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Get SMSF advice right, or suffer the commercial consequences

By George Lucas
30 July 2014 — 3 minute read

If advice doesn’t add value to a trustee's own knowledge of their portfolio, you may find your SMSF business dwindling.

For financial planners, the SPAA/Russell Investments fourth annual report into the SMSF sector, entitled Intimate with Self-Managed Superannuation, is like the curate’s egg – good in parts. It highlights that trustees want advice but question the value of the advice they are currently receiving. Quite clearly there is a golden opportunity for planners if they can meet trustees’ expectations about the quality of advice they offer.

In particular, and as the report highlights, there is demand for professional advice about investment strategies that is not being met. To use the report’s terms, there are three types of trustee – “controllers”, “coach seekers” and “outsourcers” – and only the former are truly in the DIY mould. They want control of their money, and are confident of their ability to build their retirement nest eggs. But – and it’s a big but – they surprisingly only comprise 10 per cent of trustees.

The remaining 90 per cent either want to do it themselves but realise they need advice (45 per cent) or simply want to outsource it to a third party (45 per cent). Among the latter, there are two common reasons cited for outsourcing, and both make eminent sense: an honest acknowledgement that they lack the necessary investment acumen and, more practically, it’s simply “too much hassle”.

Simply “too much hassle” may be an added reason why levels of cash remain high in SMSFs, which still sit above 30 per cent in the average SMSF. Although cash returns have fallen they still come with that gilt-edged bank guarantee (ensuring a sound night’s sleep), as well as being easy to manage.

Another surprising result from the report was the revelation that planners are now top of the pops when it comes to potential trustees seeking advice about establishing an SMSF. They are now the most trusted source of advice for setting up an SMSF (34.8 per cent), as opposed to last year’s top choice of accountants. Clearly this presents an opportunity to tap the investment advice business of the trustee as well.

Adding to this opportunity, the report makes quite clear that trustees value professionals “who offer the full spectrum of SMSF services”. As it says, “close to half of trustees express a preference for a professional relationship that covers all their needs”.

All this means for planners is that they are definitely on the trustees’ radar – but that won’t guarantee business. Even the fact that it is investment advice trustees value the most (followed closely by tax advice), it’s not a lay-down misere, with trustees insisting the advice they value is about investment strategy and asset allocation – not product, stock or fund selection.

That trustees are demanding this type of service is heartening. At a time when there are vested interests in the industry questioning their ability to manage their own retirement funds, it’s surveys such as this that suggest trustees have a little more acumen than they are often given credit for – the concept of the 'Dad and Dave' trustee might just be misplaced.

After all, there are serious numbers involved. The SMSF sector now has over one million members and FUM over $550 billion and is going to need sound investment advice – and it seems trustees know that.

But that advice has to add value to the trustees’s own knowledge of their portfolio, as well as requiring insights into asset allocation and meeting their post-retirement needs. Planners who fall short in doing all three will suffer the commercial consequences.

Let me close by offering just one area – asset allocation – where planners could add some value for the 90 per cent of trustees predisposed to help.

ATO figures show that as of December 2013, total SMSF exposure to offshore equities is a miniscule 0.039 per cent of assets.

When you consider the ASX ($1.5 trillion) accounts for around 2 per cent of world stock markets and FUM in the super industry is approaching $2 trillion (not taking into account investable assets outside super) you would have to think this is an area where planners could engage with trustees as growth of funds under management in the superannuation industry outpaces growth of the market capitalisation of the ASX.

The reasons for this low figure are probably a combination of trustees’ preference for investing in what they’ know’ – and they know the ASX as well as the poor performance of international equities over the last 15 years due to a strengthening Australian dollar. Equally, it seems trustees like to invest in what is convenient and simple and the thought of buying offshore equities is all too hard for many.

However, the options are improving and through listed investment companies (LICs) or ETF trustees can easily access offshore shares via the ASX.

A discussion about exposure to the rest of the world, the diversification of industries and brands that this can add to a portfolio and how to access these markets could be a good conversation starter.

George Lucas, managing director, Instreet


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