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Survey says: Conflicted financial advice still a problem

Seven in 10 respondents don't trust financial advisers who receive commissions.

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Last updated: 15 July 2022
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • More than 1200 Australians took part in a CHOICE survey on financial advice
  • Survey responses show many people don't trust advisers who receive commissions
  • Super Consumers Australia says a new 'one-stop shop' could address these concerns and help more people get advice on their retirement 

CHOICE recently gave readers the chance to share their experiences of financial advice.

Although some survey respondents were happy with the advice they received and felt it improved their financial situation, it was also clear that there are barriers preventing many people from accessing advice.

Super Consumers Australia policy manager Franco Morelli says there are important findings in the survey results.

"What these responses show is that there's a large number of Australians not served by the current advice model, and we need to look into new solutions," he says. 

Stories of conflicted advice

Tony* reports that when he engaged a new adviser, they cancelled his insurance and then restarted it so they could get a commission. This is an example of an adviser taking action in their own interests – Tony didn't gain any benefit from this change. In fact, he was now paying more each month.

Another common theme in the responses is that people belatedly discover that a bank or investment company is paying their adviser.

People belatedly discover that a bank or investment company is paying their adviser

"I only realised after I had taken [advice] that the adviser was connected to a bank," says Alonzo. "Needless to say, he recommended I invest in one of the bank's related entities."

Mo went to an adviser he believed was independent. But after paying $5000 for advice, he learned that the adviser was affiliated with a particular super fund. The adviser suggested he move all his super into one of that fund's products. Mo wasn't happy with this suggestion and decided not to return to the adviser.

Lack of trust

Only a third or people surveyed say they trust the financial advice industry (such as financial advisers and advice from superannuation funds) to provide high-quality advice about their financial needs. Many respondents reported horror stories of financial advice that put them off returning. 

Erin says an adviser lost tens of thousands of his savings in just seven days. After a legal battle lasting two years, he became weary of the whole issue and took a $15,000 settlement to drop the matter.

Ava recalls her mother getting financial advice to invest in insurance bonds. This advice saw her lose money. This result, coupled with the fact that the planner received commissions that weren't initially made clear, has damaged her trust in the industry.

Advice offered to 'maximise the adviser's fee'

Diego tells us that he had several advisers before settling on his current one, and that he and his family had been affected by bad advice. 

"We'd [lost] significant funds because the advice received wasn't suited to us or our situation and was purely offered to maximise the adviser's fee," he says.

"Being able to have confidence and trust that the advice being received is independent, based on individual needs and circumstances and goes through a strong, robust governance process, is very important to us."

We'd [lost] significant funds because the advice received wasn't suited to us or our situation and was purely offered to maximise the adviser's fee

Diego, survey respondent

Others hadn't sought advice themselves, but media reports of bad advice had put them off the industry. In the wake of the banking royal commission, there were many reports of advisers not acting in the best interests of their clients.

"There are too many reported instances whereby people have lost their cash and other assets due to [a] financial adviser using their funds illegally," says Will, another survey respondent. 

Similarly, "endless stories" of advice going wrong have put Keldon off seeking advice.

'Intra-fund' advice isn't the answer

Diego reflects on the limitations of intra-fund advice – this is, the free advice you can get from your super fund. 

"I'm reluctant to purchase a product or service from my bank or superannuation fund," he says. "Are they merely [recommending] the product due to sales quotas and the earn commission, or are they selling it because it is best for you?"

Only 42% of people surveyed agree that they felt themselves to be in a better financial position as a result of the advice or guidance they received from their fund.

'Limited help'

Chris also says that the advice from the super fund only goes so far. 

"[Funds] only help you understand their product… that is of only limited help in planning your finances," he says.

Similarly, Terry found the advice from his super fund "very general in nature". Stevie says the worst thing about this advice is that it's "limited to [her super fund's] products", which don't meet her needs. 

If the advice comes from the super fund that provides the product, the consumer isn't going to get the best or most independent guidance

This form of advice has some in-built limitations. Above all, if the advice comes from the same company (i.e. the super fund) that provides the product, the consumer isn't going to get the best or most independent guidance on the right products for them. 

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Survey respondents complained that the advice they received from financial advisers contained too much jargon and was hard to follow.

Advice not personalised or accessible

Survey respondents also complain that the advice they received contains too much jargon or wasn't pitched at a level they could understand.

"I had to constantly ask the adviser to speak in common terms," Jake says. "I stopped the adviser three times and stated I am not understanding because I am not an accountant."

Doug says he was disappointed that the advice he got was "not really tailored exactly to [his] needs". He says that 95% of the advice was "standard computer generation info". 

How useful is Moneysmart?

Aside from personal advice, Australians can find out about super and retirement topics through the Australian government's Moneysmart website.

Some survey respondents say they've used the site's free tools. Donald, for instance, found the site "easy to navigate" and the superannuation calculator useful.

A general resource

The downside of Moneysmart is that it isn't set up to give detailed or personal advice – it's more of a general resource.

"Unfortunately, the free and unbiased help from MoneySmart was generic (because it has to be)," says survey respondent Charlie. "I couldn't get help with my very specific and circumstance-particular questions."

Alex says, "I find it answers my questions in everyday language, but doesn't delve into enough details."

Less than half the users of MoneySmart in our survey agreed that MoneySmart was relevant to their financial situation.

A one-stop shop could offer quality, free, independent advice

Sophia says that organising her finances when she decided to retire was overcomplicated. 

"I'm not a dumb person, and tried to complete what was required following advice from my super fund, and HR," she says. 

"It was impossible to get a straight answer on what was needed and what the consequences were for each decision being made. Retiring should be a simple step-by-step process that [is] consistent across Australia." 

Sophia suggests the government set up a website to help guide people through this process.

Simplifying retirement planning

CHOICE's Morelli agrees with Sophia that a single website bringing together all the relevant retirement planning resources would be a great start.

"There are some useful services and tools that a lot of people don't know about, and we know that good guidance can see people retire with more," he says.

The survey results again show there are significant numbers of Australians not served by the current advice model

Franco Morelli, policy manager, Super Consumers Australia

"Bringing the existing resources together and filling the gaps with a 'one-stop shop' offering would be a major step towards improving retirement planning for all Australians. This model would remove the conflicts in advice at the source.

"The survey results again show there are significant numbers of Australians not served by the current advice model. A 'one-stop shop' could help offer free, independent, quality advice that will meet their needs."

* Names have been changed to protect respondents’ identities. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

This content was produced by Super Consumers Australia which is an independent, nonprofit consumer organisation partnering with CHOICE to advance and protect the interests of people in the Australian superannuation system.

Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.