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Changes to SMSF performance calculation welcomed by SMSFA

John Maroney
Tony Zhang
24 February 2022 — 2 minute read

Whilst the ATO’s revised approach to SMSF investment performance will reduce the methodology gap with APRA, the SMSF Association cautions against using the statistics for comparisons with APRA funds.

SMSFs will still need to be cautious on changes in adjusted median return calculations in future statistical reports, according to the SMSF Association. 

To address feedback on how SMSF investment performance (return on assets) are calculated, the ATO had recently applied a revised approach to this calculation.

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Based on recommendations in line with the independent research by the University of Adelaide’s International Centre for Financial Services (ICFS) into the investment performance methodology used by the ATO, the fund’s asset value at the beginning of the period is now being used.

Previously, the average value of assets over the period was used. Furthermore, the calculation is now based on contributions gross of tax. Previously, it was net of contributions tax. Both changes are designed to reduce the gap between the respective calculation methodologies used by the ATO and APRA.

The SMSF Association welcomed the adjustments made by the ATO to align their SMSF performance calculations more closely with the methodology used by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to calculate returns for APRA-regulated funds.

“All else being equal, it has been widely acknowledged that the ATO’s calculation methodology used to calculate median investment returns for the SMSF sector underestimates the true performance of SMSFs relative to the APRA sector. The 2018 Productivity Commission report into the efficiency and competitiveness of superannuation confirmed this finding,” SMSF Association chief executive John Maroney said.

“The ATO’s decision to make these important adjustments is a positive step to ensure a level playing field when comparing the investment performances of the different superannuation sectors.

However, Mr Maroney said it’s critical to note that the ICFS’ research estimated these changes, for the period of the review, would have only accounted for between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the performance gap.

“Given the way the data is collated and the different data inputs (the ATO uses information from SMSF annual returns while APRA uses information from fund financial statements), the ATO’s adjusted median return calculations are still likely to generate materially lower performance estimates relative to APRA-regulated funds (all else being equal),” Mr Maroney cautioned.

“For this reason, while it may be appropriate to use the ATO’s ‘median’ investment return figures to compare the performance of the SMSF sector relative to other years, they should not be used to compare the performance of the SMSF sector with other superannuation sectors.”

Resolving the differences between the ATO and APRA calculation methodologies was the first objective of the research recently commissioned by the association and released last week by the ICFS, according to the SMSF Association. It was a necessary first step in any investment performance analysis that looked to position SMSFs within the broader context of the superannuation industry.

“The SMSFA/ICFS research overcame these differences by using financial statement data from a large sample of SMSFs (the largest data sample ever used for this type of research) to calculate an annual return for each fund based on the same calculation methodology used by APRA to calculate returns for APRA-regulated funds,” Mr Maroney added.   

“We also caution readers of the ATO’s SMSF statistical overview reports from using ‘average’ SMSF returns that are displayed next to SMSF ‘median’ returns to compare the sector’s performance against other sectors. 

For the reasons outlined in our research report, average returns that are pooled returns tend to be more representative of the investment performance of the larger funds in the data sample rather than the small funds.”

Tony Zhang

Tony Zhang

Tony Zhang is a journalist at Accountants Daily, which is the leading source of news, strategy and educational content for professionals working in the accounting sector.

Since joining the Momentum Media team in 2020, Tony has written for a range of its publications including Lawyers Weekly, Adviser Innovation, ifa and SMSF Adviser. He has been full-time on Accountants Daily since September 2021.

Changes to SMSF performance calculation welcomed by SMSFA
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