The regulator has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against a collapsed SMSF services firm for allegedly paying illegal bonuses to advisers around the purchase of property through SMSFs.
ASIC has commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against DOD Bookkeeping Pty Ltd (in liquidation), which was previously called Equiti Financial Services Pty Ltd (Equiti FS).
The regulator alleges Equiti FS breached the prohibition against conflicted remuneration and failed to provide appropriate financial advice and discharge its best interests duty in relation to financial advice to selected clients.
Equiti FS was part of a group of companies called the Equiti Group, which offered self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) establishment and administration services through Equiti FS, real estate services through Equiti Property Pty Ltd (Equiti Property) and mortgage broking services through Equiti Finance Pty Ltd.
ASIC alleges that, between 26 October 2015 and 27 August 2018, Equiti FS paid three advisers bonuses totalling $164,750 upon settlement of property purchases those advisers recommended their clients make through either an existing SMSF or an SMSF to be established. The bonuses applied to purchases arranged by Equiti Property.
The regulator found that these bonus payments breached the ban on conflicted remuneration under the Corporations Act 2001 because they could reasonably be expected to influence the financial product advice provided, or the choice of financial product recommended, by Equiti FS advisers to retail clients.
“Additionally, ASIC alleges that, between 18 May 2015 and 13 February 2018, Equiti FS breached the Corporations Act when its employed advisers gave financial advice on 12 occasions that was not in their clients’ best interests and was not appropriate for their clients,” ASIC stated.
“Each advice contained a recommendation to establish an SMSF, purchase a property through the SMSF and borrow funds in order to do so.”
ASIC is seeking civil penalties and other orders against Equiti FS.
ASIC and the ATO have on numerous occasions highlighted the dangers of buying property through one organisation that organises all steps in the process.
ASIC’s Report 575 SMSFs: Improving the quality of advice and member experiences was published in June 2018. It identified property one-stop shops tended to promote the purchase of geared residential property through an SMSF. ASIC was concerned with conflicts of interest that can arise in such models, including from representative remuneration structures.