From the experts: Getting your own licence

Part one: Licensing experts give their best advice to accountants looking to operate under their own licence when the exemption expires, including how to fast-track their ASIC application.

The general consensus within the SMSF industry is that accountants still have enough time to apply for their own limited licence – if they’ve already completed their training or educational requirements.

In saying that, there are some variances in opinions from licensing experts that accountants should pay close attention to.

For example, some are saying that those who have only just made the decision to obtain their own licence, and therefore haven’t begun their training requirements, have an uphill battle on their hands.

RISE Standards’ managing director Guy Thompson believes it is likely to be too late for accountants who have not yet started their training to obtain their own limited licence before the 30 June 2016 deadline.

It might be better for these accountants to start looking at becoming an authorised representative instead, he says.

“It’s taking about three to four months on average to actually get the licence itself, so if an accountant hasn’t completed RG146, I would say it’s too late,” he says.

Perpetual Private’s national manager of alliance partners, Dermot Lindsay, on the other hand, says accountants do still have time, if their training is completed in the first quarter of this year.

Mr Lindsay says it is important to remember that the 1 March deadline set by ASIC is only a ‘soft’ deadline, which simply means there is no guarantee that applications received after that date will be processed in time.

“Nobody really knows how long each licence application will take. Some people are saying if it’s a pristine application it could be assessed within a four-week period,” he says.

The first and most vital step accountants need to take is getting their licensing training sorted, Mr Lindsay says.

Core to this is RG146 training. Regardless of whether you choose to hold your own licence or become an authorised representative, RG146 will be compulsory.

While accountants are completing their training, Mr Lindsay adds, they should also look at the other requirements of the application, to ensure it can be assessed by ASIC as speedily as possible.

Although they are certainly capable of managing the licensing application process themselves, Mr Lindsay says at this late stage it may be worth for accountants to engage a professional to help them with the process. This, he says, will ensure the application is pristine and will help them avoid any further delays in the process.

“The application process can take a lot of time and there’s a lot of preparation work involved," he warns.

While Mr Lindsay believes there is still enough time for accountants to apply for the licence, he recommends accountants nevertheless investigate becoming an authorised representative by talking to different licence holders – so they have a back-up plan.

“If they don’t get their application in on time, then the only other option available to them at that point will be to become an authorised representative,” he says.

Fast-tracking the process

There is no real way to speed up the application process once the application is in the hands of ASIC, but making sure the application meets the requirements and is correctly filled in goes a long way to ensuring the process is as quick as possible.

According to Wilkinson Superannuation’s director, Mark Wilkinson, it involves accountants ensuring they have completed the necessary education, being proactive, and knowing exactly what is required of them.

“The main thing is to have a clean application in the first place, and getting some assistance with that through the various providers if they need to,” he says.

“I know there are quite a few applications that have been deferred at this stage, simply because ASIC is waiting for further information.”

Tony Bates of Bluepoint Consulting says while some of the services aimed at helping accounting firms to apply for the licence can certainly speed everything along, it is important to remember they can only move as fast as the accountants providing them with the required information.

“Service providers can’t move any quicker than the person applying to be the responsible officer of the licence, for example,” he says. “This is usually the type of thing causing the process to be slowed down.”

The Fold Legal’s Jaime Lumsden Kelly has found “material deficiencies” in licensing applications, which are often leading to significant hold-ups once the application reaches ASIC.

ASIC has cited recurrent mistakes, including the failure of accountants to undertake correct training and obtain the correct personal indemnity insurance.

“[Accountants] understand they need training for SMSFs but they’re not necessarily getting training for the other financial products they are applying for,” says Ms Lumsden Kelly.

“Accountants should be clear about the authorisations they require for the services they provide and make sure they have completed the required RG146 training for the products they intend to provide advice on."

Those who are unsure of the adequacy of their personal indemnity insurance should consult a specialist broker, Ms Lumsden Kelly adds.

Ms Lumsden Kelly said ASIC has also cited accountants' submitting financial accounts for the wrong entity as an issue in the application process to date.

“Material deficiencies” both in the documentation and the information provided by applicants was the main reason provided by ASIC for approving fewer than half of applications in the first half of the year.

While ASIC has not provided an indication of what documents have commonly been missing from applications other than those relating to PI insurance and financial accounts issues, Ms Lumsden Kelly says the missing documentation is likely to relate to compliance obligations.

“Some of the most common documents that ASIC asks for in addition to the standard suite of documents they require relate to compliance,” she adds.

Ms Lumsden Kelly also says the process will be simpler if accountants familiarise themselves with ongoing AFS licence obligations.

“The application will ask how the accountant proposes to comply with the obligations; to complete it, they need to know what the obligations are and how they propose to manage them,” she says.

“Ideally, their compliance procedures would be in place before they apply, but they certainly need to be ready by the time their AFS licence is issued.”

What if I want my own full AFSL?

It is important that accountants who are considering obtaining a full AFSL remember there are no transitional arrangements in place for this licence, says Ms Lumsden Kelly. Accountants will therefore need to meet the three years’ experience requirement.

“They need to have either acted as an authorised representative for a financial planning practice in the past or they’d need to be doing it now,” she says. “I’ve spoken to a lot of accountants about this [option], and most of them can’t do it because they just don’t have the experience.”

Accountants who do not have this experience but still want to obtain their own full AFSL will need to look at becoming authorised as a financial planner under a full licence for three years first, says Ms Lumsden Kelly.

At this late stage in the process, however, it would be extremely difficult for accountants to actually complete the training required for authorisation under a full licence by deadline, she warns.

“I’m told that it’s self-paced – they say it’s 12 weeks per module, which is three months basically, and there are a number of modules,” she says.

However, training the accountant has completed for the limited licence or authorisation under a limited licence can count towards the training required for authorisation under a full AFSL.

If an accounting firm is willing to take on the extra work and extra risk, Ms Lumsden Kelly says, the full AFSL can be very beneficial.

“There are so many limitations on the limited licence, [meaning] accountants can’t offer a full service,” she says. “They have to bring in other financial planners and life insurance experts to be able to provide full services to their clients.

“For accountants who want to be able to retain that control themselves, there’s a lot of value in it – it’s just that three-year hurdle that’s putting a lot of people off at the moment.”

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