DO YOU NEED A FINANCIAL PLANNER?

Some of us were lucky enough to be raised by people who knew how to save, budget and plan for the future, but statistics show that many of us missed those lessons, to our financial detriment. The most recent figures show that home ownership in Australia has dropped from 85% of the working population to around 62%, and our young people don’t consider saving as important as past generations.

Now is the time to look at our personal financial situation to see if we could do more to build wealth. For those running businesses it is absolutely essential, in these difficult times, to be open to all possibilities, and one of those is to consider whether to engage a financial planner to assist.

Like most things, there are pros and cons to be considered before making this decision. The role of a financial planner is to help you set and achieve personal goals. This is quite different from the role of your accountant, which is to help you manage your personal and business tax affairs.

Pros to having a financial planner are that they use a structured process to encourage their clients to take setting personal goals seriously. While we might say that we could do this, ourselves, very few of us actually do. A financial planner does this in a way that is discussed and documented. Once goals are established, a financial planner then creates an investment plan to help clients realise these goals.

How good are most of us at investing their money? We are not very good, according to the statistics. A financial planner has current knowledge and understanding of financial markets and assists clients with their investments. For clients who already have an investment portfolio, the financial planner reviews and optimises its performance. They also provide budgeting and debt consolidation advice.

Naturally, all this professional expertise comes at a cost, so this is one of the major cons to be considered. The other concern is that financial planners identify and recommend financial products, opening the possibility of a conflict of interest between the needs of the client and financial rewards for the planner.

For those who are trustees of their own SMSFs (self-managed superannuation fund), having the services of a financial planner is essential. An SMSF is a financial planner product. In Australia, only a licensed person can offer advice about the different financial products on offer, and there are consequences if the financial planner does not act in the best interests of clients.

SMSF trustees also use the services of companies such as SMSF Assure to perform the administration, year-end and regulatory work required by the ATO (Australian Taxation Office). This allows them to spend more time working with their financial planners in order to build the wealth needed to provide retirement incomes for their members.

ACCOUNTANTS – SUPER-HEROES OF TAX PLANNING

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) advises that every taxpayer has the right to arrange their financial affairs so that they pay minimum tax. This is the process of tax planning and is quite legal provided the measures taken are legitimate and within the intent of the law. Tax avoidance schemes, however, are outside the tax laws and will attract the attention of the ATO, possibly incurring paying back taxes and penalties.

For any accountant working in the area of tax planning, there are a few attributes they need to ensure that they are acting in the best interests of their clients while also working within the law. Every year brings changes to the tax rules and regulations, so one of the best habits an accountant can have is to keep up to date, so they are always giving their clients accurate information.

Among the benefits of being members of relevant professional organisations is access to such information, as well as conferences and regular training programs to keep members current. It is a good habit to also set up a regular schedule to check taxpayer alerts and product rulings issued by the ATO. This helps the accountant to be aware of any issues their clients may raise or even become involved in, so they can offer advice and exercise caution.

This all becomes even more important for accounting firms that are managing the administration of self-managed superannuation funds (SMSF). These funds are regulated by the ATO to ensure that the retirement benefits of the members are being effectively managed. This requires a heightened level of compliance that trustees find difficult to manage themselves, particularly given the penalties for non-compliance with statutory requirements.

Companies such as SMSF Assure employ accountants to establish and manage the complex administration systems needed to create, process and securely store the SMSF information of their clients. This requires people with habits like being organised, using sound decision-making techniques, prioritising forward planning, time management and regularly checking and verifying management reports.

Accountants working in the SMSF area are supervising tasks such as maintaining individual member records and accounts, investment records, preparing PAYG payment summaries where applicable, collecting and facilitating dividend payments and monitoring cash balances to ensure the SMSFs can meet obligations.

These are just some of the responsibilities that, along with verifying transaction reconciliations throughout the year and maintaining a diverse investment register, are just as important to the fund trustees as tax planning.

HAS THE END OF THE FINANCIAL YEAR CAUGHT YOU OUT?

The end of the financial year is almost here, so business operators should already have their tax planning strategy for this year established. If not, there is still time to review the situation and have some short-term processes in place in order to meet the 30 June transaction deadline. The following information should assist for those business owners who do not have the guidance of a bookkeeper or accountant.

Where possible, pre-pay some of next financial year’s expenses in this financial year. Typical expenses that could be paid now are rent, insurance, professional subscriptions and others. At the same time, review customer invoices already in your system to identify those you could postpone until July. The object is to increase expenses and reduce income in this current year by deferring both until next year. Just make sure your cash flow can accommodate these transactions.

This year, the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) is allowing instant tax write-offs of $150,000 for both new and used assets, so you can immediately deduct the business assets purchased from the assessable tax. Check the ATO website for eligibility criteria.

Every business has debtors it is hoped will settle their outstanding invoices, but now is the time to be realistic and review them objectively. If they are unrecoverable, you can write off these debtors in the current financial year, regardless of the year in which they were incurred.

Superannuation is another area where you need to be up to speed with tax planning. If you are a sole trader or a micro business, you may be paying into a retail superannuation fund. If you haven’t already done so, top up your voluntary superannuation contributions before 30 June, up to a limit of $25,000. However, if you have an SMSF (self-managed superannuation fund), there are specific things you need to be doing before the financial year end.

Remember that an SMSF exists solely for the purpose of providing retirement benefits for its members or their dependents. SMSFs are regulated by the ATO and there are severe penalties for non-compliance with items such as reporting, timelines for lodging documents and other statutory requirements.

For this reason, tax planning for an SMSF could differ from the typical end of financial year transactions that a business can legally perform. For business owners who, especially at this time of the year, are knee-deep in running their businesses, the last thing on their minds is likely to be the extra work involved in managing their SMSF.

Many business owners have found the best of both worlds by engaging companies similar to SMSF Assure to help them manage their administration responsibilities, make smart decisions and avoid costly mistakes. In this way, they are able to still be involved in building the investment portfolios that will ensure a comfortable retirement for the members, without the time-consuming and administration work involved.

For those of you who have left your tax planning until the last minute, deal with today’s issues and start planning for the next financial year. It will come around soon enough.

WOMEN TAKING THE REINS OF FAMILY BUSINESS IN INCREASING NUMBERS

It may come as a surprise to know that the family business is one of the most common business models worldwide and even more surprising is the statistic that in Australia, family businesses account for 70% of all our businesses and employ half of our workforce. The sector is worth approximately $4.3 trillion and has its own peak body to provide support and information for its members.

It is also interesting to note that women make up just over one-third of all Australian business operators and the numbers of women who are running their family businesses are expected to equal males within the next few years. This acceleration away from male domination of family businesses is driven by the rapid take up of university education over the past few decades by females, and the support provided within the family business structure which is generally not available in private enterprise.

A typical example is the flexibility family businesses offer female leaders regarding child-rearing and personal family demands, which the corporate world is now recognising but is still slow to provide. Family businesses are also well ahead in their willingness and desire to trust and empower female leaders.

Reliable, authoritative studies have consistently found that women in management positions make fairer decisions, are more consultative, work to seek consensus before making decisions and are quick to adopt new governance practices. This applies equally across all business structures including family businesses.

There are unique dynamics involved in taking a leadership role in a family business. The two levels of relationship involved, being professional and family, become all the more complex when managers and team members are related to each other. Sometimes a female family member may become CEO unexpectedly following a sudden death in the family, but generally, the appointment comes as a result of sound business knowledge coupled with relevant experience.

Women in leadership positions would also be aware that generally speaking, women in the workplace are disadvantaged when it comes to accumulating sufficient superannuation to support them in retirement. The causes of this imbalance between male and female participants in the workforce are, as would be expected, are extended absences to bear and raise children, and later in life, further absences to provide care for elderly parents or relatives.

These accumulated absences can amount to many months if not years, interrupting careers with subsequent loss of income on which superannuation contributions are based. Women running family businesses are in an excellent position to establish self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) to ensure that all their employees, including family members and other women are members of funds that work towards ensuring comfortable financial circumstances in retirement.

These female leaders are also likely to recognise that to personally manage the day-to-day operations of their SMSFs would interfere with their ability to run their family businesses. To overcome this issue and provide assurance to the fund members that the fund is complying with all ATO reporting requirements, they are likely to engage companies such as SMSF Assure to handle all the administrative details on their behalf.

ATTENTION START-UPS! DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A PLAN?

If asked, most successful small business owners would agree that when they started out, they were at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. Many of them, if they had to do it all again, would do some things differently but at the same time, they appreciate the lessons they learnt through experience.

However, in many cases, the lessons learnt were expensive and involved losses the business otherwise may not have incurred. Unfortunately, many start-up businesses still follow the same learning curve and for some of them, the losses mean they do not survive. Would the results have been different if these businesses had been part of a mentoring program designed specifically for them?

Business mentoring programs are offered to existing clients by accounting companies to help them build better businesses through a long-term collaboration rather than just as a problem-solving measure. There are many benefits for the clients, but the greatest is to have access to someone in the role of an unbiased sounding board and who is unafraid to challenge thinking and decisions.

To have access to such a program would be invaluable for a start-up business and, like every good idea it should begin with a plan. The first part of the plan is to meet with the client to establish conventional agreements such as professional costs, frequency of consultations, service expectations and reporting methods.

The second part of the plan should be to check that basic management tools such as accounting records are in place. This ensures that the fledgling business is starting on solid foundations. Other tools such as marketing plans, cash flow projections and others may not yet be available but should be mentioned in the planning process to be followed up later.

Planning should continue along these lines while being flexible enough to be tailored specifically to different types of business, rather than being a rigid template. The plan should also have enough structure for timelines and targets to be established.

Once the plan is finalised and agreed by the client, the next step is to designate a qualified mentor who will provide support, guidance, objective feedback and further expertise when required. This is an important role, as the success of the program depends on the professional relationship between this mentor and the business owner. Trust and confidentiality are paramount here.

This structured approach to the initial planning process would also be useful for business owners who want to set up their own self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs). This is a complex process set down by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with an annual reporting and auditing regime with financial penalties for breaches of the regulatory system.

For new business owners trying to get their product to the market, this would be an unnecessary distraction. However, companies such as SMSF Assure are specialists at managing the administration aspects of SMSFs for their clients. They ensure that all administration requirements are in place, leaving the business owners to work on establishing successful enterprises.