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The story of your life viewed through your SMSF


Your SMSF story reflects your life’s journey, and real people telling real stories encourage the popularity of this super structure. It’s something the retail and industry funds have struggled with.

One of the most underestimated attractions of having your own SMSF is the power of a good story.

I love stories – whether it be reading a good book, sharing ideas with friends, or listening to a great story told by a successful entrepreneur, adventurer, close friend, or even a stranger. Stories are the best way to capture someone’s attention, make them think, influence their mood, and maybe even make decisions that change their life.

One of the things I love about SMSFs is how passionate people are when telling their SMSF story. How they got one, why they did it, what they’ve invested in, what they love about it, what they hate about it, and what they wish they did differently.

Even when I think about the most memorable presentations I’ve seen from SMSF experts, what audiences love most is the stories about real people – the good, the bad, and the ugly of running your own fund.

Understanding that SMSFs deliver the power of a good story better than any other super fund structure can really change your perspective, whether you are:

SMSFs made it cool to be interested in super

The popularity of SMSFs has grown so widespread some are calling this the ‘golden age of the SMSF’. But how did that happen?

The answer is really simple – word of mouth!

Like many disruptive innovations, SMSFs delivered their members new stories worth sharing with friends at a BBQ. Just like many of the ‘cool’ start-ups today, their popularity didn’t grow through large companies with massive advertising budgets urging viewers to ‘compare the pair’. More often than not, the first time most people hear about SMSFs is from their friends. For Facebook users, it’s the equivalent of ‘like’ and ‘share’.

My life viewed through my SMSF

The journey of my SMSF has almost become like a biography of my life so far. Many of the major events in my life are mirrored in my SMSF in some way, and create stories in themselves.

I started my own SMSF when I was in my 20s. One of my first investments was to buy units in my employer’s property trust when they were expanding, which I later realised was just their way of trying to tie me in without offering me s partnership (it didn’t work!).

I learnt another valuable lesson when I got divorced. It turned out trying to save a few bucks by choosing individual trustees was a mistake, and I had to bite the bullet and buy a trustee company. It cost a fortune to change all my investments, but it was worth it so I never had to go through that again!

I’ll never forget the first time I decided that I would contribute right up to my maximum contribution cap. I was young, self-employed and had a mortgage, yet I did it anyway SOLELY because I felt better knowing I held the fund’s cheque book. Now it’s one of my annual financial goals.

When I sold my share portfolio before the GFC, I gloated about the losses I’d avoided. And I was super proud to buy my first office premises and lease it back to my business, which I never could have done without my SMSF. I also invested in a software company I was passionate about.

Then there’s the times I’ve helped my parents (members of my SMSF) use transition to retirement strategies to save tax and get cash when they need it, for a once-in-a-lifetime European holiday, or to fix their roof that blew away in a cyclone.

I tell how an industry fund stuffed my husband around for over six months when he joined our SMSF, giving every excuse not to pay his rollover. And I talk up how easy running my SMSF is now I have a great broker. I don’t have time to research and trade with four children and a busy career, so I found someone I trust.

My SMSF reflects the story of my life, and that’s not unusual. Marriage, divorce, business success and failure, ageing, death, good fortune, luck and loss – who said super is boring?!

Thinking differently to compete with SMSFs

If I were looking for a way to compete against the SMSF industry, I wouldn’t bother with the traditional arguments. Focusing on fee comparisons, administration burden, historical investment performance, or how much you need to start your own fund comes across as defensive and, to be honest, makes for a pretty ho-hum story.

What if, instead, the focus was on creating unique experiences for super fund members that made them excited to become a member, stay and tell their friends? I’m talking about the type of innovation in customer service that could actually turn super fund members into raving fans.

If the only experience members of a super fund have is receiving an envelope in the mail every six months with a super fund logo printed on the front, which they throw in the bin without opening, then it’s fair to say they won’t be sharing stories of your fund any time soon with their friends at a BBQ!

Using stories to grow an SMSF business

I’m not suggesting that an SMSF is for everyone, and there are most definitely many important factors that need to be considered. But if someone is looking to grow an SMSF business, it pays to think about giving clients the experience they crave.

Does your service, your technology, your support and ongoing engagement with your client provide them with the opportunity to ‘like and share’ their story with their friends?

Most importantly, are you focusing your expertise on ensuring their SMSF story is a good one, and that your clients can access the right support at the times in their life when they really need it?

Auditors need to be able to ‘see the story’ behind the numbers

The key to being a good auditor is to always understand the big picture. When I plan an SMSF audit I recognise that SMSFs are run by real people, with real lives, making real decisions. Rather than seeing my audit as a ‘tick and flick’ exercise, I read the financial reports like they’re telling me a story.

What story do the numbers tell me, and what do I know about the fund that will point me towards the risks most likely to need my attention this year? It makes my work much more interesting but also means I don’t waste anyone’s time trying a one-size-fits-all approach. I zero in on the real risks and eliminate what doesn’t apply.

I would love you to share your SMSF story with me, so feel free to comment and share.

About the author
Jo Heighway is a Partner, SMSF Assurance & Advisory, at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Cuffelinks does not favour one superannuation type over another and welcomes other opinions on the merits of alternative fund structures.
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