Marisa Broome, Phil Anderson, Simon Grant, Vicki Stylianou and John Maroney

Industry association heads have voiced concern over Treasury’s ability to conduct a thorough and effective advice review, citing a lack of expertise and ground level experience in the sector as particular areas of concern.

Prompted by a question from the audience at the SMSF Association’s National Conference Thursday, chief executive John Maroney asked panel members how much faith the industry has in Treasury to conduct a truly effective Quality of Advice Review later this year.

Institute of Public Accountants executive general manager Vicki Stylianou gave a candid assessment of the government’s economic think tank.

“Definitely there’s been a concern for a long time that there’s been a hollowing out of expertise in Treasury in particular, and it’s been ongoing,” Stylianou said. “There are a lot of super intelligent people but… not particularly experienced in what really goes on out there.”

Stylianou was employed as a senior policy adviser at Treasury for five years between 2002 and 2007. The lawyer said a lack of relevant industry experience was an “ongoing governance issue” at the department.

“Even with the political advisers… I won’t say what I call them but you’ve seen them go from super-experienced people to really, really junior people who really have… I don’t want to be derogatory or anything but they really have no idea of what’s going on.”

Treasury is “captive to stakeholder advisers”, Stylianou continued, which may not encourage a robust advice review but does provide a silver lining to an advice industry keen to get involved in the review’s process. “There’s an opportunity to fill that void,” she said. “There’s a real opportunity to influence outcomes.”

Also on the panel, Association of Financial Advisers CEO Phil Anderson took a more circumspect stance on Treasury’s readiness for the review.

“Whether they do or they don’t [have the requisite knowledge and experience], they’ve started a process we can’t control,” Anderson said. “All we can do is influence, through the process, access to the knowledge, the advice, the guidance and the insight. And we can encourage them as much as possible to get down into the weeds of the advice process.”

Fundamental process re-engineering

Asked what they hoped for out of the review, which will deliver its findings in December, Financial Planning Association chair Marisa Broome said it was time for advice professionals to be treated as such – without the “too prescriptive” regulatory overhang.

“I really hope the outcome we get is that professionals get treated like professionals,” Broome said, noting that the industry had developed significantly in recent years.

“We now have the framework for advisers to be treated as a profession. We’ve got education, we’ve got ethics… we’ve got the framework for a profession,” she argued. “Professionals should be able to use their professional judgement and not have this over-regulated, overcomplicated system.”

Anderson cited the need to reduce unnecessary complexity and the cost to serve, but also to find ways to improve data flow in the advice ecosystem. “Why can’t we better access data like what’s in myGov or what’s in the ATO portal?” Anderson asked. “That can significantly reduce the process of the fact find exercise.”