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Admin fees on large super funds vs SMSFs

From going it alone with an SMSF to defaulting into the AustralianSuper Balanced Option, administration time and fees vary materially. Price points across Netflix subscriptions vary materially, too, from $6.99/month for standard with ads compared with $22.99/month for premium. Consumers understand that the different price points meet individual viewing preferences. Superannuation admin fees are no different. 

The different ways to access super


The SMSF is a popular, do-it-yourself access point to super, with assets totalling almost $870 billion[1] last year. SMSFs allow investors a vast investment universe and a level of personalisation that is unparalleled, but they are certainly not do-it-yourself-for-free. There are:

  • establishment fees
  • ongoing regulatory costs such as Australian Taxation Office supervisory fees
  • accounting fees
  • possibly an online investment platform to help keep track of your investments.
  • the personal time expended as a trustee.

For some investors, the flexibility and tailoring are worth it, but for others, SMSFs are a step too far. The time, cost, and complexity are too much for the reward.

ii) MySuper and Choice

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘MySuper’ and the current ‘Choice’ cohorts[2] as defined by the regulator. These groups represent over $1.1 trillion of the approximately $3.5 trillion that Australians have invested in super.

So, what’s the difference between MySuper and Choice? The 69 investment options captured in the ‘MySuper’ heatmap are simply the low-cost, defaults offered to members. Conversely, there are over 1,000 investment options captured in the 2022 ‘Choice’ heatmap. They are typically multisector options commonly offered through a fund’s ‘generic’ investment menu.

The easiest example is to use AustralianSuper. Its default multi-asset ‘Balanced option’ is captured in the MySuper heatmap; its multi-asset High Growth, Conservative Balanced, Stable, Index Diversified, and Socially Aware options are captured in the 2022 Choice heatmap.

There are a range of services offered across these two cohorts in exchange for the administration fee. Investors can access the tax-effective world of superannuation, a range of investment options that are fully administered, insurances, and investor reporting, support services, and education. While investment fees paid for an investment option and insurance premiums are a different matter, administering an investment option or insurance product in super is not free. Dealing with incoming contributions, members switching between options, and members switching out of the fund incurs costs that need to be covered. Basically, all the non-investment-related costs, including the significant regulatory impost to run a fund, are covered in the admin fee.

iii) Advised or self-directed platforms

In the middle of the spectrum is another cohort of Australians who want more flexibility than a default option but not the responsibility of an SMSF. They could be advised or self-directed and typically opt for more-sophisticated investment platforms. For example, a fully advised offering on an investment platform (HUB24, Netwealth, Macquarie, Colonial First State, and BT, among others) that offers tailored managed accounts and comprehensive investment menus (including shares, ETFs, many funds, and term deposits), complete with sophisticated portals and reporting.

Superannuation access points sit across a spectrum, and what’s offered varies greatly. And unlike Netflix’s easily comparable options, there are many details to consider.

The range of admin fees

What should you expect to pay for these different access points to superannuation?

In the Rice Warner Report: Cost of Operating SMSFs 2020[3], it was estimated that SMSF admin fees range from around $1,200 a year (for compliance admin) to $3,000 a year (for full admin), but this may cover large amounts. This doesn’t consider the cost of your time as a trustee, which should not be underestimated. The report also outlines the levels of superannuation assets required to justify the higher levels of admin fees relative to other options.

In the APRA Heatmap Insights Papers, the Choice Dashboard shows that the average annual administration fee for MySuper options is $137 compared with $149 for ‘open’ Choice options (based on a $50,000 account balance). Averages can hide a lot, though. Exhibit 1 shows that while many Choice options cluster around the price points of $100 - $250 a year, there are plenty that are more expensive.

Exhibit 1 APRA Choice Options – The number of options per administration fee group

Source: Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority’s (APRA) ‘Choice’ Heatmap – 2022.

Finally, the premium platform option. While there are no easily accessible 'average' costs for this cohort and the fee disclosures make comparisons tricky, the Netwealth Super Accelerator Plus Product Disclosure Statement (September 2022) provides a good example. It shows an administrative fee of around $583 a year. For that admin fee, you can access direct international equities, Australian equities, term deposits, and a broad menu of managed funds and managed accounts at additional cost. There is significant scope to tailor an investment portfolio here. It’s also worth noting that many advisors negotiate bespoke fee arrangements for premium platforms, and the cost of this access point may be lower through your advisor.

Exhibit 2 displays the spectrum of admin fees across the different access points discussed in this paper. The key takeout is that the range is wide. And that’s why it is important to understand what you need and pay an appropriate price for that service.

Exhibit 2 Spectrum of Administration Fees compared

Source: Quoted throughout paper.

Administration fees reduce returns

The more you pay in admin fees, the lower the net return you will receive over time, and less money in retirement. And given the power of compounding, every dollar counts. But administration fees are the price of admission to superannuation. They are an inevitable cost to access a tax-effective environment. Some people need the standard subscription with ads, while others prefer a premium subscription. What’s important is that you understand your own needs when it comes to super and pay for what you need. Admin fees matter, and they vary materially, so make sure you understand what you’re paying for and why.


[1] Australian Tax Office’s SMSF Profile – 30 June 2022
[2] Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority’s (APRA) “Choice” and “MySuper” Heatmaps and Insight Papers - 2022
[3] Cost of Operating SMSFs 2020: Rice Warner and SMSF Association


Annika Bradley is Morningstar Australasia's Director of Manager Research ratings. Firstlinks is owned by Morningstar. This article is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any investor. This article was originally published by Morningstar.

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September 01, 2023

My wife and I have a SMSF. Total assets between the 2 accounts approx $1,729,363. Total accountants fees approx $4000 p.a.
Because getting the paperwork etc to the accountant, answering queries, and he takes so long, I'm interested in closing down the SMSF and rolling the whole thing into an industry fund `Legalsuper', by opening 2 new separate accounts with them. I'm looking at Legalsuper because they allow 100% of the assets to be managed/invested by us individually. Legalsuper brokerage is reasonable and interest on cash balances is competitive.
Total Legalsuper fees for both new accounts (ex brokerage) will be $3,961. No more than the accountant charges.And they take care of the whole admin nightmare.
The only fly in the ointment so far is that our estates will ultimately be left to our non dependent adult children, so we will need to follow a strategy of closing the accounts before we individually die to avoid the 17% death tax on them.
There are a number of ways we can do that. We can close our accounts ourselves at a time of our choosing before we die (no guarantees there!). We also need to have the option of having our Enduring Attorney close the accounts at some time before we die, and that is the part I haven't reached the bottom of yet. I will only go with them if they, in written form, unconditionally accept the legitimacy of the Enduring Attorney and place absolutely no barriers in the way of the Enduring Attorney, if and when she closes the accounts and withdraws all of the funds. As far as we are concerned this will be the final hurdle to get over before making the change.If they can't satisfy me about that, (and I'm not optimistic because I know from professional experience that these industry funds are difficult, slow and administratively painful).If I'm not satisfied there we'll hav eto stay with the SMSF.

August 31, 2023

Thinking of getting an SMSF, if I close my industry fund do any capital losses on shares sold carry over to SMSF to offset against profits in the future or are they lost?

August 27, 2023

Everyone seems to forget about the considerable amount of time in running a SMSF in selecting assets and shares. Also there is the question of worry “can you sleep at night”. I found a simpler and much more successful strategy was to use either a timing strategy for risk on risk off periods for balanced funds in a good industry super fund like Hostplus or a timing strategy for ETFs like SPY or QQQs.

August 27, 2023

No mention of brokerage costs in SMSF which can be huge, I do a fair bit of trading and my brokerage is 0.3% of the value of my SMSF around $4,500 per year. I have not included cash in a term deposit in this figure

August 27, 2023

Personal experience suggests the SMSF balance needs to be above $700k. Via ASX ETFs one can implement any investment strategy/ risk preference to suit, eg VAS and IVV ETFs cover Australia and the US and have less than 1% management fees. So it leaves annual fees of
Accounting -$2000
Audit - $400
ATO - $261
Other - $100 plus personal time

Industry Funds
Ok for low balances and lack of financial interest/skills
cluncky -form filling, slow response times, they hold on to money for dear life
costly to change investment preferences (this has not been mentioned in the Annika's summary)

Estate Planning
In an SMSF its easier to use contribution strategies to maximise the tax free proportion of the fund. Non-dependent adult children do have to pay tax on the taxable component they inherit.

August 25, 2023

Stephen, Aware invests more broadly. We only have direct ASX shares, hybrids, CDs and bank debt within our SMSF. International shares and property are outside super. We don't seek unlisted investments, REITs, CRE, Bitcoin, currency plays, alternatives, hedging or shorting. We keep it simple, accepting that this will reduce average returns. Our SMSF's total return in FY23 was 11.42%.

August 28, 2023

Well done John and thanks for your frankness. We also like to keep it simple in our SMSF with ASX shares, Hybrids, TD's, some Global Infrastructure Bonds. No Bitcoin or alternatives etc., but we do have listed and unlisted REIT's, although winding those down as the Trusts mature. I'm anticipating our net return to 30 June 23 to be around 15% when all reports are in. We even managed a small positive return in the last year when most retail/industry funds' returns were negative. But, on the flip side, we put a lot of time into our SMSF and, as we age, will be mindful of when it's time to wind up the Fund.

August 24, 2023

Great snapshot of the options for your super. The bottom line is the needs of an individual. I’m a property investor and use the funds from smsf to pay off the properties outside the smsf, which will be sold when the time is right and the money invested back into smsf. Try to do it with the other super funds.

August 24, 2023

The SMSFA had an independent uni analyse fees a year or so ago and concluded that a member balance of around $200k was a break even for fees. The % fees of assets under management which Rob refers to in his reply make the big difference to the few hundred dollars listed above.

There's a lot of other considerations other than fees of course.

Jim Bonham
August 24, 2023

Focussing on fees in isolation distracts dangerously from the real issue: it’s the net return after fees and tax that feeds you.

August 24, 2023

The question that I scratch my head over is what “price” do you put on investment management professionalism, in making the SMSF vs industry fund decision? Whilst a SMSF benefits from flexibility (and the resulting peace of mind), I suspect many SMSF trustees would be aghast at the lower gross investment return that they actually receive based on their “bespokeness” than a professional investment manager (eg industry fund) will generally return. Then the question becomes does the investment manager’s margin (over the SMSF trustee’s return) exceed the administration fee they charge.

Michael Rice
August 24, 2023

The SMSF fees are for the fund, so are spread amongst members.
Many APRA-regulated funds also charge an asset-based fee to cover their operational costs.

August 25, 2023

Yes it's not effective comparison to just look at admin fees. When you add indirect costs (including asset based fees) taken out of unit price or crediting rate the comparison will show the complete opposite outcomes.

Avg SMSF is $790K so $3k = 0.38% pa (0.15% at $1.2K). Even assuming nominal investment-based costs (or 0.10% asset based fee via and ETF) this is better than most MySuper or ISA

NOTE: SMSF Trustee don't typically grow their balances to such an extent because they like to give it away

August 24, 2023

Annika - from someone who runs a SMSF but who spent many years inside the Industry...

The Super gravy train is fed by % charges of "Assets Under Mgt or Advice" whereas the actual costs of admin incurred by any Industry or Retail Fund, have almost zero to do with the size of an individual fund. Those costs are pretty much "per account" and I could make a strong case that "costs per account" are actually higher for small accounts than big accounts. To some extent, that is recognised within the Industry by Annual Charges + % based fees

Where the numbers depart, is for modest to large individual funds - no brainer that a SMSF of $1m+ with no "asset based charges" is cheaper to run than the same $1m in an Industry or Retail Fund - does not mean it is better, but it is certainly cheaper. Aware of many SMSF's where their Admin/Tax/Audit costs are less than 15bp to which of course you have to add Trustee time, advice etc

Bottom line, you are 100% correct that charges feed straight through to returns. As they are the one component in Super over which you have a degree to control, not a bad idea to understand the alternatives!!

August 25, 2023

Practical example. Our 2-member SMSF pays SuperConcepts plus auditor and regulator $3400 (0.15%) in total for $2.3m in pension phase. The SMSF can grow without paying more, unlike an industry fund. We have $1m in Aware, costing $9000 p.a. If we merged our SMSF pensions into Aware, we would pay 0.85%. i.e. $16,100 more than SMSF fees with annual increases until we deplete non-super investments in 15+ years.

In return, Aware would provide nothing extra beyond making investment decisions. Is it is worth $1300 more than our SMSF every.single.month for that? We really should consolidate into the SMSF, making us potentially $2000 per month better off, but the missus questions my investment decisions.

August 25, 2023

John, I suspect you are comparing platform plus investment fees in Aware with accounting and auditing fees in your SMSF. You really need to add on the underlying investment fees in the SMSF to get a comparative figure. If you do not have investment fees in your SMSF because you invest directly and solely in listed shares then a fee comparison with Aware is not particularly useful, because Aware invest in much more than that asset class. Better then to compare performance between Aware and your SMSF, after fees, keeping in mind that they probably have different asset allocations and risk levels.

August 25, 2023

My wife and I are in a very similar position using Super Concepts. We invest directly in Aussie blue chip shares with a small amount in term deposits (for pension withdrawals between dividend payments.) The shares have followed the All Ords pretty closely for the last 20 years. This compares very well with most super funds after the fees and taxes.
Keeping it simple seems to be pretty worthwhile.

October 02, 2023

it is a bonus if the wife has different ideas about how the super is invested as this can diversify.

My wife is the same which means over the course of the superannuation life, two different approaches, both hopefully that will be effective


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