Advisers, trustees warned on ‘hidden’ platform fees
SMSF professionals and their clients have been warned about the use of opaque product structures and low cash rates by larger platform providers to charge SMSF clients hidden fees.
Speaking to SMSF Adviser, Wealth O2 managing director and co-founder Shannon Bernasconi said advisers should be paying close attention to some of the fees or hidden costs being charged to their SMSF clients from platform providers, with revenue often being extracted from the assets of the SMSF in a non-transparent way.
One of the more obvious ways that costs can be charged, Ms Bernasconi said, is by offering clients a very low cash rate.
“When interest rates were higher this was even worse, but it’s clear from a lot of the ASX-listed platforms that are focused to disclose where they generate their revenue from, that most of their margins have been made off clients’ cash,” she said.
Some providers have lowered their cash rate for clients further, she said, after coming under pressure from shareholders about their share price.
“They think, ‘Well, we need to make some more money, we’ll just lower the cash rate that’s offered to clients and keep more for ourselves’. That’s leverage that will become less and less powerful as the cash rate continues to fall,” she explained.
“Some of the platforms only give 0.5 [of a percentage point]; it may even be lower now after the cash rate was cut.”
Another area where hidden fees can arise, she warned, is with some of the wholesale products offered by the larger platform providers.
“This is one of the oldest ways of making money. So, you negotiate with fund managers on the managed expense ratio and indirect costs of the fund and then you increase it and then keep the difference. Some of these products will advertise as having no administration fee, but if you do the maths, it’s a lot more expensive than if you got that asset structure off the shelf,” she explained.
“As soon as you become a product, you can do a lot that’s hidden, so there’s an opaqueness which means you can do a lot more hiding behind the scenes. When you don’t have that product wrapper, ultimately i’ts all transparent, you can see all the assets and every dollar that goes to the buyer’s bank account.”
Miranda Brownlee is the deputy editor of SMSF Adviser, which is the leading source of news, strategy and educational content for professionals working in the SMSF sector.
Since joining the team in 2014, Miranda has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest superannuation stories in Australia, and has reported extensively on technical strategy and legislative updates. Miranda has also directed SMSF Adviser's print publication for several years.
Miranda also has broad business and financial services reporting experience, having written for titles including Investor Daily, ifa and Accountants Daily.