Tax & Super Article 1

THE $725 billion self-managed superannuation industry received the first of what some hope may be a series of wake-up calls this week when some were denied compensation from the collapse of Trio Capital.

In contrast, investors in APRA-regulated funds will receive around $55 million in compensation, funded through an industry levy of 2c for every $100 invested.

Industry Minister Bill Shorten is on a mission to highlight the advantages of being in an APRA-regulated fund ahead of his next decisions on the Cooper review reforms, due in the last week of this month.

Self-managed funds have grown quickly, in part because until the GFC hit the bull market made the game look easy, and in part because there is a huge industry that makes money from telling people how to manage their own money.

There are also many people who can manage their own money better than any fund manager could.


The point is that in doing so you become your own trustee, you are responsible for your own investment decisions, and if something goes wrong then nine times out of 10 you are the one to blame.

That reality doesn’t sit well with most people particularly in the light of the fraud at Trio.

It all comes back to the basic rules of risk and return, which all punters need to learn. The higher the returns, the bigger the risks — and if you want to take responsibility for managing your own money then you can’t expect support from APRA.

The regulator, of course, is far from perfect.

But it does monitor the industry and the trustees in an attempt to ensure they follow the basic rules.

According to APRA figures, self-managed funds grew by 16.7 per cent and now account for about a third of total superannuation funds.

Industry funds — which have union awards as their sales force, effectively — grew by 17.9 per cent last year.

Some worry self-managed funds are too reliant on local shares — which account for 31 per cent of assets — and cash at 27 per cent.

That’s too much reliance on domestic asset classes.

And it’s where the Trio lesson should help.

The industry is by definition self-managed, which means it is responsible for its own dumb decisions.

To which it must be added: fund managers have also been known to make mistakes every now and then.

Just after Easter, Shorten is due to finally unveil his decisions on the future of financial advice reforms, following the recommendations of the Cooper report.

(Cooper was strangely quiet on self-managed funds given the weight they have in the industry, but no doubt argued he covered some issues with his main recommendations.)

Shorten is a politician, so he has given the industry ground in some areas to gain support for other moves.

This means he has agreed to relax rules on so-called opt-in provisions to require advisers to get written approval to continue as adviser every two years.

Cooper figured people are happy to pay car insurance every year, so why not formally commit to their financial adviser every 12 months.

The way Shorten sees it, 12 months or 24 months is not material. Instead, it is better to ensure commitment to act in the best interests of clients and to eliminate fees like volume rebates.

A raft of commissions have already gone as part of the Cooper review process, which has served as useful education to the industry.

Volume rebates will be abolished in line with the overall reform package, which rails against conflicted advice and commissions.

The financial services industry saw the writing on the wall and figured it was far better to give up some ground and fight for other benefits.

The industry still expects to be able to charge commissions on individual insurance included in super packages, as opposed to the insurance which is obtained by the fund for all members.

Shorten is right to focus on key principles like financial advisers acting in the “best interests” of their clients, but just how he defines that will be closely watched.

The same self-managed funds that missed out on the compensation from Trio presumably get financial advice from someone, and would want to ensure that someone is acting in their best interests.

The reforms will also lay clear demarcation lines between accountants, tax advisers and financial advisers to ensure responsibilities are attached to the right people.

Given the industry is already dipping back into pre-GFC habits, the sooner the new rules are laid down the better for everyone.

Generous support

THE recent industry celebration of Simon Eldridge’s 30-year career as a broker was a credit to the profession, which came together to support one its own.

Same must be said of the clients, given Credit Suisse had advertised it would donate half the commissions earned to the Eldridge charities, and on the given day on March 30, its market share was a touch over 10 per cent.

This compares to year to date share of 7.1 per cent, showing fund manager support.

The 50 per cent share of commissions totalled $484,000; the industry donated $217,000 and in all $700,000 was raised.

Raising Cain

THERE are two schools of thought about the Leighton capital raising. One says every bit of the $757 million is needed and more, while others say the funds are there to make management’s life easier.

The latter view won some market support when the unwanted 500,000 rights sold yesterday at $24.50 a share — or $2 more than the rights issue price of $22.50 a share.

Both are well below the $34.50 that former boss Wal King got when he sold the bulk of his shares in the second half of last year. But that is another story.

The rights were sold at a 20 per cent discount to market and the resale at a 15 per cent discount, which is where the shares are expected to trade today when the stock reopens.

If management is right then the share price will quickly bounce back above $30 a share, and the same shareholders who paid $22.50 for their shares will rejoice in the quick returns.

The consensus view, of course, argues management and the prophets of doom at UBS have done the sensible thing in getting cash on to the balance sheet when they could.

Rivals get ready

WHILE the ASX regroups after last week’s defeat in Canberra, rival Chi-X is doing its best to show it’s business as usual, with news that Equinix will provide its data-centre services. Chi-X is still talking with ASIC about its launch date. The regulator’s talking November but ChiX hopes for October, and in the meantime it wants to ensure ASX knows it is coming.

Its preferred clearer, LCH, has confirmed it is also launching in Australia, but it needs RBA approval, which is also in progress.

The two sides are still pointing fingers at each other, saying the other is delaying decisions on such issues as clearing, with the ASX keen to keep its monopoly.

Control of equities clearing accounts for around 20 per cent of earnings, and ASX’s unwillingness to give that up was stated as a key reason for the government’s refusal to approve the Singapore takeover of the ASX.

The ASX is looking at other ways to spread its wings. Treasurer Wayne Swan has given official approval to chase new deals so can hardly back track from this move.

The Australian, 14 April 2011