With 2015 almost upon us, Liz Westover from Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand spoke to SMSF Adviser about what will be the main challenges for the SMSF industry in the year ahead and her views on potential regulatory changes.
What have been the main challenges for the SMSF sector in 2014?
Well probably my biggest issue coming out of 2014 and heading well and truly into 2015, it’s not really necessarily resolved and for our members that’s extensively around the removal of the accountant’s exemption and the introduction of limited licencing. We’ve had a three year transitional period which we’re just coming up to the half-way mark on and a lot of people are still yet to make a decision on what services they’re going to provide their clients and how they’re going to operate in the new limited licencing framework.
For us, that’s a huge education piece, we’ve put together vast amounts of resources for our members, so we’re making sure they are aware of those resources and the reasons why they need to start making decisions now and taking actions now.
Which way do you see accountants going?
We often get asked what’s the best way to go, and for us we can’t answer that question because it really comes down individual firms making a decision about what is right for them and the services they offer and the services they want to provide to their clients, and what their clients need from them, for example independents are a huge piece for our members but do they want to be independent from the big financial institutions or do they want to be independent in that they operate wholly and solely on their own. What’s important to them will influence their ultimate choice. Bottom line is regardless of whether they go as an authorised representative under someone else’s licence or whether they get their own licence they need to undertake and make sure they meet the requirements for RG146 training and that can take time and is probably one of the biggest single reasons why people take action now.
Have you seen many firms make decisions already?
We do some roadshows with members, national roadshows, and we do a straw poll with those guys and the vast majority are yet to make a decision on which way they go.
What are your thoughts on 2015, will the sector be subject to further change and regulation?
2015 is going to be another interesting year I think, the Financial System Inquiry Report is going to feature very early on in the piece, we’ve got the Taxation White Paper that probably won’t come out for some time but we’ll be seeing an issues paper very shortly, and superannuation is expected to feature quite strongly in that.
What do you think will be the impact of the taxation white paper on the SMSF sector?
I don’t necessarily know that it will impact on the SMSF sector because the taxation rules are pretty much the same no matter what superannuation entity you have. There’s a bit of a misconception that SMSFs have access to some special tax rules – they don’t. It’s the same rules for everybody; SMSFs can manage a lot of those taxation aspects very well though.
Do you think the FSI recommendations which relate to SMSFs will be taken into consideration in the May budget?
That’ll be interesting actually; we were asking Treasury some of those questions earlier today and really I think that’s a decision for the government. We’ve put pre-budget submissions in, they’re due by the end of January, so we’ll probably put in where we think it should sit, I think one of the challenges is going to be…it’s very hard to look at the taxation aspects of superannuation without firstly looking at what we want from our retirement income system, and I think that recommendation in the FSI about setting some long term objectives is very, very important because then you can look at the taxation aspects and whether or not they’re going to meet those long term objectives. The government will frequently use the taxation system to influence economic behaviour, and the way the economy runs, so you’d expect they would look at taxation as a way of meeting long term objectives for super, now if we don’t know what those long term objectives are or we don’t have a bi-partisan agreement on what that is, then it’s going to be challenging to ensure we get the right taxation settings for super.
Do you think we’ll see a ban on borrowing in SMSFs come to fruition?
My feedback to the government and the FSI Report will be I don’t think we’ve done enough analysis to make the recommendation to remove borrowing. One of my concerns is and has always been whether or not we have the right legislative settings around borrowing. I’ve always been a bit concerned they didn’t quite hit the mark, so if we were able to change the legislative and regulatory framework around borrowing, how would that impact on the behaviours and borrowing more broadly?
So in other words you can’t look at them in isolation, if you had a different legislative framework would that then address some of the concerns that the FSI had around borrowing?
My recommendation has always been one would need to make the decision on borrowing whether it’s suitable or appropriate for superannuation or not, but furthermore we need to make sure that if it’s in we have the right legislative framework around it. So that takes a broader conversation and a lot more stakeholders round the table to talk about the real facts about what the trends are, what people are really doing, why they’re doing it, that type of thing, now I’m not saying the FSI doesn’t have concerns, I’ve always said also that with the RBA and ASIC having concerns about borrowing that’s enough for us to sit up and pay attention and have a look at it, but whether or not I agree with the FSI’s recommendation at this point in time I’m not quite sure.
What are you lobbying for in 2015?
We’ll probably be working off a lot of the back of the recommendations in the FSI report. In our submission to the government earlier this year we strongly advocated for majority independent directors on trustee boards. So that will be a big feature for us I think and having a look at some of those other recommendations. The Tax White Paper or the issues paper coming off that, obviously regardless of our view that we need the long term objectives first, we’ll still be having a lot to say around the taxation settings around superannuation. There’s been a recommendation or some money being set aside for the way the tax office can streamline some of the SG provisions, which is fantastic, it really, hopefully it makes it easier for small businesses in particular to be able to meet their SG obligations and not be overly penalised when they do actually do get it wrong, which again is something we’ve been pushing for so very pleased to see that, SuperStream is going to feature as well,
I know there are still some concerns around whether or not SuperStream is on target to getting everyone on board and getting them to do what they need to do, if fact I understand that around 40 per cent of SMSFs still don’t have an electronic service address.
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