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ASIC zeroes in on bad SMSF advice, conduct

The corporate regulator continues to hunt down perpetrators that give bad advice to self-managed super funds, sounding a warning that it is flexing its new powers in superannuation.

ASIC commissioner Danielle Press told the recent SMSF Association's National Conference via video link that several key projects are progressing to address the poor advice and behaviours that remain active in the SMSF sector.

The watchdog is taking the appropriate actions against any misleading information provided to consumers, Press said, making Squirrel Superannuation as a case in point.

"The provision of misleading information about SMSFs undermines the sector and limits the ability of Australians to make confident and informed choices," she said.

While ASIC does not regulate the sector directly, it does however, oversee firms that provide financial service to trustees such as advisers, auditors and products that SMSFs invest in.

The Hayne Royal Commission adjusted the roles of ASIC and APRA in superannuation. From 1 January 2021, ASIC was given more powers in super under the SIS Act, having an expanded remit to better promote consumer protection, market integrity, disclosure as well as maintain reports.

Working closely together, she said, the key priorities for APRA and ASIC in 2021 is to improve trustee conduct and ensure better outcomes for consumers.

Additionally, ASIC's unmet advice needs project has received over 480 submissions, the majority of which came from financial advisers and accountants.

The SMSFA in its response expressed concerns over the costly, lengthy process, as well as the fact that compliance of licensees takes priority over the needs of consumers.

Press said many of these issues have been broadly consistent with the other submissions that ASIC has reviewed. The next steps will see ASIC hold roundtables with stakeholders in the first quarter of 2021.

Another project, which is cracking down on unlicensed advice, is well underway.

"Last year, we become very concerned about the possibility of increasing levels of unlicensed advice as unscrupulous operators looked to take advantage of vulnerable consumers, particularly during the pandemic," she said.

As a result, ASIC established a working group to identify cases of unlicensed financial product advice and take action where appropriate.

Since March 2020, ASIC has observed a spike in complaints about such conduct, including unlicensed financial advice provided through websites, social media, cold calling and seminars.

The case of Melissa Caddick, who is currently at large, is an example. Caddick's firm Maliver operated without an AFSL and used another company's licence without authorisation.

Another case involves John Louis Anthony Bigatton, who was charged with providing unlicensed financial advice on behalf of another person, operating an unregistered managed investment scheme, and making a false or misleading statement.

Read more: ASICAPRADanielle PressHayne Royal CommissionJohn Louis Anthony BigattonMaliverMelissa CaddickSMSFASMSF Association
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