Queensland MP Bert van Manen has become an ubiquitous voice in advice.
As a former adviser, the member for the Gold Coast electorate of Forde is comfortable speaking about the challenges advisers face and does so on numerous platforms, from parliamentary joint committee enquiries to industry and association events.
“I had my own advice business for nearly 12 years before entering politics so I have a good understanding of how advice can help people,” he tells Professional Planner.
He also holds considerable influence within the government; van Manen has served as chief whip since 2019, which means it’s his job to make sure liberal party members toe the sitting government’s policy line.
Van Manen is probably most well-known in the advice industry for his defence of insurance advice commissions. After labour’s shadow treasurer Stephen Jones said his default position was that commissions were “inherently conflicted” at the AFA’s annual conference in March, van Manen said they were a “perfectly valid” form of remuneration.
It’s a position he’ll maintain through Treasury’s upcoming Life Insurance Framework review and an election most have pencilled in for November.
“What we need is a model of remuneration that Australian people who need advice – and particularly insurance advice – are willing to pay for,” he says. “I’ll continue to advocate those views.”
The MP also has firm views on what the key steps are to fixing advice. Better regulation plays a part, he explains, and better communication between regulators and industry. Licensees need to take ownership of the issue, however, and get better at setting internal compliance parameters that are in line with ASIC’s.
“There is a lack of understanding about ASIC’s position as opposed to the views of compliance officers in dealer groups,” he says, adding that breakdowns in communication have led to compliance officers taking “a much stricter and more conservative view”.
It’s a view shared by ASIC commissioner Daniele Press, who said “overly conservative” licensees were hampering scaled advice.
The questions van Manen has put to ASIC at a series of PJC enquiries have stood out for being salient and well-framed. While other MPs tend to reach for sensationalist charges, van Manen has a firmer grasp on what’s within the regulator’s advice purview and where they might have failed in their duties.
“ASIC needs to be held to account for what it does but it also has a vital role to play,” he says.
At one point the MP had a bird’s eye view of that role. Van Manen’s ex-business partner Andrew Cosgrove was investigated by ASIC after their advice business went into administration in 2012, and Cosgrove subsequently pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching his director’s duties.
Scoped advice key
Van Manen knows that while a lot that needs fixing in the advice industry, the advisers themselves have a role to play, and the MP believes a key part of that role is embracing scoped advice.
He knows well that ongoing fee relationships are beneficial to advice businesses as well as clients. But he’s also aware that consumers are increasingly after limited or episodic advice under defined fee-for-service arrangements.
“I think there is value in those one-off pieces of advice that are more general in nature,” he says. “Over time there’s potential for those clients to turn into more, it’s about building that relationship.”
The MP’s views on advice remuneration follow that of his perspective on insurance advice commissions. Freedom of choice is sacred, he believes, and anything else – apart from robust disclosure – only serves to stifle the process.
“It’s one of my frustrations with the LIF legislation, I don’t believe we should be in the business of dictating how people should be remunerated,” he says. “What’s important for me is that the clients fully understand what they’re paying and who they’re paying so they can make an informed decision.”
While some put commissions and vertical integration in the same ‘conflicted’ basket, van Manen marks a clear line of demarcation; while commissions make sense for both sides of the insurance advice relationship, vertical integration exists to serves the product provider.
“My philosophical position is there should be no vertical integration,” he says. “You don’t have GPs employed by pharmaceutical companies and you don’t have accountants employed by the ATO. If we wish to have a truly professional industry we need to separate product and advice.”
Credit where it’s due
As well as acknowledging the many problems plaguing the industry, van Manen makes a point of paying homage to those at the coalface.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank the professional advisers in the industry for the job they do,” he says.
Advisers make the lives of millions of Australians better every day, he notes, with little or no thanks from anyone but the people they serve.
“They don’t make a big song and dance, they’re busy running their businesses and helping their clients,” he says.