There has always been an element of tension between super funds and financial advisers. From the super fund’s perspective, the adviser is a possible threat to member retention and can disrupt the fund’s engagement process. For the adviser, the super fund can sometimes seem like a closed shop, unwilling to give up control of the advice experience or shed any real light on its investment process, structures and strategy. At face value, the two should be natural enemies.

While there will inevitably be some antagonism between the two, the reality is that both funds and advisers need each other – now more than ever before. In a post-Royal Commission environment, the most successful super funds will be those that actively engage with third-party adviser networks, giving their members the flexibility to choose how they access financial advice. For advisers, success means rising to the challenge of ever higher standards and increased scrutiny, which requires them to have the information and tools to justify investment decisions based on their client’s best interest.

Finding a common path will require a big shift in thinking but the rewards will be more sustainable growth for funds and advisers, as well as better member outcomes. With the median fund currently providing one financial adviser for every 14,230 members, the ability to access scale is crucial for future growth. Third party advice networks facilitate greater reach through their advice channels, while concerns over quality control can be managed through the delivery of accurate and timely information to advisers and dedicated monitoring.

While funds must be prepared to give up some control, advisers will need to work harder than ever to ensure their advice is in their clients’ best interest. The limitations of many advice businesses have been laid bare by the Royal Commission. There will likely be significant turnover in coming years, with more advisers distancing themselves from aligned groups. This provides a significant opportunity to support and build traction within the new advice landscape.

Overcoming the ‘us vs them’ mentality

SuperRatings found that funds with a dedicated strategy focused on servicing third party advice networks have been rewarded with improved member retention, which can aid membership growth. These relationships can be mutually beneficial for funds and advisers, with funds able to service and engage with more members, and advisers able to access a broader client base and a more diversified pool of funds.

Which is why it’s surprising that many funds are yet to fully take advantage of these opportunities. According to SuperRatings’ data, only 53% of Not for Profit (NFP) funds have formal relationships with advisers, which have traditionally been the domain of retail funds through vertically integrated business functions. Even fewer NFPs have a dedicated servicing team for third party advisers – only 27% compared to 79% of Retail Master Trusts (RMTs) – which is essential for enabling advisers to provide a competitive service.

Third party adviser network trends (% of Not-for-Profits)

Source: SuperRatings. Data to 30 June 2017

When it comes to being open and transparent with advisers, super funds also have a lot of work to do. SuperRatings’ analysis shows that only 5% of NFP funds provide data feeds to third party advisers, compared to 73% of RMTs, while 30% of NFP funds (92% of RMTs) provide access to client reports, which enable advisers to provide timely, informed advice to their clients. Funds are also reluctant to allow advisers to transact on behalf of their members, with only 25% of NFPs offering this capability, meaning there are still significant barriers for advisers to effectively engage with funds and provide a streamlined service.

Empowering advisers means more opportunities for funds

Funds and advisers need each other, but how can they go about creating mutually beneficial and trusting relationships? The answer is by sharing information and being transparent about members’ needs. For advisers, this means having access to high quality investment product research that enables them to efficiently assess a wide range of NFP, retail and corporate funds, and ensures they have an in-depth understanding of how each fund stacks up. Equally, super funds need to support this process by giving advisers the information they need to make decisions in their client’s best interest. Transparency is no longer a radical strategy for super funds – it not only reduces friction for the adviser and their client by making it easier to do business, it means that the adviser is in a position to assess the product and consider it for their client. Communicating third party assessments, such as Lonsec’s well recognised investment option ratings, also helps advisers to easily identify and justify high quality superannuation offerings. We expect to see significant changes in funds’ external advice offerings in coming years, particularly as funds continue to report growing success in this area. SuperRatings is supporting this evolution by making its specialised superannuation research available to financial advisers via Lonsec’s market leading iRate platform, giving advisers the tools to make in-depth fund comparisons and ensure that they can fully justify their fund decision on a best interest basis.

With potential risks over default models and concerns about the sustainability of the old model, it is impossible for funds to ignore these opportunities. While funds and advisers might not always see eye to ey, they can’t afford to allow their differences to get in the way of the vast opportunity staring them in face.

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