To quote Aldous Huxley, for financial planners in 2013 it’s welcome to a ‘brave new world’. The federal government’s Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms around commissions and fee for service take effect on 1 July 2013.
Although there has been an enormous amount of debate around this issue, it’s always been the SMSF Professionals Association of Australia’s (SPAA’s) contention that the overall thrust of the reforms is positive for the industry, and that specialist advisers who have acquired the necessary skill set are ready for any challenges that FOFA has to offer.
Certainly that’s the case for SPAA specialist advisers, a vast majority of which are already on the fee for service bandwagon – and many have been there for some time. The tenor of the debate in recent years has made them recognise the inevitability of a move from commission to fee-based income and they have responded accordingly.
These advisers understand that the value of the service they offer their clients goes well beyond simple advice or recommending a financial product. Indeed, quite the opposite. They offer strategic advice that encompasses all aspects of their client’s financial planning needs.
Given this, the results of a comprehensive survey of the self-managed super fund sector by Rice Warner Actuaries*, which were released late last year, must seem like manna from heaven to these advisers. In particular, the finding that a client is willing to pay extra for good strategic advice was a strong endorsement of how they structure their business.
The numbers were quite enlightening: less than half (44 per cent) of respondents were satisfied when the advice cost less than $500, indicating that simple advice would increasingly fail to pass muster in this complex professional area.
Indeed, typical comments from respondents about advice they characterised as “simplistic” were quite revealing. For example, these advisers were “more interested in the products they sold rather than the return for the client” or “they were perceived to have a conflict of interest”.
The flipside of that coin was that people who paid their adviser between $1,000 and $2,000 were more likely to be satisfied with the advice (76 per cent). And it’s worth making the point that 87 per cent of respondents to the survey on this issue were active users of a range of advice services; in short, they were speaking from personal experience.
So, if clients are willing to pay more to get strategic advice – and this is the direction in which the government’s reforms are pushing the industry – then FOFA’s introduction can be seen as positive for advisers who have opted to go down the fee-based path. They do so in the knowledge that FOFA is implicitly saying to the consumer that the role of giving good advice is difficult and that those advisers who have the skill set to get it right deserve to be well rewarded.
Underpinning this business model, of course, is the strong growth in the SMSF sector. As the latest Australian Taxation Office figures show, the number of net new funds established in 2011/2012 was 35,276 compared with 28,031 in 2010/2011 – the highest recorded number since these reports began in 2008.
Although that number is significant, perhaps it is more germane to state that the percentage increase in the number of net establishments compared with previous years appears to be slowing – a 26 per cent increase for 2012 compared to an 84 per cent increase in 2011 – suggesting this growth is sustainable.
If that’s the case, there is enormous potential for advisers since SMSF trustees will need specialised advice across a range of services, irrespective of whether they are in pre- or post-retirement phase.
None of this comes as a surprise. As I said at the time of the survey’s release, it simply endorses what we have always stood for, which is higher competencies for specialist advisers in the SMSF sector, and the fact that committed professionals who genuinely add value for their clients and who go down this path will be rightly financially rewarded.
*The Rice Warner survey, commissioned by SPAA and Vanguard Australia, asked SMSF trustees 69 questions to identify the financial needs of members and review their general concerns about retirement. It was undertaken by 384 trustees (many of whom are clients of SPAA members) with 279 completing it in full and with questions ranging from ones on SMSFs and risks, to demographics, to financial advice, and retirement planning and spending.
Andrea Slattery is CEO of the SMSF Professionals’ Association of Australia