It's a question that all SMSF trustees should be asking, because the Australian Tax Office is not only watching but taking harsh action in the form of issuing penalties for non-compliance.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Dana Fleming told the SMSF Association's annual conference in February that the SMSF regulator has its sights on almost 90,000 private funds that are managing over $20 billion in assets.
These include around 24,000 SMSFs managing $1 billion in assets, which have never lodged a tax return, and another 63,000 managing $19.5 billion that have stopped lodging mandatory documents with the ATO.
The ATO definitely means business. It issued more than $3 million fines to SMSF trustees in the six months to the end of December, more than double the amount of fines levied over the full 2018-19 financial year.
While the ATO is most concerned with deliberate compliance breaches by SMSF trustees, the regulator has consistently made it clear that trustees need to be fully aware of their legal obligations under the Superannuation Industry Supervision Act.
Trustees also need to strictly abide by their SMSF trust deed, which can contain stipulations on the types of assets their fund is allowed to invest in. Unless read carefully, a trustee could inadvertently breach the conditions of their own fund.
Non-compliance is certainly not a new theme across Australia's SMSF population, which now totals almost 600,000 funds, 1.12 million members and $750 billion in assets.
But the difference now is that the ATO has become much more sophisticated in its capacity to track the activities of SMSF trustees, both at the individual and corporate level. The ATO's computer systems are now at a level where they can easily detect digital payment transactions at multiple points.
In December last year, the ATO warned it had identified multiple breaches of the sole purpose test applying to SMSF members involving the purchase of lifestyle assets being used for personal enjoyment by fund trustees and their beneficiaries.
These included assets such as cars, boats, holiday homes, art and other collectables, which the ATO has been able to track in a number of ways.
Most SMSFs were set up for one specific reason: to have full investment control.
Rolled into that is the ability to buy direct property assets, which is not possible within a professionally managed super fund.
Business owners with an SMSF have the ability to own a commercial property within their fund and use it for their business purposes, without breaching the sole purpose test. This can't be done with residential property.
But ATO quarterly data shows only about 9 per cent of total SMSF assets were invested in commercial property at the end of December 2019, and less than 5 per cent were invested in residential property. A further 12 per cent of assets were invested in unlisted trusts, of which some will involve having shareholdings in direct property developments.
The bulk of SMSF assets (75 per cent) are actually held in the same asset classes that members of professionally managed super funds are exposed to, such as Australian and international shares, fixed income, listed trusts and cash.
And, unless SMSF trustees are consistently outperforming the returns of the professional fund managers, one would have to question why having a SMSF is really needed.
The Productivity Commission's 2019 report Superannuation: Assessing efficiency and competitiveness found that SMSFs with balances below $500,000 produce lower returns on average, after expenses and tax, when compared to industry and retail super funds.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission also warned in October that the decision to establish an SMSF should not be taken lightly.
"SMSFs may be an attractive option for investors wanting more control over their superannuation investment strategy, but it requires real skill, care and diligence to manage your own superannuation," ASIC said.
"SMSFs are not for everyone simply because not everyone can meet the significant time, costs, risks and obligations associated with establishing and running one."
Operating an SMSF comes with two unavoidable components: the time involved in ongoing management and compliance, and the costs involved in accounting, auditing and other professional services.
Another often overlooked aspect is the cost of insurance. Where large super funds are able to use their size to negotiate competitive pricing for insurance, such as life and total and permanent disablement coverage for members, SMSF trustees sourcing cover will invariably pay a higher cost.
ASIC calculates that, on average, SMSF trustees spend more than 100 hours a year managing their SMSF. This includes the time taken when investing and managing investments, and in preparing documentation.
SMSFs remain an important component of the Australian superannuation landscape, and by total assets under management represent the biggest segment of the industry.
However, it's clear on a range of compliance levels that some trustees operating a SMSF are failing to invest within the parameters of the law and are not meeting their management obligations.
In addition, many SMSF trustees – while having more investment flexibility than professionally managed super funds –are largely investing their retirement savings in the same asset classes as the professional fund managers.
ATO data on SMSF asset allocations shows many private funds are not well diversified, with very high allocations to cash.
ASIC notes that SMSFs are not an appropriate investment option for people who want a simple superannuation solution, particularly if they have a low level of financial literacy or limited time to manage their own financial affairs.
"Where people have limited investment decision-making experience or prefer to delegate decision-making to someone else, they should carefully consider if an SMSF is right for them," the regulator says.
"As the trustees of their own fund, SMSF investors must remember that they are responsible for their fund's compliance with the law, even if they pay a professional to help."
Personal Finance Writer
BEc (Acc), MBA, CPA, FFin
David has been in the Financial Services Industry for nearly 30 years. He was one of the founding Directors of the successful Financial Planning and Stockbroking Practice, Henderson Gregory Forrest, for a decade. Prior to that, he held senior roles in companies such as ING, KPMG Accountants and AMP. David was previously Chairman of OAMPS Superannuation Trustee Board and currently serves as an independent Board Director for several companies.
David’s extensive experience in all forms of superannuation, including Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF), Defined Benefit Funds, retirement funding through Account Based Pensions, stockbroking with a focus on Direct Share Investment, Taxation/Remuneration Planning, Centrelink, Aged Care and business management, equip him to advise expertly on all aspects of Financial Advice.
Those with a particular interest in superannuation/SMSFs, direct share investment, salary packaging or applying for the Centrelink Pension will find his knowledge and ability in formulating and implementing creative, logical and simple wealth creation strategies a valuable asset.
David maintains a strong personalised client service focus, providing tailored solutions for clients.
David Forrest is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846
Business Finance Manager
B Bus (Acc), CPA
Michelle’s career has spanned across the Financial Services, Retirement Living and Aged Care industries working in the private sector, not for profit and more recently with the state government for over 20 years. Her experience extends to many facets of the financial services industry, having worked in superannuation administration, technical support and financial planning practice administration.
Commencing with AMP and subsequently working in commerce and accounting roles with companies such as Brambles, Adelaide Bank Retirement Services, ECH Inc and SA Health and Wellbeing, Michelle returns to financial services after working in practice financial management at Henderson Gregory Forrest. This wide range of experience from senior accounting and management roles has provided Michelle with a strong background in business administration.
With an astute financial acumen and keen interest in business improvement strategies, Michelle ensures the smooth running of the Integrity Financial Advisory practice providing valued management support to our personalised client service focus.
B Com, Dip FP
Darren joins the Integrity team as a strong technical specialist with almost 20 years’ in the Financial Services industry. He has extensive experience advising clients on how to build and protect wealth, prepare for retirement and retire comfortably.
Commencing with advising clients on direct equities for over 10 years at Baker Young, Tolhurst Noall, and ABN AMRO Morgans, his career expanded to providing holistic client advice, having operated his own financial services licence and company. Most recently having worked for a 'Big 4' bank, he has welcomed the more personalised ‘client first’ approach that is evident at Integrity Financial Advisory.
With a deep understanding of investment markets, he is appropriately qualified and authorised to provide direct share advice, as well as superannuation/SMSF advice, encompassing both investments and insurance.
Meticulous in his approach, he aims to deliver quality outcomes for clients by understanding their financial situation and needs before providing advice which is central to our advice process. Darren supports David in tailoring solutions for all client financial advice needs.
Darren Chalk is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846
Client Service Manager
Natasha commenced working in the financial services industry in June 2008 and is a new addition to the Integrity team. During the past 11 years, she worked closely with advisers providing administration support in a share broking and financial advice business.
Having successfully completed her RG146 accreditation in securities and managed investments and continued her studies to complete her competency in Superannuation, Natasha can ably assist with all aspects of fixed interest, cash management, portfolio administration, direct shares and client advice implementation.
Natasha takes time to ensure she understands our client’s financial goals and needs and believes in creating, preserving and utilising wealth through effective financial management as a key objective in helping clients.
Client Service Manager
Kelly has worked in the Financial Services Industry for over 10 years and has supported David since 2013. Kelly’s primary background is in customer service and administration.
On starting in the industry, Kelly initially focused on direct shares, stockbroking administration and client liaison. Since moving to the Client Service Manager role, Kelly has developed skills encompassing all aspects of financial planning including client advice implementation and term deposit management.
Kelly’s experience in the direct share environment, especially management of estates, provides a key part of the direct equity expertise in Integrity’s Client Service Team.
Returning from Parental Leave following the arrival of her second child, Kelly has developed further honed multi-tasking skills after juggling the demands of a growing family.
Client Service Manager
Jasmine has worked in the financial services industry for over 12 years in all areas of client administration, working with David since 2013.
Jasmine has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, portfolio reporting, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs), term deposit management and a long history of helping clients with their enquiries.
Jasmine’s attention to detail, yet gentle approach, means she is able to solve the trickiest of questions for our client community.
Jasmine has gained her Certificate III in Financial Services qualification.
Client Service Manager
Merrilyn has worked in the financial services industry for over 11 years in all areas of client administration, and is a new addition to our client services team, returning from Melbourne to join the team in June 2019.
Merrilyn has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, managed fund administration, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs) and process improvement for the previous practices she has worked with. Merrilyn’s experience with direct shares constitutes the other part of our administrative support for direct equity investments.
Merrilyn’s warm and caring nature continues to endear her to our clients and she has already established herself as a valued member of our team.