An industry body has hit back at consumer groups for discouraging consumers from seeking the advice of a financial planner during the COVID-19 crisis, stating that financial planners must play a “critical role” in getting their clients through the current circumstances.
In a statement released on Thursday, FPA chief executive Dante De Gori said statements by consumer groups Super Consumers Australia, Council on the Ageing Australia and Choice last week that consumers should contact a financial counsellor, not a planner, if they were in financial distress, were “doing a disservice to the community”.
“Australia is in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis and slanderous remarks are completely unnecessary and unhelpful,” Mr De Gori said.
The comments come following a statement from the three groups last week urging consumers to only use the government’s early super access scheme as a last resort, with Choice policy and campaigns adviser Patrick Veyret urging to consumers to discuss their plans with a financial counsellor as these services were “free and independent”.
Mr Veyret also warned consumers that “it will only be in very rare circumstances that a financial adviser recommending early access of super is doing so in your best interests”.
Mr De Gori said this was an inaccurate statement as financial planners were bound by a best interests duty and the option to access super early was dependent on a client’s personal circumstances.
“The FPA completely rejects this assertion and requests Mr Veyret’s statement be retracted as he is in no position to decide what is in the best interest of a customer, nor can he make claims about client circumstances,” Mr De Gori said.
“Financial planners must adhere to a best interest duty at all times. This is an important piece of legislation that separates financial planners from other financial services professionals and ensures they are always aligned to client outcomes.”
Mr De Gori said consumers should consider contacting either a financial counsellor or financial adviser depending on “whoever they have a trusted relationship with”, and that it was important all financial services providers shared the duty of assisting consumers during the current crisis.
“Financial planners play a critical role in the lives of their clients and have been overwhelmed with inquiries in recent weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks financial havoc on the lives of Australians,” he said.
“For too long financial advice has been misrepresented as a service for the wealthy. That is not the case, and the FPA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure more Australians are able to access advice. Particularly in times of financial hardship.”
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