifying for the limited licence.
"It is important that the new licensing regime recognises practitioners who have attained an appropriate level of competence regardless of which professional body they are affiliated with,” said SPAA chief executive Andrea Slattery.
“We will be seeking to speak to the government sooner rather than later, and will certainly be pressing our case very strongly to be recognised in the new regulations.”
Financial Planning Association general manager of policy and standards Dante De Gori questioned the “generous” phase in period, as well as the “restrictive” decision to limit the licence only to members of the joint accounting bodies.
David Lane, the chief executive of CBA’s accounting-focused dealer group Count Financial, questioned whether accountants would really want to do 95 per cent of the training if they can only give 10 per cent of the advice – especially if it means they will still have to refer clients on to advisers for more holistic advice, creating a risk of losing clients to fully licensed businesses.
“It really is a very limited licence … In reality, you’ll see very few accounting firms take this up,” he said.
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