How to get the right advice for your self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF)

4 min read

First appeared in the Australian Financial Review, 6 November 2017 

If you are an avid reader of articles like this that often talk about the opportunities and risks associated with running a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), one of the recurring themes you may notice is the need for professional support. The question then becomes: how do you get it?

Many people may define a successful SMSF as one that generates a higher than expected level of return from the investments. This involves having the right investment expertise, combined with a positive market. 

However, a successful SMSF should not just be viewed as having chosen the right investments. In many cases the same investments may have been available to you through more traditional super funds, such as those offered by larger financial institutions, industry funds and some employer funds. Instead, as the trustee and custodian of your own super savings, a successful SMSF should be viewed as one where you have great comfort that the fund is operating well and all necessary items are attended to in a timely manner.

So, how do you get this level of comfort? The first thing to remember is that "self-managed" is not the same as "do-it-yourself". SMSFs are often referred to as a DIY fund, but the only aspect that needs to be DIY is the fact you must be a trustee. So where do you start to get good advice?

Professional approach

First, you should ensure that your SMSF is being professionally administered. There are a number of aspects to this. Unless you are an accountant by trade, you really should think about engaging an accountant to assist with the running of the fund – someone to help with the accounts, book keeping and preparation of statements and returns. SMSFs are subject to a different set of rules to other investment vehicles, so consider talking to an accountant who has sufficient experience in administering SMSFs. Your existing accountant may not have this.

Another aspect of the administration of your fund is the annual tax and audit requirements. Your SMSF's accountant may also be a registered tax agent and experienced with SMSF tax obligations, but your auditor needs to be independent. Again, you consider engaging an auditor who is experienced with the operation of SMSFs. Ideally, your accountant will be able to recommend one.
You should also be aware of the different administrative systems that accountants may use to support your SMSF. Specialised SMSF systems may be more beneficial than the shoe box and spreadsheet approach, as they can be updated for legislative and regulatory changes by the software provider. 

The next professional to consider is a lawyer. Ultimately, your SMSF operations will be governed by a trust deed – a legal document that a lawyer can draft for you. Selecting the right trust deed with the appropriate flexibility from the very beginning is important, as it can be hard to change down the track.

Seek quality advice

Finally, you could consider talking to a professional financial adviser. While some people have set up their own SMSFs in the belief they don't need an adviser and can pick investments themselves, remember that the role of a professional adviser is much more than just an asset selector. By seeking quality advice, you can have access to an educator, or perhaps mentor, to support you in your role as an SMSF trustee.

Super laws are complex, and it is not always realistic to stay across them all. A good adviser will be able to assist with updating you on legislative changes that may impact your SMSF strategies and investments, and also help you gain comfort that you have an appropriate investment strategy in place. And of course, they can help to ensure you have considered all legal requirements, and that your chosen approach will assist you in working towards your longer term retirement and investment goals.

Not to mention investment selection as well. Investing with the assistance of an adviser may allow you to utilise investments that you couldn't access on your own, and sometimes at a lower investment fee.

In addition, you may consider the use of an administrative platform to hold the investments in your SMSF. A good platform will not only talk to the underlying administration system used by your accountant, but it can make reporting and documentation much simpler. And a good platform could allow you, your adviser and your accountant to all be able to see what is happening in your fund at any point in time. 

Do your research

Now, none of these services come for free, so you need to determine which ones you need and to what degree, or at what point in time. There are a number of tasks that you may be comfortable in performing yourself and this can help to reduce the cost. And some costs may help to offset others. For example, the use of an administrative platform to hold your investments may help to reduce the costs of the administration service from an accountant as some of the work is essentially done for them. Costs will vary from different providers for all these services, so know what you want and how much you are willing to pay.

Just like investments, the best way to find professional support is to do your research.  Ask the professionals you are considering engaging with about their experience with SMSFs, how many they look after and how long they have been doing it. Ask what qualifications they have, as there are some specific qualifications issued by industry bodies that are specific to the SMSF sector.  And ask your friends about their experiences, or go online and see what others say. 

Bryan Ashenden is Head of Financial Literacy and Advocacy at BT Financial Group

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Information current as at update 6 November 2017. This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to your personal objectives, financial situation and needs having regard to these factors before acting on it. This information provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. This information may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material.  Any super law considerations or comments outlined above are general statements only, based on an interpretation of the current super laws, and do not constitute legal advice. This publication has been prepared by BT Financial Group, a division of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL & Australian credit licence 233714.

BT Portfolio Services Ltd ABN 73 095 055 208 AFSL 233715 (BTPS) operates Panorama Investments and administers Panorama Super. BT Funds Management Limited ABN 63 002 916 458 AFSL 233724 (BTFM) is the trustee and issuer of Panorama Super, which is part of Retirement Wrap ABN 39 827 542 991. Westpac Financial Services Ltd ABN 20 000 241 127 AFSL 233716 (WFSL) is the responsible entity and issuer of interests in BT Managed Portfolios. Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714 (Westpac) is the issuer of the BT Cash Management Account (BT CMA). Together, these products are referred to as the Panorama products.

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