One on one with…Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton’s time as SMSF Professionals’ Association of Australia (SPAA) chair has just come to an end. Here he takes the opportunity to reflect on his experiences of the past two years with Darin Tyson-Chan.

Looking back, how did you find the past two years as SPAA chair?

I’ve really enjoyed the last two years. It’s been quite exciting, but quite demanding because it was something I hadn’t done before. In fact, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would actually.

What aspects made it so enjoyable?

I’ve always enjoyed working with different people and there was a really good mix of people I had to deal with. That’s everything from people on the board right through to the membership, and when we were at the national conference this year I got to meet a lot of new players in the market and that was really good fun. It included meeting a lot of younger people in the market, including start-ups, who had so much enthusiasm. There was one guy in particular who was in his early 20s and he was just so excited about what was going to happen in the next 10 years. That sort of thing is really good because it makes the industry so vibrant.

You said the role was quite demanding, but exactly how demanding was it?

From a time point of view is was okay because I knew what to expect, having been on the board. I think it was more the breadth of what I had to do. We were sitting around and talking about what we wanted to do and the direction we wanted to take, and that covered so many industries within the one as we were trying to take into account all of the relevant areas and do the right thing. I’ve been involved with SMSF administration for over 20 years, so I get up in the morning and I know what I’ve got to do there, whereas in this role I came across things I hadn’t had to think about and hadn’t seen before. It was a bit of a stretch, but it is something I enjoyed the most.

Were there any unexpected issues you had to deal with?

No, I don’t think there was anything unexpected. Everything progressed really smoothly. It was more the future planning that was challenging. It was about where we go next and what’s the next stage and where do we head. We also had a lot of activity with the new federal government, so all of those things put together made it a very interesting but quite demanding experience with really good results.

When you took on the role you wanted to make sure during your time as chair the SMSF sector emerged as a strong industry with continued growth characteristics. Are you satisfied this was achieved?

I’m really pleased with where the sector is at. There is still a long way to go, but the growth is there and probably the most important thing that was achieved was when we held the conference this year, ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission), Treasury, the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) and both political parties were there talking to us and endorsed the direction the sector was headed in and what we were doing. So everybody’s now saying and knowing we do have an industry that is strong and in particular is providing the required advice and support. Previously we’ve had these groups come to the conference individually, but this year was the first time we had all of them there together. What’s more is they are coming to SPAA now, whereas historically when we wanted to talk to these parties we had to knock on their doors, so for them to now come and ask us what’s happening and where things are going is a really great position to be in.

Growing the SPAA membership base was another objective you identified two years ago. So has it grown to a level you’re happy with?

I would like to have seen it at a higher level, but in saying that even today we’ve got a lot happening on that front. I think you’ll find over the next two years the growth in the membership will definitely be there. We’ve done a lot of groundwork and now we have a lot of groups saying you need to be a part of this. We’ve got financial planning dealer groups coming to SPAA saying we now see where the association sits, we want to be a part of that, and we’re encouraging our people to become members of SPAA.

How has that groundwork been achieved?

We’ve done a lot of work with both large dealer groups and smaller dealer groups and individuals, asking them what they needed from SPAA and what the association could provide them, and bringing them along on the journey with what we believe needs to occur. I think there is also an understanding now about the education associated with being a profession and making sure the people providing advice in this space actually have the required level of knowledge. So I think they’re now seeing SPAA as the place they need to be to do that. It takes a while to get that message through and understood to eventually have people say “I now see how it all comes together”, and I really feel we’re on that path and we’re starting to see the results come through.

Was there anything you wanted to do but weren’t able to do?

Not really. I think SPAA has to be conscious of not getting too big too quick. I think having a steady ship is really important. If you think about where you want to be in 10 years’ time, you can have some grand plans, but I think it’s really a matter of steady growth and getting the foundations right. I think what you have to prove to the whole industry is to make sure you can do this properly and the process is well controlled and I think that’s what we’re seeing. There were plenty of things on the list, but I’m not sure we can get them all done at once.

What will your involvement on the board entail now?

I’ll still be involved on the strategic side and will still be on the finance committee and the conference committee. So you lose the chairman’s spot, but I’ve got plenty of other responsibilities to keep me going and I’ve still got another couple of years on the board, which will be good because it will allow me to see the things we’ve been working on come to fruition.

What would you identify as your greatest challenge in the role?

The greatest challenge was the constant push against SMSFs. From all different areas there’s a lot of information fed into the media and the marketplace and government about SMSFs not being well controlled and well run. So you’re constantly working very, very hard to point out the facts. It means you’re always in a position where you are spending a lot of time working to protect the sector and prove it is strong. But it would seem the political parties now know when they hear this noise to come straight to SPAA to find out what’s actually going on and that makes it a bit easier.

What was your greatest achievement as chair?

The most satisfying achievement came at the conference we just hosted where the three governing bodies and the government were all saying what SPAA is doing is good and the industry is very strong. So having all of those people talking to us saying they’re really happy with what SPAA is doing, I think is probably the biggest achievement we’ve had. It’s not something I’d put down as having happened because of me. It’s happened because of what the whole team has done.

What advice would you impart to the new chair, Peter Crump?

I said to Peter, and he knows this, we’ve got a really good team around the board table, we’ve got a good executive team and a really good membership, so we’ve got to really just keep doing what we’re doing and playing to our strengths, and I think if we do that, the association will continue to operate really well. So we don’t need any major change.

How would you like your time as chair to be remembered?

I find that difficult because the beauty of SPAA is it’s not just about the person who’s chair. If we can look back and say the industry continued to go from strength to strength, SPAA was being listened to, and good education tools were provided, I think that for me personally is what I want that time to be remembered for. I don’t mind if people look back and say who was the chair then and not know because I don’t think it’s actually that relevant. It’s more about the whole piece put together and I’m happy to have been quietly working away in the background.

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