Brisbane boutique hands back AFSL

A Brisbane-based boutique has handed back its licence to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and joined a non-bank dealer group, citing compliance burdens and 'cultural fit'.

HN Financial Planning senior planner and co-founder Jacqueline Parker told ifa her practice signed with Big Sky Financial Planning on June 28. Big Sky is a corporate authorised representative of the dealer group Australian Unity Personal Financial Services.

Ms Parker said Big Sky was the first group to approach HN Financial Group that didn't start the conversation by talking about distribution.

Of all the groups that have approached her practice since it acquired its licence in 2000, Big Sky was also the first one to be invited back for a second conversation, she said.

While finding the right cultural fit influenced the decision in part, the increasing compliance burden also played a role, she added.

The amount of compliance work required to maintain HN Financial Planning's licence had become the equivalent of one full-time employee, Ms Parker said.

With only eight staff working at the firm, that was “not a sustainable ratio”, she said.

Ms Parker pointed to the fact that Australian Unity Personal Financial Planning has hired a lawyer dedicated to Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) compliance as an indication of the increased burden.

“You look at that and think, 'If they need that, what chance have we got?'” she said.

The benefits of having one's own AFSL also needs to be weighed up against work/life balance issues, Ms Parker said.

She pointed to the attraction of “having a big brother guiding you through [the regulation] rather than spending your weekends sitting there trying to read through an 80-page regulatory guide”.

On top of the compliance issue, the financial planning industry is also “high risk”, said Ms Parker.

“In the stroke of a pen, the government can just take away something that you’ve worked to build for many years,” she said.

The decision to join Big Sky was an effort to take some of that legislative and regulatory risk off the table.

When it comes to approved product lists, Ms Parker acknowledged that she and her colleagues would become “more familiar” with Australian Unity products over time.

However, comparisons had been made between HN Financial Planning's list and the Australian Unity list, and there were “no perceived issues”.

Nor had anyone at HN Financial Planning been contacted by Australian Unity about investments, she said.

“The way that we build portfolios is very similar, so there’s no conflict there. They’re not asking us to move platforms, so there’s no conflict there [either],” Ms Parker said.

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