SMSFs are all of a sudden very much top of mind for regulators, representative bodies and industry commentators, with the sector barely escaping the headlines in the last six months.
In mid September, ASIC proposed increasing the disclosure requirements for practitioners advising on SMSFs, such that prospective trustees must be informed about the potential risks and lack of a compensation scheme in the SMSF environment.
Such requirement would raise further questions, however, since a financial adviser really would be obliged to outline those matters anyway, while trustees who set up a fund without an adviser’s guidance likely wouldn’t benefit significantly from the measure.
Leaving aside the ASIC review, the public debate really ramped up later in the month when the RBA sounded a warning over growth in the sector, and specifically over property investments coming from the sector leading to a housing price bubble.
Concern arose particularly around the issue of gearing in SMSFs and although it has been pointed out the most recent ATO statistics found less than half of one per cent of the half billion dollar sector consists of geared investments, it is also important to note the massive time lags involved in collating SMSF data – roughly two years once all end of year returns are completed and compiled.
The ICAA publicly supported a review into SMSF gearing, as was suggested by Jeremy Cooper during his review of the superannuation sector, but also stressed their needs to be a greater focus on the quality of advice given to potential and current SMSF members.
The issue of unregulated property spruikers targeting SMSF investors or potential investors has also been a hot topic with the professional side of the industry, led by SPAA and the ICAA, calling for stricter licensing conditions.
The change of government also served to increase debate around the sector. Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos stoked the fire when he told the Australian Financial Review there is a need to ensure SMSFs are operating on a level playing field with other super sectors, prompting suggestions the sector may be headed for a review.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to be drawn on the issue during a doorstop interview shortly thereafter, deflecting questions around SMSFs and property and simply reiterating a pre-election commitment not to make any “detrimental” changes to super. What that will mean in practice is anyone’s guess.
So after flying low under the radar during much of the recent industry upheaval the SMSF sector now finds itself planted firmly on the front pages. Government has resisted major changes thus far because the sector is operating well but with over half a billion dollars now attracting significant interest from property spruikers and others, it seems inevitable change in some form is on the way.