We believe that it is important for us to communicate with our clients how we feel about what has been unfolding in the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry and explain how our wealth advisory services operate.
The revelations of the Royal Commission and the attitude of some major financial institutions, as well as behaviour of certain advisers, has been disturbing.
We are concerned that all “financial advisers” and the important role they play will be tarnished as a result. However, one (or a number) of bad apples does not necessarily spoil the whole bunch. So we think that it is appropriate to outline something of Saward Dawson’s wealth advisory experience.
History: As many clients will be aware, our wealth advisory services are delivered through Saward Dawson Wealth Advisory Pty Ltd and this company is an authorised representative of Count Financial Limited (Count). Count holds an Australian financial services licence (AFSL) which requires them to monitor, supervise and train the authorised representatives (financial advisers), as well as ensuring the authorised representatives meet their compliance requirements. Saward Dawson has now been associated with Count for more than 16 years. Initially, Count was a privately-owned company before listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. In late 2011, CBA took over the company and it became a wholly-owned subsidiary. Count has been mentioned in the Royal Commission, specifically in relation to an adviser who continued to collect income from a deceased estate without appropriate consent or communication with the estate.
ASIC’s role: ASIC is the regulator who oversees all licensed financial advisers. In our case, Count holds an AFSL licence with ASIC and Saward Dawson Wealth Advisers Pty Ltd is licensed to act as an authorised representative of Count through our licensed financial advisers. Vicki Adams has been a licensed financial adviser with ASIC since we joined Count and for some time before that. Vernis Seow recently obtained her full Authorised Representative’s licence and Marie Ickeringill is licensed to provide SMSF related advice. It is possible for Saward Dawson Wealth Advisory to hold its own licence and be totally autonomous, but we have felt that this path was not appropriate for us.
Impact of CBA on Count Advisers: When CBA took over Count, we observed that there were no radical changes. There is no pressure to recommend CBA products. In actual fact, most of the products that are on Count’s approved product list are affiliated with other banks and financial institutions. The major impact to us of CBA’s ownership of Count is that over recent years, as their own wealth management businesses have been in the spotlight, the compliance regime has tightened. There are complex and strict compliance obligations applicable to the way in which we conduct our wealth advisory business.
Professional Independence: We are licensed to represent Count, to utilise their extensive approved product list and also additional products as can be approved at times by their research team. The way in which we deliver advice is also managed and supported by Count. However, we do have the liberty to act according to our convictions and views. We also act in accordance with the professional and ethical standards of our governing body, Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand. Count supports our wealth advisory business by providing the technical support and training to assist and enable our advisers to provide financial advice to our clients. For this service, Saward Dawson pays a portion of the revenue we receive from our clients to Count. The way in which we advise on a client’s portfolio will take into account the approved product list but, most importantly, our own professional assessment of relevant facts presented to us as we focus on achieving that which is in the client’s best interest.
The client adviser is the key: Although there are systems and processes that seek to mitigate risks and fraudulent activity, it is ultimately the character of the person delivering advice that is most important. A person with strong ethics can still operate effectively in an environment where others might act unethically. Equally, a person with little regard for ethics can potentially exploit clients in an environment where strong ethics prevail. Saward Dawson recently invested substantially in reviewing our core values and purpose with our entire team so that everyone clearly understands and supports our purpose of making a positive impact for clients and our underlying core values. We have absolute confidence that our financial advisers always strive to achieve what is best for our clients. If a client feels otherwise, then we invite them to contact any of the partners directly.
Our future: We have an unwavering commitment to providing quality wealth advisory services in the best interests of our clients. That means we regularly review the way we do business to see if there is a better way to service our clients. This includes assessing whether or not Count and its affiliation with a major bank, will continue as the best option for us. We have undertaken similar reviews in the past. A fresh review will come with some greater insights. We note there is a call for the major banks to separate themselves from wealth advice and this has already begun with NAB’s announcement. This could be a very positive move. Our view is that accountants who have been properly trained and qualified in providing financial advice are very well placed to provide quality financial advice to their clients.
Our commitment: Our ongoing commitment is to provide quality wealth advisory services in the best interests of our clients. This commitment stands aside from the channel that we use to achieve this.
We trust that this has been helpful in understanding Saward Dawson’s position. Our wealth advisers will continue to provide quality advice and are available to assist anyone who is seeking to plan and prepare for their financial future.