Wholesale Client Tests Cause Havoc For SMSF Firms

The application of the wholesale client eligibility rules for SMSFs is confusing and causing frustration for accounting firms with high-net-worth clients, according to a consultancy firm.

Speaking to SMSF Adviser, Licensing for Accountants chief executive Kath Bowler said there is no simple definition under the legislation of what a wholesale and retail client are in relation to superannuation.

“When you advise a superannuation client sometimes you're advising them on their SMSF as their capacity as a member of the fund, and sometimes you're advising them in their capacity as a trustee,” she said.

“In fact there are different retail and wholesale requirements depending on whether they've got their trustee hat on, or their member hat on and that gets really confusing.”

In a paper written in conjunction with law firm Holley Nethercote, Ms Bowler explained that clients can be treated as wholesale clients where, amongst other eligibility criteria, an accountant certifies that the client earns more than $250,000 per annum or has more than $2.5 million in net assets.

However, the rules change when superannuation is involved, she said.

“In most instances, such as super advice that covers contribution levels, life insurance cover or benefit payments, the client must be treated as a retail client,” she said.

“There's almost no scope to treat a client as wholesale when you're advising them in their capacity as a member, so basically when you're talking to clients about contributing to superannuation, that would be in their capacity as a member and they must always be treated as retail.”

Some accountants have clients with $10-15 million in their super fund and who are running major corporations, she said, and are treated as wholesale in every other aspect.

“Yet, to put $20,000 into their super fund, they have to be treated as retail. So there just doesn't seem to be any consistency,” she said.

“I just think it's over the top in how the definition of wholesale has been applied to SMSFs. A lot of the accountants with high-net-worth clients are really struggling with it.”

By Miranda Brownlee

SMSF Adviser

7 December 2017

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