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Effective disclosure requires better financial literacy

A principles-based disclosure regime could end up costing consumers, an academic has warned.

Thursday, July 12th 2018, 6:00AM 2 Comments

by Susan Edmunds

Aaron Gilbert is associate professor in the AUT finance department, researching the readability of financial disclosures.

He has completed work that showed product disclosure statements for KiwiSaver, while shorter under the Financial Markets Conduct Act, were not delivered in a way that was accessible to the average KiwiSaver member.

He said the financial advice disclosure regime as outlined by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in its recent consultation, did not seem primed to deliver results that were any better.

MBIE has suggested it wants to deploy a principles-based approach to requiring advisers to deliver information to their clients, including what they are paid and how, and what products they have access to.

But Gilbert said that might not produce the results MBIE intended.

“I get they are trying to avoid the tick-the-box approach to disclosure. But there’s a risk it leaves the door open for less scrupulous players to disclose without making it clear what people need to know.”

He said “plain English” requirements discussed by MBIE were already in force for disclosure statements but had not yet delivered disclosure in a way that most investors could understand. 

Financial Advice suggested that it was the cost of the distribution channel that should be disclosed, not the commission paid to advisers.

Gilbert said the primary concern should be to improve New Zealanders’ financial literacy.

“People don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. Clients needed to understand what they should be asking advisers, he said, and what they needed to get from the documentation.

“Things like who’s paying for that advice, are you paying directly is the adviser taking commission from someone else? That has a huge impact on how much faith you can place in the advice you are getting and how critical you need to be about your evaluation of that advice. We need people to understand what they are getting into better so they can ask the required questions.”

From there, it could be considered how best to present that information.

He said many clients would lack even a basic understanding of how advisers were paid.

“Even when paying for financial advice there are situations where the adviser is receiving kickbacks. I think there would be people who would be surprised to find the adviser was being paid at both ends. I don’t think people understand how it works.”

He said it would be nice to think it was something that could be left to the industry to deliver the appropriate solution but it was likely that the regulators would have to step in to enforce a best-practice standard.

Tags: Disclosure

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Comments from our readers

On 12 July 2018 at 8:21 am Michael Chamberlain said:
What we have in NZ is not a principled based regime and what is proposed is not a principle based regime. They are both rules based. It should not therefore, be surprising that the outcome is compliance with the rules and consistency of published practices. It is impossible for an industry specialist to read a disclosure statement and the published SIPO, and other information on the Disclose register, and actually understand what is being bought, how the investment decisions will be made and implemented and what fees you will pay. A principled based approach would require the outcome to achieve that so there is no “I would not have done that had I been told that”.

There will always be a few rogues in the industry – there is in every industry. The regulatory regime should not be designed to stop them getting in. It should be designed to give good outcomes for those that are principled based and provide a framework to prosecute those who do not comply. Yes managers will not like a principle based regime, as it does not give them the precision that want to know that meet the law, but a basic regime that required the investor understanding what fees they will pay, what outcomes they are likely to receive but may receive and what decisions they can make along the way would be a significant step forward, and would cost less to implement. It would also likely get rid of the rogues.
On 12 July 2018 at 9:22 am Paul Flood said:
I withheld comment last time this came up, but feel it necessary to correct a misleading statement from FANZ. FANZ have submitted that advisers should only have to disclose the “cost of advice”. Sue Brown claims “An insurance premium quoted without commission doesn’t reduce it by the upfront commission. Instead it reduces by about 12%-15%. This is what it costs the consumer to obtain advice."

I’m not sure where Sue gets her numbers, but all of the life companies we deal with allow for a premium discount of 20%, and in one case 30%, in lieu of commission. Further, when multiplied out over the life of a policy, it turns out that this “cost of advice” is not so small after all.

There is a bigger problem with the FANZ proposal as I see it. I think it deliberately tries to obscure the actual revenue we receive when a policy issued (which can be up to 230% initial commission, plus renewal commissions, plus soft dollars). 12%-15% (or even 20%-30%) is far more palatable than 140%-230%, and is less likely to lead to difficult discussions with clients.

Trying to take refuge in the smaller numbers simply adds to the suspicion that (a) we as an industry have something to hide, and (b) that we can’t justify the value we add when the value is quantified in terms of the total remuneration we receive.

The purpose of the disclosure regulations is to help consumers make better informed decisions. Importantly, consumers need to be aware when the advice they are receiving might be conflicted, and the money we stand to receive when a client buys a policy presents the largest conflict.

If I am recommending Company A (paying 230% upfront) over Company B (paying 140% upfront), I had better be able to show the client how it is in their interest to chose Company A over Company B, and how I have managed the conflict that the extra 90% commission presents me. And if I am recommending the client replace a policy already in force, then this conflict is even greater.

My view (which I have submitted): Under the new regime we should disclose all remuneration, including soft dollars, and there should be no room for a “materiality” test. The form and timing of disclosure should be tightly prescribed, to make it easier for consumers to understand and enable better comparison between providers. Finally, disclosure should be in percentage terms, for largely practical reasons.

Hiding behind a suggestion that consumers are too “dumb” to understand disclosure is ridiculous. If I came across a client that couldn’t multiply their annual premium by the commission percentage to work out my commission (or, even better, just ask me), then I would be really worried. If they can’t understand simple math, how on earth can they understand the far more complex requirement that when applying for cover they must disclose all information that a prudent underwriter would deem necessary…

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Lender Flt 1yr 2yr 3yr
ANZ 5.79 4.79 4.99 5.35
ANZ Special - 4.29 4.49 4.85
ASB Bank 5.80 4.69 4.89 5.19
ASB Bank Special - 4.29 4.49 4.79
BNZ - Mortgage One 6.50 - - -
BNZ - Rapid Repay 5.95 - - -
BNZ - Special - 4.29 4.49 4.85
BNZ - Std, FlyBuys 5.90 4.89 5.05 5.49
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Credit Union Baywide 6.15 5.45 5.50 -
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Credit Union North 6.45 - - -
Credit Union South 6.45 - - -
Finance Direct - - - -
First Credit Union 5.85 - - -
Heartland 6.70 7.00 7.25 7.85
Heartland Bank - Online - - - -
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Housing NZ Corp 5.79 4.79 5.05 5.29
HSBC Premier 5.89 4.19 4.29 4.89
HSBC Premier LVR > 80% - - - -
HSBC Special - - - -
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ICBC 5.80 4.59 4.69 5.09
Kiwibank 5.80 4.69 4.89 5.35
Kiwibank - Capped - - - -
Kiwibank - Offset 5.80 - - -
Kiwibank Special - 4.19 4.39 4.85
Liberty 5.69 - - -
Napier Building Society - - - -
Nelson Building Society 6.10 5.10 5.45 -
Resimac 5.30 4.86 4.94 5.30
RESIMAC Special 5.00 - 4.75 -
SBS Bank 5.89 4.85 5.05 5.49
Lender Flt 1yr 2yr 3yr
SBS Bank Special - 4.19 4.49 4.85
Sovereign 5.90 4.69 4.89 5.19
Sovereign Special - 4.29 4.49 4.79
The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 5.75 4.39 4.49 4.85
The Co-operative Bank - Standard 5.75 4.89 4.99 5.35
TSB Bank 5.80 ▼4.74 ▼4.99 ▼5.35
TSB Special - ▼4.24 ▼4.49 ▼4.85
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Median 5.87 4.69 4.89 5.19

Last updated: 10 July 2018 9:29am

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