When Perth senator Slade Brockman rose to speak on Monday and applaud the government’s decision to wind back industry funding levies for advisers, he took the uncommon step of mentioning a single person that was instrumental in lobbying for the changes.
It was that very morning that the Treasurer announced the decision, which will see advisers save around $4,000 over the next two years in what treasurer Josh Frydenberg called “temporary and targeted” relief for the industry. A review of the industry funding model behind the levies – which have tripled in size since they were imposed in 2017 – was also scheduled.
Brockman paid tribute to the treasurer, financial services minister Jane Hume and “the organisations that have been pushing for a move such as this”, in particular the Association of Financial Advisers.
Then this: “I will single out one individual,” Brockman said. “Stephen Knight, the WA director of the Association of Financial Advisers. He has been a source of positive input on these issues for many, many months. I thank you very much, Stephen.”
It was an incongruous and seemingly heartfelt measure of gratification. But as it turns out, a well earned one.
Knight himself, an adviser for 35 years, is a strong advocate for the industry and a consistent contributor to charitable efforts and community endeavours. As a 33-year member of the AFA he’s long been involved with the AFA foundation, their associated work with the Cancer Council and a host of other sponsorship tie-ups with groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The adviser has also recently been nominated by the AFA Board to be a representative on the PFAN Board to promote pro-bono advice.
Due to his role with the AFA in WA, Knight is a touch-point for advisers who are looking for a channel to policymakers, someone to share their grievances with in the hope that they might have the wherewithal to make those issues known to those in the halls of power.
Speaking to Professional Planner, Knight is quick to deflect most of the credit to these advisers – the ones who’ve had the conviction to speak out and engage either on their own or via their representative associations.
“Obviously I was quite honoured to be named in parliament but at the end of the day it’s a group effort, thousands of advisers have been lobbying from all corners,” Knight says.
Point of contact
It turns out Knight and Brockman have a bit of history, dating back ten years when the senator was formerly chief of staff to ex-finance minister and now secretary general of the OECD, Mathias Cormann. As the state representative for the AFA, Knight sought Cormann out on the most pressing topic in advice at the time.
“Back in those days the biggest issue was FoFA,” he says. “That was certainly a polarising issue in our profession.”
Brockman was an early facilitator in those meetings, he explains, but then the two lost contact for “eight or ten” years before Knight reached out to Brockman – now a senator – about another hot-button issue – FASEA.
“As a state director I get a lot of advisers contacting me with their concerns,” Knight says. “FASEA has always been number one, closely followed by the ASIC adviser levy.”
As the adviser levy became an increasing burden for advisers, Knight shifted the narrative and stressed to Brockman just how much the cost incursion was hurting an industry that was already dealing with so much.
“If you look at the levy model financial advisers have a disproportionate burden on them. Compared to finance brokers, for example, who pay $40, the estimated levy for advisers was getting closer to $4,000 for self-licensed advisers.
In the same way Knight knows he’s not the only one struggling with the adviser levy, he also knows he’s not the only one kicking up a stink about it.
“Obviously it’s not just me, thousands of advisers have been reaching out to their members of parliament,” he says. “I know advisers that are on their knees financially and are struggling to afford the levy, especially during the pandemic.”
He says he’s glad the “broken” industry funding model is being reviewed, and also supports the announcement by ASIC this week that a new internal body is being set up to monitor costs. “I think it’s a good move,” he says.
As for his role as an advocate, Knight says he’ll continue stepping up when the need and the opportunity present. The notoriety he could do without, but he’s happy to go along with it.
“I’ve had a lot of text messages, emails, phone calls, a lot of facebook time with a number of advisers over the last 24 hours so certainly the news has got out there,” he says. “It’s always nice to hear people say nice things about you.”