Financial advice: Only 31 (10 + 12 + 9) independent financial advisers in Australia

Note: This article is updated regularly when new financial advisers join the independence club (latest update February 2014). A financial adviser does not have to be a member of the IFAAA to join the SuperGuide list, provided they can declare that they satisfy the requirements of being an independent adviser (we now have 3 categories). Anyone seeking an independent adviser needs to conduct their own research on whether an adviser is truly independent – this article will help you with this research.

Before you ask the obvious question, let me say, we have asked the same question: How do we know that the 31 advisers in the SuperGuide list are the only independent advisers in Australia?

Well, we don’t! We know anecdotally that there are plenty more independent advisers working away in adviserland. At least we’re hoping that in a country of 23 million people that there are many more independent financial advisers working away for their clients too busy to have time to register for this very exclusive list. Let’s hope SuperGuide’s updated publication of the ‘group of 31’ inspires other independent advisers to make themselves known (if they exist), or inspires others to become truly independent.

Open invitation to independent advisers

Background: Way back in February 2010, we published a list of 14 independent advisers which triggered much controversy and angst from the financial services industry, and from SuperGuide readers. In April 2011, SuperGuide was at it again, and the number of truly independent advisers in Australia had halved – to 7! In February 2012, for the third year in a row, we published an updated list of 9 truly independent advisers.

In June 2012, we again published the updated list of independent advisers but we split the types of independent advisers into 3 categories: more on those categories later in the article. As at February 2014, we now have 31 independent financial advisers on the SuperGuide list.

Since June 2012, we have slightly changed the process involved in compiling the SuperGuide list of independent advisers because we essentially have two definitions of independence:

  • The Corporations Act 2001 definition of ‘independence’ which allows advisers to charge asset-based fees
  • The IFAAA definition of independence, which excludes those advisers who charge asset-based fees.

We have also published an open invitation to all independent advisers to contact SuperGuide. We will add the names of the independent advisers to the SuperGuide list, subject to the adviser declaring they satisfy each limb of the independence requirements. The adviser will not need to be a member of the IFAAA to join the SuperGuide list (see end of article for link to invitation and for form to sign). The IFAAA has a stricter definition for independence than the independence definition contained in the Corporations Act. We have a second category for those advisers who satisfy the stricter IFAAA definition but choose not to be a member of IFAAA. We have also created a third category for those advisers who satisfy the Corporations Act definition of independence, which means they may also charge asset-based fees.

What does an IFAAA independent adviser look like?

According to Daniel Brammall, President of the Independent Financial Advisers Association of Australia Limited (IFAAA), the IFAAA receives quite a few calls from financial advisers seeking to be members of the association, and Brammall sends out plenty of application forms.

“In spite of all the conversations I have with advisers interested in joining, so far these members [9 advisers in the updated list below] are the only ones who have successfully passed the IFAAA’s Gold Standard of Independence test,” says Brammall.

According to Brammall, the three requirements for the IFAAA’s Gold Standard of Independence are:

  1. You can’t be affiliated with a bank, insurance or investment company (that is, a product manufacturer).
  2. You can’t receive commissions of any sort – including insurance commissions – unless you refund them in full to the client.
  3. You can’t charge asset-based fees (that is, a percentage of client assets under advice or under management).”

Change from within will deliver results

Although the ban on commissions for future retail investment products (including managed investments, superannuation and margin loans) is history making (effective since July 2013), the question of independence (or lack of) remains an issue beyond July 2013.

In the past I have made the comment that I have found the debate surrounding commissions and ownership and independence of financial advice rather depressing because the Government and financial planning industry and commentators were trying to change the industry from the bottom – dragging the worst advisers (in terms of independence) to a level that was a little bit better than ‘worst’. I stated that such an approach was destined to countless setbacks (and ultimately failure) because the broader financial planning industry as it is historically structured is a product distribution model rather than a financial advisory model.

The financial advice reforms announced by former Assistant Treasurer, Mr Shorten were brave and industry-changing, although the changes that were legislated are, perhaps, not as brave as I had hoped. For the past 10 years (at least), I have campaigned for many of the changes legislated, along with other commentators and consumer groups, although some of the positive changes that were successfully blocked by lobby groups had everything to do with protecting the profit centres of major financial organisations and nothing to do with the best interests of consumer.

Even so, real change will only occur when financial advisers drive the change rather than having the Government and regulator drag reluctant advisers kicking and screaming into a new professional business model. Initially, the leaders of the financial advising industry read the signs and were making the right noises (‘higher quality advice’ and ‘more professional industry’), although many backpedalled on significant reforms, in particular, the requirement to ensure a client periodically (every 2 years) agrees to remain a client (the opt-in rule) of the adviser. The original reform announcement referred to an opt-in after every 12 months, and then extended to every 2 years. The final reform version for the opt-in requirement now means that some advisers won’t even have to participate in this compliance requirement, provided they are bound by a code of conduct approved by ASIC. And now we have a new Liberal government that has released draft legislation to remove the opt-in requirement completely, and to dilute the best interest duty.

This irrational opposition from the broader financial services industry is disappointing for consumers and for younger people considering financial advising as a career. In my view, we need to reward the advisers who are operating in the best interests of clients right now – structurally, operationally and ethically.

The relatively new organisation – IFAAA – can differentiate the truly independent licensed advisers from the thousands of advisers who accept commissions and/or are employed or incentivised by the product distributors (read ‘major financial organisations’).

Note that although financial reforms took effect from July 2013, existing commission arrangement and incentive schemes will continue to operate indefinitely, and independence, and conflicted advice, will be a constant struggle for the financial advising industry.

What does ‘independent adviser’ mean?

So, what do you need to possess in the way of skills and independence to make this exclusive list?

I interviewed Matthew Ross at the time we published the original list of 14 independent advisers (in February 2010), and his comments remain relevant. According to Matthew Ross, who is a member of the IFAAA, the list of independent advisers “satisfy the Corporation Act’s definition of independent (see s.923A) which is basically no commissions, no charging fees based on volume of product sold or advised on, and no affiliation with any product manufacturer.”

Ross explained that 80% of all authorised representatives are aligned with a product manufacturer, which precludes them from describing themselves as independent. He said: “Of the remaining 20%, a large slice of them pocket commissions (on insurance and/or investments) or charge their fees as a percentage of your assets, which is commissions by another name.”

Ross argued that the big push by planners to drop commissions but to charge fees as a percentage of assets under management is simply commissions by another name. Ross said that the asset fees are usually collected through a platform, which is not considered a ‘financial product’ under the legislation, and it means the financial adviser can then describe themselves as independent.

“The issue isn’t the word ‘commission’; it’s the concept of an incentive and no matter which way you look at it, when you are paid a % of anything, there is an incentive. Incentives result in zero independence,” said Ross.

Note: Effective since 1 July 2013, every financial adviser is subject to a statutory fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of a retail client. What this means is that a financial adviser is required to place the best interests of a client ahead of their own when providing personal advice to retail clients. The new Liberal government however has introduced draft legislation to dilute this duty when an adviser is providing scaled advice (that is advice, that relates to a specific need of the client, or the adviser has not conducted a complete financial assessment of the client. I discuss the fiduciary obligations of advisers, and the evolution of the super industry, in my 2009 column THE SOAPBOX: The 25-year super war.  and background on the reforms surrounding a ‘best interests’ duty in the article Financial advice revamp: by the Shorten curlies.

IFAAA – point of difference

The IFAAA promotes itself as the ‘gold standard’ of independence of financial advisers. Quoting directly from background IFAAA information:

Existing industry associations do not provide genuine independence. They represent the eighty-five per cent of financial planners associated with product manufacturers who receive commissions. According to the ASIC the typical financial planner acts as a “sales force for financial product manufacturers” and that advisers are “a product pipeline”. This is who the current industry associations are representing. Not one of the main four planner associations represents the interests of truly independent advisers whose interests are aligned with their clients.

According to the association’s background material, the IFAAA aims to solve the definition of independence and promote the value of independent advice to the consumers, to train and develop independent financial advisers, and to represent the interests of its members to government.

Membership of IFAAA

For a financial adviser to become a member of the IFAAA they must agree to the following:

  • I declare that I am genuinely independent and acknowledge the restrictions of the use of the term ‘independent’ under s 923A Corporations Act (2001).
  • I avoid all real and perceived conflicts between my interests and my client’s interests.
  • I do not receive commissions for my client purchasing a financial product.
  • I do not receive payment or inducements to recommend financial products to clients.
  • I do not have in place any fee structure that means I will not be paid unless my client purchases a financial product.
  • I declare that I have an interest in promoting and encouraging the professional development, independence and concerns of financial advisors.
  • I acknowledge that membership is contingent upon payment of an annual membership fee as determined by the Board from time to time.

Financial advisers are not the only experts who can provide independent advice. Accountants, lawyers and other independent professionals can become ‘associates’ of the IFAAA.

Group of 31 (10+12+9) – the list!

SuperGuide publishes, and intends to regularly update, a list of three categories of independent advisers:

  • those advisers (and AFSL holders) who are members of the IFAAA
  • those advisers (and AFSL holders) who satisfy the IFAAA independence requirements but are not members of the IFAAA
  • those advisers (and AFSL holders) who satisfy the independence requirements under the Corporations Act but may charge asset-based fees, which means they don’t satisfy the additional IFAAA requirement of only charging fees based on hourly rates or retainers.

IFAAA members – independent advisers

According to the IFAAA, as at February 2014, there are 10 independent financial advisers in Australia who are also members of the IFAAA (satisfy the independence requirements under section 923A of the Corporations Act 2001, plus only charge hourly rates or retainers for services). The names of these independent advisers are:

Trent Alexander Financial Planning Expert VIC
Daniel Brammall Brocktons Independent Advisory ACT
Fergus Hardingham FM Financial Solutions NSW
Susannah Kulincevic Brocktons Independent Advisory ACT
Travis Morien Australian Independent Financial Advisers WA
Michael Radalj Your Private Advisers NSW
Bill Raffle Bennelong Private Wealth NSW
Matthew Ross Roskow Independent Advisory VIC
Neil Salkow Roskow Independent Advisory QLD 
Ben Smythe Smythe Financial Management NSW

Independent advisers who satisfy IFAAA membership rules, but are not members of IFAAA

As at June 2013, we have 12 advisers who have requested to be on our list of independent advisers, and who satisfy IFAAA member rules, but who are not members of the IFAAA (second category of independent adviser).

The advisers listed below have declared that they satisfy the three limbs of independence required under the section 923A of the Corporations Act 2001, and only charge hourly rates or retainers of services:

Christopher Dorian Browne F.D.Browne & Co Pty Ltd NSW
Adriano Donato Roskow Independent Advisory VIC
Corin Jacka Corin Jacka Financial Solutions VIC
Glenn Hilber Precision Wealth Management QLD
Mathew Horvat Horvat Financial Advisors VIC
Rick Horvat Horvat Financial Advisors VIC
Rudolf Horvat Horvat Financial Advisors VIC
Jason McGregor Roskow Independent Advisory VIC
Kevin Smith The Professional Super Advisers NSW
Chris Thoms Super Focus VIC
John Wothersoon Astute Investing SA
Simon Wotherspoon Astute Investing SA

Independent advisers who are not members of IFAAA, and may charge asset-based fees

As at February 2014, we have 9 advisers (7 from the one firm) who have requested to be on our list of independent advisers, and who are not members of the IFAAA, and who fall into the third category of independent adviser, that is, they charge asset-based fees.

The advisers listed below have declared that they satisfy the three limbs of independence required under the section 923A of the Corporations Act 2001 (refer earlier in the article):

Simon Briggs Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Sue Dahn Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Marcus Damen Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Kellie Davidson Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Brendan Fahy Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
David Gemmell 50Plus Wealth VIC
Victoria Lindores Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Adam Stanley Pitcher Partners Investment Services VIC
Jack Tidswell Exceptional Financial Planning NSW

If you believe that your name should be on one of the lists above, then why not contact SuperGuide? A starting point is to check out our open invitation, Still wanted: all independent advisers in Australia.

Again, I invite the other financial adviser associations to write to me and present their point of view on the issue of independence.

© Copyright Trish Power 2009-2014

Copyright for this article belongs to Trish Power, and cannot be reproduced without express and specific consent.

IMPORTANT: SuperGuide does not provide financial advice. Comments provided by readers that may include information relating to tax, superannuation or other rules cannot be relied upon as advice. SuperGuide does not verify the information provided within comments from readers. Readers need to seek independent advice about their personal circumstances.

Comments

  1. Dear Trish,

    There are a bunch of good reasons here and above. The main reason of the difficulty to find a consistent independent advice is because normally costumers prefer to pay revenue-based retribution to the advisory than a lump sum amount, whatever it happens to their investment.

    For this reason, it is important that the market become aware of the importance of internationalisation and specially in the labour market.

    According to Colin, who has previously commented in this article, the smoke and the mirrors have to stop. As a oligopoly used market, Australia has to become familiar with competitivity and accepting new agents into the market. Those agents will not only reduce prices within the market but also increase the quality of the services delivered.

    I would say that indeed independent advisors are needed but the real necessity is a customer based and focused advisory which helps the industry move onwards improving the customer service.

    Thanks for you article, best regards.

    Oscar

  2. Trish, one of the problems I see is that Financial Planners are afraid of disclosing their hourly rate based on the assumption that it will scare the punters. Most accountants, lawyers, architects and other qualified professionals are OK with disclosing their rate, along with an estimate of the final cost.

    Most of these professional have not only a higher education degree, but most have several years of study and experience to obtain professional qualifications.

    If I can have a first rate accountant for $300 an hour, with an annual cost for company and personal tax returns, and advice along the way for less than $2,000 per year why would a financial planner expect remuneration of 4 or 5 times that?

    There is sophisticated software that will, using the data from the punter, turn out a standard plan in a few minutes. Add in, say, 2 hours fact finding, another 2 hours for internal review of the plan, and another 2 hours for presentation. So lets say 6 hours at $300 = less than $2k.

    I’d happily pay $10k if there was real additional value, but not for a standard advice type of plan.

    The smoke and mirrors has to stop. If $300 an hour is not a reasonable rate then the industry really does have to reflect on how they think they are worth any more.

    The industry should move to a cost based fee structure and educate the punters that good advice is worth paying for.

    I would love to be able to bill at $200 an hour :-)

    Rgds

Leave a Comment

*