Risk & Professional Standards (R&PS) Update

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Directors of Storm Financial found to have breached their duties under the Corporations Act

The Federal Court has found that the directors of Storm Financial, Emmanuel and Julie Cassimatis, breached their duties as directors. The Court also found that Storm Financial provided inappropriate advice to certain investors.

Since around 1994, Storm Financial operated a system created by the Cassimatis’, in which what ASIC considered to be “one-size-fits-all” investment advice was recommended to clients. The advice recommended that clients invest substantial amounts in index funds, using “double gearing” (Storm Model). This approach involved taking out both a home loan as well as a margin loan in order to purchase units in index funds, create a “cash dam” and pay Storm’s fees. Once initial investments took place, “Stormified” clients would be encouraged to take “step” investments over time.

By the time of Storm’s collapse in early 2009, approximately 3,000 of its 14,000 client base had been “Stormified”. In late 2008 and early 2009, many of Storm’s clients were in negative equity positions, sustaining significant losses.

The case that ASIC advanced against the Cassimatis’ centered around a sample of investors who were advised to invest in accordance with the Storm Model. ASIC alleged that the advice provided to those investors by Storm was inappropriate to their personal circumstances, considering that each of the investors were alleged to be over 50 years old, were retired or approaching and planning for retirement, had little or limited income, few assets and had little or no prospect of rebuilding their financial position in the event of suffering significant loss.

Among other things, it was also alleged that Storm failed to properly investigate the subject matter of the advice given to those investors. As such, ASIC also alleged that Storm failed to do all things necessary to ensure that the financial services covered by its licence were provided efficiently, honestly and fairly.

ASIC further alleged that because the Cassimatis’ were responsible for the day-to-day significant decisions in relation to the provision of financial services to Storm’s clients and exercised a high degree of control over its systems and processes, they had caused Storm to contravene its obligations under the Corporations Act and did not exercise their powers as directors of Storm with the degree of care and diligence that a reasonable person would have exercised in that situation.

In a 217 page judgment, Justice Edelman found that:

  • Storm provided advice to certain investors, that was inappropriate to their personal circumstances and failed to give such consideration to the subject matter of the advice and did not properly investigate the subject matter of the advice given.
  • “A reasonable director with the responsibilities of Mr and Mrs Cassimatis would have known that the Storm model was being applied to clients such as those who fell within this class and that its application was likely to lead to inappropriate advice. The consequences of that inappropriate advice would be catastrophic for Storm (the entity to whom the directors owed their duties). It would have been simple to take precautionary measures to attempt to avoid the application of the Storm model to this class of persons.” (paragraph 833)

Commissioner Greg Tanzer said, “This is an important decision which emphasises the importance of directors’ duties to ensure that they do not cause the companies that they control, to breach the law. The decision also highlights the significant obligation on financial services licensees to provide financial advice that is appropriate to the persons to whom it is given.”

The matter will be listed for a further hearing at a later date to determine what civil penalties and disqualification orders should be imposed on the Cassimatis’ as a result of the breach of their director duties.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact the R&PS team.

Sourced:  ASIC Friday 26 August 2016

 

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The art of saying no

When it comes to financial planning, if you don’t think some clients are suitable, you should feel able to say no to additional business.

Recently, highly respected financial adviser Kate McCallum was quoted as saying she and her business partner didn’t want any more clients. They were happy with the number they had and had decided that was their optimal size. And they were happy to say no to prospective clients when things weren’t perfectly aligned.

Understanding the value of what you do and making sure you keep doing it to your best ability will sometimes make it easier to say no.  Sometimes, it’s about work-life balance. Other times, it’s just about doing the best job you can and managing the resources you have, of which time is usually the scarcest.

When it comes to financial planning, when you meet clients for the first time, you are interviewing them as they are interviewing you for suitability. If you don’t think they are suitable, you should feel able to say no to additional business. It is better for both of you in the long run.

Award-winning financial planner Claire Mackay recently said there were three things she looked for in the first meeting with the client:

  1. Can we provide the services they need/want?
  2. Can we add more value than the fees we will charge them?
  3. Will we enjoy working together?

“We encourage clients to make sure they feel comfortable with their own answers to the same questions,” Ms Mackay said.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into honing them to ensure we build a business with the right type of client.”

It’s a great exercise and can feel a bit scary when you’re asking clients to potentially say no to you, but ultimately, if you believe in what you’re selling, you need to trust that you’ll receive the right answers.

 

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact the R&PS team.

Sourced: Julia Newbould, BT Financial Group, 10/08/2016

 

 

 

 

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