When the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) sent letters to nearly 18,000 self-managed super fund (SMSF) trustees and their auditors in 2019, it raised concerns about the investment strategies behind those retirement savings – and whether member goals were being met.1
The notice targeted SMSFs who had invested 90% or more in one asset or asset class, and who also had a limited recourse borrowing arrangement. In 99% of these funds, this was used to acquire property.2 They were asked to check their investment strategy, to ensure it complied with the diversification and other requirements stipulated in paragraph 4.09(2) of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994 (SIS).
Many accountants are still working on responses to the tax office. As administrators and auditors for these SMSFs, they are re-wording investment strategies to ensure they meet requirements. However, unless they hold an AFSL, they are not able to give investment advice.
So how can accountants best support their clients to ensure they are adequately managing investment risks – and meeting their legal obligations as trustees?
David Barrett, our Head of Technical Advice Services, says the ATO has access to many years of SMSF investment data and has picked up on “heavy concentration in particular assets classes – such as property. They would see that as a risk.”
Australian investors have traditionally been comfortable investing in bricks and mortar property, and Barrett says “SMSFs have provided a tax effective vehicle to do this. For example, if you own a business your SMSF can, in certain circumstances, invest in the premises.”
However, recent market volatility has highlighted the risk of concentrating investments in any one asset class – whether that’s global equities or residential property.
“These SMSFs are heavily exposed to property market value fluctuations,” explains Barrett. “And some trustees of SMSFs with property assets may now be struggling with unanticipated tensions. On one hand, they might need to meet mandatory requirements to make pension payments, but as landlords they are also expected to negotiate rent reductions with tenants experiencing hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions.”
The ATO’s warning does not mean SMSFs can no longer invest solely in property. But trustees do need to demonstrate they have considered the fund’s objectives, and diversification and liquidity risks, as part of their SMSF investment strategy. Otherwise, they could face an administrative penalty of $4,200.