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SMSF Service Providers Awards 2015 – Leaders of the pack

The third annual SMSF Service Provider Awards have again recognised the most innovative, trusted and cutting-edge providers in the industry. Krystine Lumanta and Elizabeth Somerville uncover what makes these names stand out against the rest.

According to the latest statistical data from the ATO, as of 30 June 2015, the total number of SMSFs had reached 556,998 and the total number of members had ticked over to 1,049,840. SMSF assets sat at $590 billion.

With roughly more than 15,000 professionals servicing the industry across investments, insurance, audit, administration and other specialist services, it’s the advisers and accountants dealing with these providers on a daily basis.

As the landscape to win SMSF business is becoming more competitive, standing out as a trusted leading brand in the industry means quality of service, product offerings and support have to be second to none.

The 2015 winners were determined by a study, conducted by CoreData, which sought to capture the multiple perspectives on the service provision to trustees, as well as financial planners and accountants operating in the SMSF sector.

Quantitative research was conducted via an online survey between June and August, with 452 responses captured in the adviser survey comprising 93 financial planners, 252 accountants and 107 other professionals, including auditors and administrators.

Excellence in the sector was acknowledged across 14 categories of SMSF services, as nominated by SMSF advisers and accountants.

Voting by SMSF professionals revealed the leading providers excelled due to their superior product offerings and highly-rated communications and support.

It also found no real dominant service provider exists in most categories.

On the night of the awards, CoreData principal Andrew Inwood said: “That doesn’t happen in most industries.

“Once industries become mature, the brands start to dominate and start to take space, which shows us something really interesting about the SMSF market – it’s still very much an open market.

“If you get these awards, it’s a big deal because it means there’s a preference for your service in the marketplace and you should do everything you can to let people know this so you can drive your model.”

In this special feature, selfmanagedsuper speaks to the winners of the awards in the SMSF Adviser Category.

Forming deeper connections to advisers

Platinum: International shares winner

An even greater focus on improving its services to advisers has been fundamental to Platinum’s success over the past year, expanding its responsibilities beyond investment performance, capital protection and wealth creation.

“Advisers seeking to learn more about how we manage their clients’ assets tend to get a deeper insight than they would from a salesperson, who is unlikely to fully comprehend the nuances of investing and be more inclined to flog product,” Platinum investment specialist Douglas Isles says.

Isles, who was previously an analyst at the firm for five-and-a-half years, was rehired in 2013 to specifically form a deeper connection with the advice community.

“As a former analyst at Platinum, I understand the process and challenges of picking stocks for our funds, and have lived and breathed the firm’s unique investment approach,” he reveals.

“We recently hired another former Platinum analyst, Julian McCormack, to add capacity and we will likely expand again.

“Our investment team of 30 professionals work together in Sydney – this closeness enables deep debate on investing. For Julian and I, being part of this great team is stimulating and we convey this to advisers we meet whilst sharing the team’s insights.”

The flagship Platinum International Fund is widely used in SMSFs, along with regional and sector products. In addition, Platinum Capital, the Australian Securities Exchange-listed investment company, has a 21-year history.

“We have introduced two new products catering to SMSFs in the last year: the Platinum Global Fund launched on the Australian Securities Exchange mFund platform and our second listed investment company, Platinum Asia Investments Limited, which gives greater access to a region under-represented in almost all global fund managers’ portfolios,” Isles says.

“We have expressed concern that Australians, especially SMSFs, have too little exposure to overseas shares.

“Appetite is increasing; complexities, costs and experience make it sensible for most people to use fund managers. Many major markets are inaccessible to foreign retail investors, for example, China, Korea and India.”

The biggest challenges in serving its advisers include Australia’s size, the large adviser population and data challenges, he says.

“[This] means we are not yet reaching everyone we would like,” he says.

“We try to harness technology, and travel around the country to connect with advisers.

“We use our website to provide deeper insights and videos when appropriate, and have a great investor services team in Sydney. Winning the award is an endorsement of our increased efforts as a firm on adviser communications, and we strive to keep improving.”

Education driving defensive assets take-up

PIMCO: Fixed income winner

With the help of global expertise, delivering consistency to clients has been vital for success, at the same time where education around fixed income becomes more available.

“Education has been a key focus for PIMCO for the SMSF market,” PIMCO head of Australia and New Zealand Adrian Stewart says.

“We have strived to ensure that the benefits of defensive assets are clearly articulated and understood.

“This has been increasingly important in light of continued uncertainty and volatility present in markets ever since the global financial crisis.”

PIMCO’s offering to the broader global wealth industry has focused predominantly on core fixed-interest offerings, including global bond and Australian bond portfolios that form part of many clients’ defensive allocations, Stewart reveals.

“However, we are also increasingly having conversations in niche and alternative sources of return to help clients meet long-term income objectives,” he says.

Locally, the investment manager has more than 45 employees and its Australian fixed-interest funds are managed locally from the Sydney office.

“Investing in Australian fixed interest today requires a global perspective to effectively cover the opportunity set,” Stewart says.

“Our investment approach at PIMCO is one that embraces a mix of dedicated local expertise and a global coverage approach.

“As an example, globally we have a world-class team of 60-plus credit analysts – sector specialists with wide-ranging expertise who independently rate more than 11,000 securities – located around the world to pinpoint individual opportunities.

“Being part of a global network allows us to really tap into global expertise.”

While performance is key, the consistency of being able to deliver results for clients across market cycles has been difficult for many fund managers in the industry, he says.

“This consistency is an attribute that our clients have really appreciated,” he says.

“Effectively, managing global fixed- interest mandates requires a team approach, truly, which is guided by PIMCO’s time-tested investment process: our rigorously developed macro outlook, our bottom-up credit analysis and our robust risk management.

“This ensures that the best insights and investment ideas from each of our dedicated regional and sector specialty desks are transferred into the everyday management of portfolios.

“This team approach has always been a stalwart of the PIMCO way to managing global fixed interest and it’s an approach that we believe we have done very well.”

He says the award demonstrates the group’s commitment to its clients.

“This recognition speaks to our singular focus on delivering for our clients our time-tested investment process and our best-in-class talent,” he says.

“We are very much committed to the Australian marketplace and we look forward to continuing to partner with our Australian and New Zealand clients and investors.”

Making the most out of SMSFs

SuperIQ: Administration winner

While the core role of an administrator will always be to ensure the basics are covered, facilitating modern ways for advisers to delve deeper into trustee information and data has emerged as a real value-add.

“While it is important to do the basics well – prepare the financial accounts and lodge the tax return quickly and efficiently – it is much more important to help members and trustees do things like make the best use of contributions caps, put the right estate planning arrangements in place and have tax-effective pension strategies in place,” SuperIQ general manager Peter Lalor says.

“We see our role as helping SMSF trustees and their advisers make the most of the opportunities they have from their SMSF.”

Since its launch in October 2011, the business has grown to over 100 staff members, including fund accounting and client service staff, sales and IT.

“Most of our team are fund accountants and client service staff who work closely with trustees and advisers,” Lalor says.

“There is no doubt the expectations of advisers and trustees in the SMSF sector have been rising over the past couple of years – they expect much faster access to information to help them make decisions about their retirement savings.

“As people become more and more time poor, they have greater expectations for proactive, timely help and accurate, concise information about their fund and the things they should be doing.

“So we have invested heavily in technology and automation over the past couple of years to make sure we can provide this to trustees and advisers.”

He says SuperIQ works closely with SMSF practitioners to determine whether or not their needs are being met.

“We take suggestions and ideas from regular fortnightly or monthly discussions with every adviser and accounting practice we work with,” he says.

“We find common themes across clients, we refine our systems and processes to improve service delivery.”

In addition, SuperIQ continually reviews the performance of each part of its business.

“One of the key ways we look at the performance of our business is using our net promoter score surveys – we review the feedback looking for improvement opportunities in everything we do,” Lalor reveals.

SuperIQ finished its 2014 lodgement program “on a real high” after smashing the ATO lodgement targets, he says.

“We then moved straight into planning our 2015 lodgement program and this year we have a better and more detailed lodgement program than we have ever had,” he says.

“We’ve planned the lodgement for every single one of the funds we look after so trustees and advisers know exactly when we will be working on their fund and when we will need information from them.

“It’s another great example of how we work in a close partnership with advisers and trustees.”

He says winning the award is a tremendous credit to SuperIQ’s staff, who have worked tirelessly to provide great support and service to advisers and trustees.

Proving that consistency is key

Westpac: Residential property loans winner

Since 2007, SMSFs have been allowed to borrow to acquire assets. Westpac’s conservative and consistent approach to lending to SMSFs has resulted in its residential property arm taking out the top gong in this category for the second year in a row.

“Borrowing inside super is not right for everyone and it’s important for SMSF trustees to appropriately consider the risks and benefits of a property gearing strategy, before undertaking a property loan,” Westpac head of SMSFs Sinclair Taylor says.

“Likewise, it is critical that a property gearing strategy is consistent with the SMSF’s written investment strategy.”

Since 2007, Westpac has had a consistent approach to lending to SMSFs.

“Upon the superannuation legislation changing in late 2007, we were the first major bank to launch a specialised lending product to cater for residential and commercial property investment by SMSFs,” he says.

Taylor reveals demand for SMSF residential property loans has remained consistent.

“However, Westpac has recently reduced the maximum loan-to-value ratio on these loans from 80 per cent to 70 per cent to assist us complying with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s macro prudential guidance, to not grow our investment property loan book by greater than 10 per cent per annum,” he says.

Westpac regularly reviews its products and services in the residential property space to ensure it is meeting the changing needs of its customers and advisers.

“We continually review our approach to SMSF lending, and in particular we continue to focus on ensuring that SMSF trustees have a good understanding of the risks and benefits of undertaking a property gearing strategy inside their SMSF, before obtaining a loan,” Taylor stresses.

“Trustee education and high-quality financial advice remain critically important.

“It’s great to be recognised with an industry award, which acknowledges our market-leading approach to SMSF property lending.”

Remaining ahead of the curve

BT Wrap: Investment platforms winner

BT Financial Group (BTFG) took out the award for the achievements of BT Wrap for the second year running, with flows into its platform solutions stronger than ever.

“Adviser demand for platform solutions continues to be strong and we have seen funds under administration (FUA) growth of 12 per cent across our BTFG investment platforms in 2015,” BTFG head of platforms Kelly Power says.

“Specifically in the SMSF space, we have seen 64 per cent FUA growth from SMSF clients over the last five years.”

Power says advisers continue to ask for support to implement changes to legislation into their businesses and partnering with them to navigate through them.

“Change is constant,” she says.

“We need to be ahead of the curve and that’s why we are investing in BT Panorama, our future platform offering, to support the advice businesses of the present and future.

“We are investing a large amount of resources in building BT Panorama and have already released the BT Cash functionality, managed portfolios and managed funds, and we will be launching SMSF capability before the end of the year.”

However, receiving the award is testament to BTFG’s persistence to enhance its current market-leading platform solutions, BT Wrap and Asgard, she says.

“This year, we launched a new offer called BT Compact Wrap, as well a new suite of Wholesale Plus managed funds, which have already reached over $500 million in FUA,” she shares.

“Increasing reliance on technology means that advisers are looking for online tools and functionality to help them engage better with, and support, their clients.

“We’re aware advisers and clients have different business models, so we aim to have a broad product offering that provides value for clients and creates efficiencies in adviser businesses.”

Power attributes the win to a collective effort, with a vast number of people and teams who support its advisers and clients in its platforms business, including product, distribution, marketing, operations and contact centre staff.

“Our teams across the BTFG platforms business work closely together to focus on the adviser and client need and respond effectively,” she says.

“It is very exciting to receive this award for the second year running.

“It’s a well-earned recognition of the client benefits that can be achieved using a platform as an SMSF solution.

“The financial services industry continues to experience significant change and BTFG has the scale to enable us to deliver the right solutions and support advisers and their clients.”

Across BT Wrap and Asgard, BTFG has delivered over 38 new investment options at a lower price point.

Maximising adviser benefits

iShares: ETF provider winner

Building better portfolios and better businesses for advisers has been the two-pronged strategy for iShares, a method that has paid off and reconfirmed its approach to go beyond just creating new products.

“When we think specifically of advisers with SMSF clients, it’s pretty consistent with what we’re trying to do, which is building the best palette of tools to help investors build better portfolios,” iShares head of Australia Jon Howie says.

“That includes giving them access to the world’s investment markets – we’ve got some plans around new products for both this year and next year – but also trying to assist advisers particularly to also build better businesses for themselves by maximising the ease of use, transparency and liquidity of ETFs.”

Howie says advisers are looking for more efficient ways to build robust portfolios.

“But it’s not just enough to have a good product set, you’ve got to be able to help clients understand how to maximise the benefits from that product,” he says.

“How do they make sure they have the ability to build a scalable solution but also customise where appropriate?

“SMSF investors often have assets that are unique to their own personal situation, whether it be property or holdings in unlisted companies, et cetera, so if there’s a specific situation it’s about trying to work out how to have scalability in our process, but at the same time, the ability to customise it when required.”

He says the simple building-block nature of ETFs allows advisers to start with a one-size-fits-many approach, which can then be tailored.

“So what you end up with is a really robust process which is customised for each client and advisers are showing a lot of interest in this,” he says.

“We’ve traditionally been very much a firm focused on supporting advisers rather than competing with them.

“We’re seeing a lot of advisers come to us because they trust us.”

He reveals international equities remains very popular with SMSF investors, particularly Europe and Japan, which have become more attractive over the past 12 months.

Furthermore, fixed income is experiencing continued growth.

“We launched Australian fixed income ETFs in the market in 2012 and it took a little while for people to get used to what they were, but we’ve seen really strong growth in these products over the past 12 months,” he says.

In order to stay front of mind, iShares is continuing to develop new products, but also evolving its offering outside individual products, particularly model portfolio solutions.

Howie says the award has given iShares an incentive to redouble its efforts.

“We’re extremely happy and very humbled by it,” he says.

“We work incredibly hard to work in a consultative way with our advisers and we really try to approach the relationship as a partnership, rather than just a product provider.

“What it means for us to receive this award is to some extent confirming our approach and it’s a huge compliment advisers see us as the best service provider.”

Taking the lead and retaining it

Australian Foundation Investment Company: Listed investment companies winner

Australia’s largest listed investment company (LIC), Australian Foundation Investment Company (AFIC), has experienced greater interest and support from SMSF investors and advisers, which is likely to continue.

“LICs have become more mainstream in the SMSF sector,” AFIC business development and investor relations general manager Geoff Driver says.

“Historically, LICs were typically distributed through brokers, but with the change of Future of Financial Advice rules [removing commissions] and the emergence of a lot of SMSFs and DIY investors, we’re seeing a greater interest in AFIC, from the SMSF sector in particular, whether they’re advised or non-advised.

“And so our approach has been to do more work with financial advisers over the last few years: briefing them on what AFIC does and how AFIC can fit into clients’ portfolios.

We’ve also dedicated a section of our website to SMSFs, so we think that’s been relatively effective.”

SMSF investors now make up 25 per cent of the AFIC business, which has a market capitalisation of $6.81 billion.

Driver notes adviser demand has also grown quite substantially.

“Some of the traditional fund managers have entered the LIC space, which I think means that they feel as though they haven’t been exposed to the self-directed and SMSF segments, so that’s what they’re looking to do,” he says.

“From that perspective, their actions indicate there’s a lot more interest in the market and that’s good for the LICs industry.

“That’s certainly heightened the knowledge of LICs through the financial adviser network. A number of years ago, there were only four or five main ones.”

AFIC will continue to execute what it believes has been successful in the past.

“We’re really getting out to advisers and speaking to them about AFIC, and we’ve updated our website again so that SMSFs and advisers can find information on us,” Driver shares.

“But there’s always room for improvement.

“We don’t rest on our laurels. Even though we are the largest LIC and there’s a heightened level of knowledge about us these days than there was a few years ago, we still have to work at it, and run adviser and broker presentations in order to keep our brand in mind.”

The biggest challenge for AFIC has been education, he reveals.

“I think it’s having that general level of knowledge of LICs as an alternative – investors understanding the structure and why it’s seen as a better investment vehicle than open-ended trusts, in terms of the way we manage our investments for the longer term,” he says.

This resonates with many advisers who tend to have clients looking for similar sorts of attributes in the way they approach investing, he adds.

Receiving the award has shone the spotlight on AFIC.

“It’s great that the awards have actually recognised LICs with the category being introduced this year,” Driver says.

“The pressure’s on for us to retain our title next year, so we’ll see how we go.”

Change is at the heart of success

Class Super: Accounting software/administration winner

Change is a constant the Class Super team knows well, as the group is always revising and reinventing its accounting and administration software offerings to keep up with adviser and client demand.

“Our general approach is we’re really looking at what it is that people need this product to be doing and what the end client wants,” Class Super chief executive Kevin Bungard says.

“The requirements go up each year in terms of the technology that’s required, so people’s expectations keep going up too.”

The group engages various stakeholders as part of its ongoing business and product strategies to make sure any revisions it does are in line with its clients’ needs, Bungard says.

“This year we knew we wanted to automate more around corporate actions and remove [manual] work around this,” he says.

“We also wanted to see if we could bring efficiencies in dealing with international shares and foreign currency.

“It’s really a matter of having a look at the next thing that people want – where are the trends, what do people want, and how can we bring about efficiency?”

According to Bungard, when looking at what’s coming up next, the key is to know your strengths and know when it’s best to partner with another organisation that may be more suited to addressing a particular inefficiency.

“It’s not always about saying ‘do we have to do that?’ but more a case of ‘can we partner with other people to address those issues?’

“If there are new adviser tools and products coming out, then we’re looking to integrate with those as well.

“We need to have them work together as a tool set of integrated solutions.”

The group has also focused on building out its application program interface this year to enable other providers to integrate with it more easily.

“Nobody wants to have to retype data, so having it seamlessly integrate is a lot more efficient,” Bungard says.

He admits though that continual revision, given the size of Class’s client base and its strong focus on growth, can be a challenge.

“With the growth we’ve had, we can’t rest. We can’t coast for a while,” he says.

“We need to reinvest, re-improve and innovate our processes.

“If you’re not comfortable with change, you really shouldn’t be working at Class as we’re constantly going through change.”

Enhancements with the customer in mind

OnePath: Insurance winner

The customer comes first for the team at OnePath, which is constantly evolving its insurance offerings to better meet adviser and client needs.

“Our approach to insurance as a business is to always start with the customer in mind,” OnePath head of life insurance Gerard Kerr says.

“OnePath-branded solutions are about helping customers shape and protect their future.

“We are an expert by their side, empowering and encouraging them to make the most of their chosen path.”

The group uses the OnePath brand for distributing its advised products to end customers, however, it also communicates under ANZ Wealth with its adviser business partners as this allows it to leverage off the strength and security of the larger brand while reflecting a broader ‘wealth specialist’ expertise, Kerr explains.

In order to ensure OnePath’s offering remains targeted and relevant, it continuously listens to adviser feedback so it is able to act on their and their clients’ specific needs.

“Adviser and client needs are constantly changing, as are many attributes, such as technology, so it’s imperative we are active and leverage these insights and opportunities,” Kerr says.

“At ANZ Wealth we have regular feedback loops with our key advisers and it is this interaction and broader research that helps us drive and execute business priorities.

“I believe it’s also one of the key reasons why we remain the most widely recommended adviser insurance solution, as reported in recent Investment Trends research.”

In addition, OnePath constantly reviews its performance from financial, customer and adviser experience viewpoints.

“Measuring our performance is important to us,” Kerr says.

“The nature of any issues that evolve are generally varied, such as regulatory changes.

“Our key aim is to understand these changes and implement any necessary changes, as well as identify opportunities that usually emerge with any change.”

Kerr emphasises this has been particularly important over the past year, during which a number of regulatory changes have impacted on the insurance space.

“Notwithstanding the disruption from likely regulatory and broader industry changes, our advisers continue to be client focused in their demands on insurers,” he says.

“Effectively, they are looking for us to continue to provide capabilities and solutions that meet their clients’ needs.

“These demands are a win-win as it provides direction for us in evolving to better support advisers, so they can in turn continue to offer quality solutions to their client base.”

He points out 2015 also marks a significant year for the OnePath team as it approaches the 10th anniversary of its OneCare insurance offer, something of which group is very proud.

“And notwithstanding the ongoing uncertainty with likely reforms, the team continues to focus on supporting our advisers and our 300,000-plus customers with some exciting OneCare enhancements, which are soon to be released,” he says.

Collaboration reaps rewards at Macquarie

Macquarie: Cash and term deposits winner

For more than 30 years, Macquarie has been working with financial services professionals, evolving its products and services in line with adviser feedback to better cater to the needs of SMSF trustees.

“Since the opening of our first cash hub in 1981, we have worked with SMSF investors and their advisers and accountants to help them build more efficient businesses through our innovative and award-winning offering,” Macquarie head of cash product Peter Forrest says.

“Macquarie’s cash products provide solutions to help investors, advisers, accountants, administrators, document managers and software vendors efficiently manage the cash flow and administration of SMSFs.”

This continual focus on innovation and product enhancement in line with adviser and investor needs has resulted in Macquarie picking up the cash and term deposits award for the second year running.

“At Macquarie we understand there are several parties that help provide a great experience for the trustee,” Forrest says.

“To this end we provide solutions to help investors and financial advisers, accountants, document providers, administrators and software vendors.”

Central to this is an understanding of the users’ needs and what they are trying to achieve in order to provide the best outcomes for trustees, he says.

This has resulted in a constant revision of Macquarie’s solutions in response to customer feedback and to facilitate integration with the group’s intermediary clients’ businesses.

“These offerings are core to Macquarie’s business. The performance and operations are continually being reviewed and enhanced,” Forrest says.

“A key focus for us this year has been to modernise our technology platform and digital capabilities that will support Macquarie and its partners to service trustees in the future.

“Macquarie continues to roll out and enhance its very simple trustee application process that integrates with software vendors, administrators and advisers.”

As a result, the group continues to experience strong demand from advisers, which is driven by a need for products that provide administration efficiencies for the adviser as well as client value.

“We have strong relationships with our advisers, listen to their feedback and at the same time ensure that we use that information to enhance and improve our products,” Forrest says.

“We are also continuing to invest to ensure our offering remains leading edge and competitive.”

For a group that places its clients in such high regard, industry feedback and recognition is paramount, and also crucially lets the Macquarie team know whether it’s on the right track.

“Recognition is important as it allows us to understand what part of our offering is resonating with our clients,” Forrest says.

“Receiving this acknowledgement highlights that they appreciate and value what we do.”

Property approach part of bigger investment picture

Macquarie: Commercial property winner

Macquarie’s approach to commercial property forms one link in the chain of the group’s broader strategy to support both its existing client relationships and cement strong partnerships with new SMSF clients.

The group aims to offer a complementary approach to the SMSF commercial lending market, which is in turn backed up by its expertise in business banking, Macquarie banking and financial services division head of banking and product Drew Hall says.

“This year our focus has been on quality transactions based on the calibre of the client and by setting a higher entry level through a minimum loan size, and this has provided us with the opportunity to attract higher-quality business,” Hall says.

“We have a dedicated team who work hard to ensure our clients have the best chance of realising their business goals and vision.

“They have a genuine interest in learning about their business, needs and challenges, as well as identifying opportunities for each client.”

Over the past year, Macquarie has experienced an increase in adviser demand and queries surrounding limited recourse borrowing arrangements (LRBA), which have become a key area of interest following the attention they received in last year’s Financial System Inquiry, he says.

“There has been a steady increase in LRBA inquiries this year, which was expected as trustees and advisers further integrate the concept into client strategies,” he says.

“In addition to the LRBA inquiries, trustees and advisers continue to show some interest in other gearing solutions, where the SMSF has an indirect interest in a property via broader unit trust structures with other unrelated parties.”

Hall reveals Macquarie helps its sales and relationship managers understand the various gearing structures available to SMSFs by providing them with comprehensive support to ensure a smooth experience for the client and adviser.

This has assisted in the group’s continuing strong performance from its commercial property and larger business banking units.

“The performance of our business remains strong, which is a reflection of the bank’s prudent and responsible lending approach to the SMSF market,” Hall says.

“On an ongoing basis, we monitor market trends and regulatory changes and adapt accordingly.”

Over the course of 2015, the business has continued to perform to expectations, focusing on quality transactions as well as providing the best opportunities for its clients, he says.

“Macquarie’s prudent and responsible approach to the SMSF lending segment has supported the longevity of our offering to the market, and this, combined with the strong technical support we provide to both advisers and our relationship managers, continues to be well received,” he says.

On top of this, winning the award for commercial property has provided recognition of the quality of Macquarie’s offering, strong business relationships and collective team effort to achieve this vision, he says.

“The award is recognition of Macquarie’s united strength in support of the SMSF segment, which has been a key focus for over 20 years,” he says.

Automation spells success for NowInfinity

NowInfinity: Trust deeds supplier winner

Automation forms the cornerstone of success for NowInfinity, earning it the award for trust deed supplier due its unwavering commitment to its customers and its desire to automate as much of the deed process as possible.

“We’re always asking: ‘How can we automate it? How can we make sure the deed covers it?’” NowInfinity principal Grant Abbott says of the group’s objectives in revising its service offering.

“We’ve got a good customer feedback loop that’s ongoing and done daily.

“Our system is changing on a week-to-week basis all because of this customer feedback.”

NowInfinity’s system, which processes over 3000 documents a day, has also branched out to provide trust deed automation services to family trusts and hybrid trusts, as well as for specific ASIC documentation on top of its core offering of SMSF trust deeds, Abbott explains.

“We come up with new strategies all the time that we put into our trust deeds to put our users at the front of the pack.”

For example, last year the group focused on automating bloodline benefits inside super deeds as 90 per cent of clients want their money to go to their bloodline, he points out.

“It’s something that’s previously been completed outside of SMSFs through estates, so our competitors haven’t jumped on it yet.

“We’re starting to automate a lot of things with relation to binding death nominations, and next year we will focus on statements of advice.”

Already, NowInfinity has attracted a loyal following through its adviser responsive automation offers that operate on an all-in-one pricing model, which allows users to access as many documents as they want, inclusive of technical training and support, for the one price, he says.

“For planners it’s worthwhile and larger accounting firms are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by going down that route.”

The user-friendly system also provides clients with the option of self-branding the documents they use and selecting the feeder source from where to pull information from to populate the documents.

“We’re also the first ones in Australia to implement document digital signatures,” Abbott says, with signatures now applicable across all documents.

A project currently being undertaken allows NowInfinity users to connect with ASIC directly to obtain notifications about when a client return is due so they can access it and post it out to their clients.

“What our system does now is we get notifications straight from ASIC that appear on the accounts of planners’ dashboards,” Abbott reveals.

“We wrap it up with a solvency certificate, wrap it up with an invoice notice and send it out under the client’s name.

“That’s something that was very manual and now is very automated, so that has been a big shift.”

Business as usual for CommSec

CommSec: Australian shares winner

Asking the question: ‘Do our tools and services really meet the needs of advisers?’ is always front of mind for the CommSec team, which is continuously looking for new ways to improve its service offering and assist the adviser community.

“As the leading online broker in Australia we provide broking tools and research to the retail market and Australian financial services licence holders,” CommSec adviser services general manager Eric Blewitt says.

“Our approach is to act as a provider of executive services, also providing the full range of support services to meet the needs of our clients.

“Our method really is to continue to innovate and invest in the offerings to ensure we stay right at the forefront.”

This sees the group undertake a significant amount of research and market analysis as well as obtaining regular feedback from advisers to ensure it remains innovative and continues to lead the pack, Blewitt says.

“Despite being an online business, having close working relationship with advisers and understanding them and their needs enables us to assist them better and meet their needs,” he says.

“We have a sizeable team that’s continuously interacting with advisers.”

Recent adviser research conducted by the team found that despite market volatility of late, there continues to be a trend of net buying from advisers, he says.

“Some of the primary drivers are the increase of net flows of exchange-traded funds (ETF), both with international and domestic exposure,” he says.

“Many advisers want international exposure and their preferred vehicle for obtaining that is the growing ETF market.”

In addition, CommSec has been able to help advisers and their clients navigate the recent market volatility by providing them with the education, research and resources to help them look at the long term rather than the next headlines, he says.

“We give them the information and the confidence which they can correspondingly relate to their clients,” he says.

The group also regularly reviews and applies a strategic rigour to its operating practices in order to keep up with technological advancements, he says.

“Given the pace of innovation, the question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘How do we act in a strategic manner and deliver products and services while still delivering a competitive advantage for the business?’” he says.

“We test potential new strategies and review them, and then naturally decipher and execute on the ones that add value.

“We want to make sure we’re not chasing the next fad.”

However, this is the methodology the group has always used and Blewitt insists this strategy, which has helped CommSec pick up the Australian shares award two years in a row, is just part of the group’s business-as-usual approach.

“We just focus on the needs of SMSF advisers and clients, making sure we understand their business and market,” he says.

“We continue to try our very best to contribute to adviser success.

“It’s not as though we’ve done anything substantially different, we’re just continuing to do more of the same, delivering on the same objectives.”

Narrow scope spells success

Evolv Super: Audit provider winner

A refined focus on the audit function and a commitment to automation has allowed Evolv Super to build a presence and trust across the accountancy community.

“At Evolv all we do is SMSF audits,” Evolv Super managing director Ron Phipps-Ellis says.

“There’s no other tax or accounting work.

“The reason for our specialisation is to surely offer other accountants a ‘no fear’ model when they provide us with their clients.”

The self-sufficient group, which has just over 30 staff, has its own super audit software so is not reliant on any external suppliers, which also enables it to be more nimble when taking accountant feedback on board, Phipps-Ellis says. “Our strategy is to keep constantly improving our software to create automation as much as possible within SMSF audits,” he says.

“The audit process can be automated to an extent, and although it can never be fully automated, it doesn’t need to have full touchlines by humans.

“We’re constantly trying to push the boundaries of technology to see how super audits are done.”

As part of its collective vision, Evolv sees technology as an enabler for creating automation, simplicity and consistency across super audits, he says.

“What we’re trying to develop is new approaches to the audit, predominantly by automation,” he explains.

“Quite a number of our competitors will still go through and try and do the audit by paper, but we have no paper at all.”

The group still focuses on testing 100 per cent of super fund transactions, however, this is now done electronically, which is in contrast to some other providers working within the space. “It should take one second and be fully done by software as opposed to a human being taking three hours to complete the same process,” Phipps-Ellis says.

“It’s a new approach [to auditing] by embracing software.

“By automating as much as we can, we’re focusing on the user experience and creating relationships with clients.”

Software also acts as an enabler to ensure a more consistent audit approach, which in turn allows the group’s auditors to focus on the riskier parts of the audit process, he says.

“That’s what creates value back to our clients, rather than doing a mundane financial audit,” he says.

Client numbers have also increased for the group, growing from 1500 super fund audits at 1 July 2012 up to 7500 by the end of June this year, he says.

“The demand has increased so that’s how we found out that technology is an enabler, but maintaining quality requires a hands-on approach and having that relationship with your clients,” he says.

Further, the independent group plans to offer additional value to clients through a data analytics project that is currently being undertaken, he says.

“We’re looking at the whole data analytics piece in order to create value for our clients,” he says.

“You can create a whole lot of reports and extract a whole lot of information in order to analyse internally.

“We’ll be giving this information back to clients in a structured format for them to use.”

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