The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry (‘Royal Commission’) highlighted several areas of concern relating to the provision of financial advice. One of the main issues identified was ongoing advice fee arrangements, particularly where clients were charged fees for advice that was not provided. To increase consumer protection, the Royal Commission recommended amending the law in relation to advice fees with a particular focus on the renewal of ongoing fee arrangements, fee disclosures and the payment of advice fees from superannuation accounts.
A Bill implementing these recommendations was tabled in Parliament on 9 December 2020. The changes are proposed to apply from 1 July 2021, subject to a 12-month transitional period for existing arrangements. Financial services professionals should be aware of these changes, as business processes may need to be updated to comply with the new advice fee requirements.
Renewal of ongoing fee arrangements
An ongoing fee arrangement arises where a financial services licensee, or their representative, provides personal advice to a retail client and enters into an arrangement where a fee is payable for a period of more than 12 months. Currently, an ongoing fee arrangement entered into on or after 1 July 2013 is required to be renewed by the client every two years via a separate renewal notice. For some clients, the renewal period varies from year to year depending on when they were last provided with a renewal notice.
Under the proposed changes, all ongoing fee arrangements, including those commenced prior to 1 July 2013, will need to be renewed by the client annually. The renewal period will begin on the same day each year. For new arrangements, this will be the anniversary of when the client entered into the agreement. For existing ongoing fee arrangements, the anniversary day will be the day the fee recipient provides the client with a fee disclosure statement during the transition period.
A separate renewal notice will no longer be required, and the renewal of ongoing fee arrangements will be incorporated into the fee disclosure statement for the client (see below).
Disclosure of fees
Where a financial services licensee, or their representative, enters into an ongoing fee arrangement, they are required to give the client an annual fee disclosure statement (FDS) in relation to the arrangement. The FDS is required to include details of:
- any ongoing fees the client has paid in the previous 12 months
- the services the client was entitled to receive under the arrangement during the previous year, and
- the services the client actually received during that period.
The proposed amendments expand the information required in the FDS to include details of upcoming ongoing fees and services. In addition to information relating to the previous year’s fees and service, the FDS will need to outline:
- the services to be provided for the next 12 months, and
- any ongoing fees payable for those services, including fees payable after the end of the 12-month period.
Where the amount of an upcoming ongoing fee cannot be determined, the FDS must include a reasonable estimate of the fee and an explanation of the method used to determine the estimate.
The FDS will also need to incorporate specific information relating to the renewal of the client’s ongoing fee arrangement, including a statement that the arrangement will terminate if it is not renewed in writing within 120 days beginning on the anniversary day.