Premier SMSF Solutions senior SMSF manager Anna Wong has come full circle from superannuation business services to accountant and financial adviser to administrator. She tells Krystine Lumanta how she sees the admin function evolving and her concerns about potential legislative changes.
How did you get your start in the sector?
I got my first job for a small practice straight after university with a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in accounting. It was a suburban business that had a few small SMSFs, back when they were called excluded funds, and we used software that was DOS-based, which is very prehistoric with three colours on the screen. After the uni degree, I completed the Chartered Accountants postgraduate qualification and also the graduate diploma in financial planning through the old FINSIA. That provided me with a very solid understanding of SMSFs. I also hold the SMSF Association SMSF specialist advisor accreditation. It’s been an ongoing process of continuing education, which has given me a good foundation for what I do now.
How did you end up in your role at Premier SMSF Solutions?
After my first job as an undergraduate, I moved to a city-based practice and worked there for 12 years. The role was in business services managing their superannuation division. We had over 100 super funds and following on from that I completed some financial planning postgrad qualifications and moved to provide financial planning for a boutique practice for two years. Now I’ve come full circle and I’m back in administration with Premier. There was actually no role when I joined the team. I knocked on their door one day, literally, and they liked my resume, so they created a role for me. I was attracted to them because being an accountant I’ve sat on that side of the fence, but also on the financial planning side and I knew what they wanted, so the business could leverage off the skills I had. At Premier we only work with SMSFs and I knew that I’ve always loved SMSFs. When I came back from my year off, I could’ve gone straight back into business services, but that’s not what I really wanted to do. I enjoy working with super funds, from understanding the legislation to applying it, so it made sense to join an administration team.
Why do you love working with SMSFs?
There are many different avenues of SMSFs you can work in and it’s great from my current position because I get to meet financial advisers and accountants, but also many different types of clients, so there are always different solutions to be found to different problems. It’s a very dynamic sector, but still very challenging, so there are lots of qualities keeping me interested. Also I think we’re moving towards getting more trustee information going forward and I would like to hope that continues. It’s very hard to segment the different types of super funds, but I don’t know if that’s just a reflection of the political views on retirement savings because from an industry perspective, I think we do understand SMSFs.
What kind of services have become the most common at Premier?
We do the tax returns and the accounts and compliance that goes with administration, but it’s more around the implementation of advice financial planners give or what the trustees direct to us. That’s where the value-add is from our end. We see ourselves as the gatekeeper for SMSFs – overseeing all of the transactions, picking up any issues on a timely basis, et cetera. You have to adjust your service and how you deal with that particular party. It’s no longer a cookie-cutter approach. It’s very fluid.
Do you see advisers making the administration piece a greater part of their value proposition to SMSF clients?
We’re seeing this more and more, especially in our client base. Advisers are realising they can’t be a jack of all trades, so why not hand over the administration part to the specialists so their clients are reassured those respective areas are being looked after. There is a trend towards having a preference with one admin provider or maybe two. If it’s a single specialist, the adviser can call and know exactly who they’re talking to and the person on the other end also knows the clients’ details. When an adviser picks up the phone, we’re like a sounding board for them, whether it’s about legislation or understanding implementation. Over the past four years since I’ve been at Premier, I’ve always sat down with the adviser and client. This didn’t happen so much in my previous roles, so that could be a function of how the industry has progressed in the last couple of years.
How do you see SMSF administration evolving in the coming years?
It is changing quite a lot. Our perspective at Premier is it’s no longer compliance-focused. Administrators know how to do tax returns, service accounts, et cetera, so it’s coming back to the relationship you have with the client, the financial adviser, the accountant, and delivering outcomes with the clients’ best interests at heart. That’s where we see ourselves evolving at Premier. There are quite a few administrators exiting the market, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, but there’s only a limited amount of SMSFs out there, so you have to be able to differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, it’s about communication with the various parties and ensuring everyone understands what’s going on with the SMSF. We also generally agree on who will be the main point of contact, for example, the traffic of communication might go to the adviser first, then subsequently to the client and occasionally I will meet with both the adviser and the client.
You’re an SMSF Association New South Wales state chapter committee member. How did that opportunity come about?
I joined in 2006 as my previous employer was one of the founding directors. I felt the industry was always changing and I wanted to get my hands dirty, so to speak. Initially, I was the assistant secretary for the chapter, then I became the secretary. My main role now is to organise the monthly breakfast events. The committee has been a great networking tool for me, not just professionally but also socially. Everyone’s very open to sharing ideas, case studies, client situations and solutions, so I find that very invaluable at a professional level. The majority of the attendees at the breakfasts are specialist advisers. They like the practical involvement and interaction. I feel like we are making a difference by having a voice to the regulators via the professional association body.
Is specialisation in the SMSF sector heading in the right direction?
I think so. Over the years I’ve felt there are more and more people who are specialising in SMSFs, whether they are accountants or advisers, and they’re becoming a lot more selective in what they do. The analogy that I like to use with clients is that if you’ve got a medical problem that you’re concerned with, do you take the answer of a general practitioner or do you request to see a specialist? Generally it’s the latter and that’s what we deliver to them in the SMSF space. I think the recent marketing campaign from the SMSF Association is really hitting home for trustees. Now that the regulators are cracking down on rogue advisers, and it’s more publicised, clients are much savvier and they are looking harder for the right adviser. Plus they are very picky. We have noticed over the years and they do appreciate the difference in qualifications.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
A lot of the large institutions have been buying out the middle market of administration, so there’s now the top end and the bottom end and I think that trend’s just going to continue. Whether or not that’s a positive or a negative, it’s hard to say. But I do feel that clients are now preferring independent advice and don’t want to be aligned with any particular institution or be restricted to investments on an approved product list. They want to do things their way and find a professional adviser whom they feel comfortable with to support their requirements.
What’s one thing you would change about the sector?
The qualifications of advisers. I feel that the current RG 146 standard is insufficient. How does that compare to someone who’s invested two years into a graduate diploma in financial planning? The client will not see that at the end of the day. I would like to see this rehashed and the accepted level of education raised. It needs to be a lot more uniform.
What’s the key challenge facing the sector in the next 12 months?
Legislative change. There’s a big question mark over the future of SMSFs in terms of its tax effectiveness. There’s been so much controversy around massive tax refunds for self-funded retirees and how it’s not fair for the overall population and that SMSFs seem to be a vehicle for the wealthy; that’s how it’s been perceived anyway. If the government tightens legislation on SMSFs, it will impact the current retirees, baby boomers and subsequent generations.
What are your expectations for the upcoming tax white paper and final tax policy?
The government might do something in the upcoming tax white paper, but I don’t think it will come down hard. There would be a huge backlash from the industry, so it could just be a little tweak. I think the industry has learnt from prior years this is how it’s going to be and it’s a matter of making decisions now for the client with their best interest at heart. You can’t really guess what’s going to happen tomorrow or 12 months from now. You just have to plan for the present.