Real estate investment schemes a remain a wide open opportunity for the unwary to be exploited. Photo: Louie Douvis
Not that Finance Minister Matthais Cormann would admit it, but there's been quite a back down involved in reforming Arthur Sinodinos' reform of the Coalition's FoFA reforms.
Senator Cormann says it was never the government's intention to reintroduce commissions – but that only makes one wonder why the government let Sinodinos try to do it.
Congratulations are in order for the finance minister then.
Yes, the other reforms – the ones Cormann as the relevant shadow minister took to the election - remain in place, but they don't make as much difference as much as the Opposition claims.
It was the big banks' desire to keep pushing product via the time-worn and now-disgraced commission method that posed the most risk.
That has been at the heart of the most of our obvious scandals, from the CBA's own "financial planners" to the Timbercorp and Great Southern managed investment schemes.
"The government is moving to put this absolutely beyond doubt by prescribing that any payment related to the provision of general advice cannot be an upfront or trailing commission," Cormann says.
Real estate reality check
However, there remains another commission-driven investment scandal affecting superannuation that has not been tackled: the real estate spruikers tipping self-managed super funds into dubious and geared investments.
While financial product providers and financial planners from now on can't be led astray by suspiciously fat commission rates, others are free (or expensive) to use all the tricks of the dodgy salesperson's trade, promising anything and disclosing nothing.
There's a new housing estate outside a Queensland mining town substantially owned by geared SMSFs thanks to the diligence and sales drive of real estate spruikers.
The value of the housing has fallen by 30 to 40 per cent and rents are plummeting as well.
There is no requirement the real estate sales types, complete with get-rich-quick seminars, have to take any account of individuals' needs and financial circumstances, no warnings they have to give or risks that need to be explained.
There is more oversight and care involved in buying a $20,000 life insurance policy than in borrowing $500,000 for SMSF real estate speculation. All the tub-thumping and dire warnings issued by various worthies has come to nothing.
But there was an intriguing addendum to Senator Cormann's announcement today: the promise of a regulatory hit squad to whack any financial engineers who step outside the intent of the new legislation.
The immediate reaction to that could well be: "Yeah, you and who's army?"
Given ASIC's massive failure to deal with matters of existing fraud and failure that's been happening under its nose, it's hard to imagine the glacial speed with which new developments might be tackled.
Yet the minister seems to be quite a determined sort of man. So here's hoping he comes back for the rest of the shonks and charlatans.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.