Finding your way With the end to the accountants’ exemption looming large, accountants are faced with a big decision

see As the deadline for the accountants’ exemption draws near ASIC reveals some of the common errors being made in limited licence applications, and the factors you need to consider before you make the decision to submit your own.

autopzionibinarie bufala The industry has been placed firmly at a crossroads of decision-making, and the road signs are pointing in a number of directions, each with their own path for the future of the firm. Accountants can choose to obtain their own limited Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL), become an authorised representative of a current AFSL holder, enter into a referral arrangement or leave the SMSF space altogether.

go It’s not something that can be ignored or wished away. Accountants must now address the very core of their practices: where do I want my business to go? What services will I offer? What clients do I want to attract?

Those who have decided to dip their toes into the search for an appropriate dealer group or licence
holder have already been met with providers snapping at their heels, spruiking their own unique licensing and authorisation options. Quite simply, it can be easy to be overwhelmed.

For others who are considering applying for the limited licence, ASIC has delivered an ominous
warning: “ASIC cannot and will not be able to assess any application that does not contain all of the required information and supporting documentation.”

Amidst a maze of options and advice, where do you begin? How can you avoid the multitude of mistakes committed by almost half of the current applicants?

While the current state of affairs seems rather bleak, don’t fret. There are helping hands out there, and hope is not lost.

go to site Where the errors lie

Much has been made of the lack of lodged licensing applications. Does this mean that accountants are burying their head in the sand or does it mean that they are not choosing this option or does it mean something else?

It would seem that even those accountants eager to address the future of their firms are getting lost along the way.

“I think people didn’t understand what’s involved in getting a licence,” says Kath Bowler, CEO of Licensing for Accountants, an independent firm which supports and transitions accountants into licensing.

“They don’t understand that it wasn’t an automatic process, and they don’t understand that they have to do their initial training before they apply.”

Consulting ASIC for the most updated figures on applications unveils a frightening reality: of a paltry 188 applications received to date, 92 have been withdrawn or rejected from lodgement. For a profession with an eye for the minutia, this is certainly a staggering and alarming figure. As ASIC notes, “Applicants
continue to submit applications that do not meet the requirements that enable ASIC to adequately assess them”.

According to Warren Day, senior executive leader of assessment and intelligence at ASIC, the mistakes
are all too common, with a raft of recurring issues identified by the regulatory body itself:

  • “Accountants are failing to submit the required documents as part of the application process.”
  • “The compulsory training that is required to be eligible for a licence has not been undertaken or completed.”
  • Applications are “providing supporting documents relating to related parties of the applicant rather than the applicant itself (eg. financial statements, membership of external dispute resolution schemes and professional indemnity insurance).”
  • ASIC has also identified those applicants that are “Failing to appreciate that a limited licence does not enable a licensee to provide personal advice in relation to making recommendations about specific financial products (e.g. BHP shares).”

ASIC notes that when an application is rejected because it is deficient in some way, applicants are encouraged to make contact with their industry association, and access the guidance that ASIC has
made available. The aforementioned mistakes all but highlight the overwhelming nature of information
that has flooded accounting firms and offices throughout Australia.

If accountants are unable to adequately understand even the paperwork and training that needs to be completed as part of the process, what hope do they have for the technical jargon and regulatory requirements that they will soon be faced with?

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An introspective attitude is pivotal to undertaking the licensing journey, and as Ms Bowler notes,
the majority of accountants simply want to carry on their business as they always have.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times accountants have said ‘I just want to do what I’ve always done’,” Ms Bowler proclaims, adding that self-reflection is the first step in deciding upon the best licensing fit. “If you want to do what you’ve always done, then you need to assess what you’ve always done,” she says.

Ms Bowler identifies a common mistake among accountants: deciding whether to pursue a limited licence, or become an authorised representative under a provider’s licence at the beginning of their journey, something she believes should only serve as the last step in the process.

“I view that as the last decision in the chain, not the first one, and so many people are doing the decision
the other way around,” she states. Making this decision early can lead to irrelevant, unnecessary or
inadequate training.

If each accountant takes the time to evaluate their own respective situation, this decision becomes more of a natural progression, Ms Bowler adds.

It may feel rather daunting to take a step back and evaluate the ins and outs of your firm, but it is a process that reaps dividends for the future of the practice itself. Once you know where you want to go, and what you want to do, the right licensing solution begins to rear its head.

If focusing on the future of your firm is the first tip, the second is to break down the process and the
decision itself into what Ms Bowler describes as “manageable decisions”, instead of being overwhelmed
and confused.

Sitting down and determining the scope of advice you wish to provide in the future will also
ultimately ease the headache of a swarm of solutions and providers complicating the process. “It’s not like getting a driver’s licence for a car, it’s only when you start getting into it that you realise that there are choices and that’s why there’s so much different information,” Ms Bowler adds.

The process itself cannot be furthered until the adequate training has been completed. Once a clear direction has been determined, and the right training obtained, accountants must become accustomed with the new ways in which they must go about their business.

“I describe it as eating with chopsticks instead of a knife and fork,” says Ms Bowler “The conversations have to be different, they’re so used to being in front of their clients and helping their clients, but they have to frame their conversations differently.”

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Vicki Stylianou, executive general manager of the IPA, echoes Ms Bowler’s thoughts, noting that the licensing process should be viewed as a “business decision”. “It’s not about regulation, it’s not about the government and FoFA, it’s about you, your practice and your clients,” Ms Stylianou states, adding that the licensing situation should act as a driving force regarding the future clients a firm wishes to attract and assist as part of their business.

Wading through a plethora of information is undoubtedly difficult, but if accountants can
simplify the process down to a “decision tree” they will be able to follow a path to the future of their firm. As Ms Stylianou notes, most accountants already have some sort of grasp on the types of advice they ultimately wish to provide.

“Most of them have got a pretty good idea about the sort of advice they want to give their clients, whether it’s just the basic setting up of SMSFs and then passing them on to someone else to form the investment strategy, or whether they want to talk about contribution strategies and transition to retirement strategies,” she adds.

According to Ms Stylianou, there is also a wide array of other factors that should be considered, with a broad vision for the future greatly benefiting the accountant. “FoFA is one thing, but think about the impact of technology, [like] the ATO’s reinvention program, [and] automation, [and] all the stuff that’s hitting us, like robo-advice and software providers – which to me is just as important when considering your business decision as FoFA and what the government is doing.”

There are so many dealer groups and licensees in the market that accountants have to exercise
caution when making a selection. Price should not be the main criteria, though accountants should look carefully at what is included in the licence fee. “I encourage them to do their research and to talk to as many different people as possible.”

Education is arguably the most vital cog in the wheel of the licensing process, and once again provides a wealth of options and alternatives for accountants aspiring to obtain a licence. Online and face-to-face sessions are just some of the options available, with Ms Stylianou urging accountants to act sooner rather than later in order to keep their options open. The perfect storm

With the clock ticking, there is no better time than now to undertake the relevant training, and as Ms Bowler notes “They’ve got to move. If they want to get licensing sorted they have to move, so hopefully this will spur them on, they just don’t seem to grasp the amount of time it’s going to take to do that initial training.”

However, it’s not all doom, gloom and confusion for accountants; there is a silver lining amidst the
confusion, in the form of a chance to revamp and reshape your business.

“It’s a perfect storm to actually change,” says Ms Bowler. “Accountants have been told for years and years, that if they don’t move from compliance to advice, there’s a chance that they’ll be left behind. As much as it’s painful, it is one of the best things that have happened to the accounting profession because it’s forcing them to move from compliance to advice.”

According to Ms Bowler, the licensing process is “different, not
difficult,” however one of the biggest challenges facing the profession is the lack of proper processes currently existing within firms and practices. “I think licensing is particularly difficult because a lot of them don’t have good processes, so this is shining a torch on poor processes that accountants have. It’s a
systemic issue, and licensing is just highlighting the problem.”

Ms Stylianou says that biting the bullet and branching out into business advisory has its own silver lining, particularly as a pre-emptive move to increase a firm’s value to future buyers. “A compliance-based practice is not worth as much as an advisory based practice, so if they’re thinking of selling at some point in the future, then they’ve got to start to get their practice into shape, to try and maximise the value in it, and the price.”

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It is important to note that the journey does not end once the licensing process has been completed. While the industry is teething as it comes to terms with a range of regulations and procedures, processes must be put in place to prevent attracting the attention of the regulator.

“For accountants, it’s a new world to them, and it’s not a world that they’re familiar with until they do
actually dip their toe in the water. “For instance, you’ve got to have an external dispute resolution scheme, an internal dispute resolution scheme; you’ve got to be able to document it, then you’ve got to be able to comply with all the disclosure requirements, and so on,” adds Ms Stylianou, emphasising that the complexities are sure to continue for now.

follow Promising signs

Ms Stylianou notes that between 50 and 60 per cent of IPA practitioners have now completed the relevant RG 146 training, an increase from just over 30 per cent in April 2015. These figures are encouraging though it is only the first step in the journey. For the 188 applicants that have lodged a
limited licence with ASIC, it may be fair to assume that there is still a large number of accountants out there who have not yet decided what they are going to do in response to FoFA.

Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to get educated and make a decision. By acknowledging the future of your firm, and breaking down the process into a manageable set of questions, you can now set off on the journey to licensing yourself.

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