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Fixing advice needs for retirees frozen in the headlights

Research tells us that those retirees who seek and receive advice feel in more control of their money and have better financial outcomes. But those who might benefit the most often aren't seeking it.

The number of planners is shrinking, the price is increasing (now around $3,500- $4,000 for a comprehensive plan) and trust, in the wake of the Royal Commission into Banking and Finance, is still low. With increasing numbers of Baby Boomers heading into retirement, the need for advice has arguably never been greater.

Retirement income rules are complex. The mix of age pension entitlement and super drawdown is hard to understand. Then layer in all possible options and strategies (Bring Forward, Carry Forward, Downsizing, Younger Spouse, etc.) and it remains difficult for the average retiree to maximise wealth without professional support. A $4,000 investment with no guarantee of a return on this money is a hard sell.

And then there's fintech ...

Let’s explore this dilemma. To test the proposition that the advice offering available to retirees is not delivering, I shared the following question with three experienced industry experts. Here’s how they responded.

Q1. How would you describe the state of Australia’s advice industry?

David Orford (founder Financial Synergy, Optimum Pensions):

“It’s adversary and unfair. We need more advisers, not fewer, and more efficiency.”

Jeremy Duffield (founder SuperEd, Retirement Essentials):

“It’s clearly not currently up to the task. Sure, the affluent can buy good service through talented financial planners - if they can find them. But the bulk of the population struggles to get the help it needs at an affordable cost.”

Mark Hoven (Consultant, Adviser Ratings):

“It’s at a turning point for the better after an extraordinary period of sustained regulation, over-regulation and multiple changes in direction.”

It’s no secret that the adviser sector has been through a hard time, but it’s fair to assume that by now remedies would have been put in place. The spike in decumulation due to retiring Baby Boomers (called a ‘silver tsunami’ by ASIC’s Danielle Press) should hardly have come as a surprise. This has been projected for decades.

Why we haven't found a better advice model

The Royal Commission into Banking and Finance delivered its report in February 2019 just as we were about to enter a global pandemic. There have been four years to address problems.

And along the way, fintech has been hailed as a possible ‘saviour’ to truly scale advice. But where is this at? Why have we yet to move towards a better advice model that suits the needs of a majority of Australians?

There are a few reasons.

As the number of potential clients increases rapidly, supply has gone backwards. The post-Royal Commission divestment of advice divisions by banks and other organisations is a factor. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of advisers and type of advice that it is commercially feasible to deliver. Most advisers admit their service is not really viable unless they are dealing with a high net worth individual. They are probably right. For retirees who will be on a full age pension, the average price of advice is almost 10% of their combined annual income. Will they really risk this amount?

The most recent thorough investigation into retirement income, the Retirement Income Review (2020) noted the need for more support for those hitting the decumulation phase of super. The consequence was the Retirement Income Covenant (1 July 2022) which required super fund trustees to take a more active role in the explanation of decumulation to their members. They were also expected to take responsibility for guiding members during their retirement transition.

On 18 July 2023, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) shared a damning report on the job that super funds have done in the first 12 months in assisting retirees to transition. According to the report there had been an overall lack of progress, coupled with insufficient urgency. 

And then there’s the overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations of fintech. We’re still waiting for fintech solutions to come galloping over the horizon. Yes, technology probably can deliver easier, cost-effective answers. But the theory of ‘build it and they will come’ hasn’t quite worked. T

here are probably a few reasons for this. Trust remains a factor, whether it’s trust in humans or algorithms. Complexity is another issue. Retiree needs are so nuanced that there needs to be at least a part-human component to fully understand and explain options for individuals and their family situation.

Industry experts believe that regulatory uncertainty has also played a role.

Orford says that:

“there is a large role for fintech, but it needs the appropriate regulation.”

Duffield notes that:

“… the investment in tech has been stymied by the regulatory uncertainty.”

And Hoven believes that:

“…a significant additional level of spending is required in the advice technology sector.”

So here we are with far too few qualified advisers to serve the ballooning needs of the 800 people who are entering retirement every day.

David Orford offers a back of envelope calculation:

“Let’s say there are 15,000 advisers now, with say 100 clients, that’s 1.5 million availability to support 26 million people. Yes, clients who are couples will mean that the need for appointments is slightly reduced, but not by that much.”

Who can step up to help retirees?

So who (or what) is ready to service the needs of the three million superannuants who will retire over the next 10 years?

Despite their poor performance in implementing the Retirement Income Covenant, super funds seem to be confident that they are up to this challenge. In a recent article (in the The Australian Financial Review), Paul Schroder, Head of Australia’s largest fund, Australian Super, discussed the possibility of funds (alongside government) delivering a ‘single retirement income payment', a mix of age pension, super drawdowns and household equity.

But are super funds really up to this much more sophisticated solution delivered at scale, if they haven’t got the basics of better ‘information, advice and offerings’ under control yet? And will retail funds, banks and other industry providers sit quietly by while industry super funds secure an even bigger slice of the retirement income cake? It doesn’t seem likely.

Some possible solutions

To return to the question posed in the title of this article, along with Jeremy Duffield, David Orford and Mark Hoven, I agree that our current advice model is not working well. And I doubt it will be solved by offering more of the same just for those who can afford it.

The solution is probably a hybrid model, allowing fintech to do a lot of the preliminary work and a ‘human’ component for specific, episodic general advice consultations to cover the basics of retirement income planning, including pension eligibility, decumulation options, mortgage management and tax implications.

Mark Hoven emphasises the importance of the need for intervention at preservation age.

“If’s there’s one time above others for the need for advice, it’s around age 55, at the beginning of the Transition to Retirement strategy period. For those already in retirement, it’s arguably too late.”

I don’t agree that it’s too late for retirees as there are many trigger points post-55 that require knowledge of the rules and support to help retirees properly compare the pros and cons of their various options. But whenever advice is most needed is not the point.

The cost issue

The burning issue is the huge gap between the $4,000 personal advice offering available from too few advisers to a limited number of wealthy upper quintile clients … and a more affordable, say $500, single issue consultation which could serve hundreds of thousands more Australians in need.

The ultimate irony is that the majority of those who have sought advice are extremely positive about it. They typically report higher confidence and better outcomes. Surely it’s up to everyone in the industry to ensure that this experience is available to the majority of (non) wealthy individuals. 

Many who enter retirement funded by a mix of age pension and super, but who are so overwhelmed by the complexity of rules, are frozen in the headlights, wondering what to do next.


Kaye Fallick is Founder of STAYINGconnected website and SuperConnected enews. She has been a commentator on retirement income and ageing demographics since 1999. This article is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any person.


Norman Plaut
August 26, 2023

There is no substitute for financial advice beyond your own practical experiences.
I’ve been a self funded retiree for the last 28 years.At first I was in a retail fund through a financial which was expensive,advisor took a cut fund took a cut at the end ,all the tax savings went in fees. So I transferred to a smsf 12 yrs ago. I am not a multimillionaire with huge assets. I’ve learnt by making my own mistakes ,investing conservatively,defensively and for growth. I’m daily active in a small way,buying and selling stocks only after careful consideration.I’ve got my own style and only invest in certain sectors of the market. This way I might lose gains but also avoid losses in those areas.
An advisor will never be able to replace your own instincts.If you have an advisor you will tend to blame him or her for losses,which wouldn’t be fair because they don’t know your tolerances. It makes no difference on advice fee amount .If it’s small you might try it but if it doesn’t work out your feelings are just the same.
There should be two types of advice. The first is purely to evaluate whether you’re eligible for a pension or Cshc
The second is how and where to invest your assets. Without practical experience you have two alternatives an industry or retail fund or index etfs. For these you don’t need an expensive advisor or even any.
I hope my personal insight is of interest.

August 29, 2023

Thanks Norman, 28 years - wow!

Your comments make sense. But another dimension to a solid plan is Cashflow. How do you determine how much you can spend each year - without worrying you could run out later, or if the cost of living goes up a lot?

Perhaps it's ok for you personally (if your wealth is a high multiple of your annual spending). But this gets hard and scary for those of us whose living costs are more than 3% of their nestegg each year. This is where expert help can be helpful. Spending down savings and making them last, and working around the means-tested Age Pension can be really tricky.

Jim Hennington, Actuary
August 22, 2023

I have developed and offer a retirement planning service that's highly cost effective. We more than halved the fees by focussing on strategy, modelling and stress-testing NOT financial product recommendations.

In the past, I've run Fintech projects and found that 'AdviceTech' struggles to do more than the simplest scope of advice. e.g. asset allocation of an existing portfolio.

I've also run personal product advice practices and I agree - the red tape has become disfunctional and it's now not very viable for 'mum and dad' clients.

The strategy modelling we provide gets 5* reviews. It includes everything the Age Pension asset test and income tests take into account. Clients tend to be educated and financially literate.

But many of those who'd benefit the most aren't seeking it. I believe this is due to low trust levels in the industry, and a low general understanding of what financial planning needs to consider and the value of it. This is a major problem for the industry - as the people who need and benefit from support aren't seeking it ! People only realise the value of advice once they've experienced it for themselves.

August 22, 2023

"strategy, modelling and stress-testing" ... "includes everything the Age Pension asset test and income tests":

This would be a good place and time to write how your "retirement planning service" is superior to:

'Investment return and withdrawal noise swamps the best laid planners plans.' That is, what is useful beyond the simple?

Jim Hennington, Actuary
August 24, 2023

Hi Dudley.

It sounds like a good idea for me to explain further. I'll get in touch with Firstlinks.

The calculator you linked to looks like a pretty good one but you are right, investment return uncertainty (and lifespan uncertainty and withdrawal level choices) swamp most other issues.

With our approach we calculate the probability of any particular set of decisions working out. We do this using similar techniques to insurance companies. This lets people make decisions with confidence. E.g. "You can spend $50,000 per year and be 95% confident it'll last for life. Or you can spend $70,000 per year and be 50% confident it'll last for life". Each person tends to focus on different trade-offs to each other. Another is when to retire vs what lifestyle can be achieved.

We also hold people's hands through the process. When online calculators become sophisticated, there's a big learning curve to understand the inputs, outputs and all the assumptions that apply to each users detailed scenario. By working through it with our clients, we can explain things and answer questions and stand by the results. This gives people enormous comfort.


August 30, 2023

"calculator you linked to looks like a pretty good one"

It has major fault, common to others:
Does not accumulate unspent income in a personal savings / investment balance.

August 20, 2023

More accurate terminology would be a start.

"decumulation" / pension phase / account = disbursement phase / account.
Super allows lump sum withdrawals up to entire member balance, therefore not exclusively a pension.

"Retirement Income" = Retirement [Capital] Withdrawals / Cashflow.
Earnings in super are taxed and thus capitalised within super.
Withdrawals are then of capital within super.
Capital withdrawals [from super to personal account], like all return of capital, are not taxed.
Calling it "Income" invites double taxation.

August 20, 2023

If the government rules around Super & Centrelink pension requirements were simplified & not continually changing this would help us pensioners.

August 21, 2023

Agree Phil - whilst there is a case to be made for tweaking legislation to ensure better targeting of both super concessions and Centrelink benefits, the myriad of rules and exceptions are way too confusing. There is a need for a review of the actual rules and a call for both streamlining and some financial literacy support for those needing to understand them.

August 20, 2023

The other consideration is that continual government tweaking and intervention has made the system more and more complicated - when to start a pension, $1.7m caps, proposed $3m cap, treatment of death benefits for tax, super outside a will etc etc etc. This advice will become more and more necessary as people move into the pension mode of their lives.

I pay for advice on SMSF and while it maybe 'expensive' it is professional and I think necessary.

August 19, 2023

The obvious problem is any time you have peoples lifetime savings as a starting point, the temptation to skim the customer a bit is too great for too many. The regulations were a result of too many scam artists, which the industry couldn't control. Sorry, but tough.... Not many tears shed. I also feel that some reasonably tailored AI programs would suit the vast majority of people - honestly any form or questionnaire a financial advisor can offer can be replicated by a computer and the formulaic options an advisor would present could be equally well presented by the computer. Probably even better as there would be less human (greed) overlay. I am sure you could do an online survey to estimate your "risk profile". Sites like Morningstar already offer very simple (low cost) example ETF bundles to match anyone from very safe/conservative to rather risky orientation. If you have enough assets that you won't qualify for any Centrelink payments, the value-add of an advisor around Centrelink which is always raised as a reason to use an advisor is a moot point. If you do qualify for Centrelink, the value proposition of this extra advice is limited by the cost of the advice. Bit of a catch-22 problem.

Nigel Stamp
August 18, 2023

People want advice for nothing. The regulators, government and consumer bodies have debased the merits of sound advice. Advisors are highly skilled, knowledgeable and well qualified. Why people think advice should only cost $100 when the outcome can be significant is staggering.
You’ll be fooling yourself if you think Australian super and other industry funds are going to act in your best interest. Every member there is paying a fee for services whether availed or not, yet advisors are unable to do the same. Advisors are required to hold specialist qualifications yet if you speak to staff at an industry fund they can provide you the same advice without the qualifications.
The Royal Commission was a rort to hand total control of retirement savings to the Industry Funds, trade unions and Labour Party.

August 18, 2023

"The number of planners is shrinking, the price is increasing (now around $3,500- $4,000 for a comprehensive plan)..."

I assume that is for one person and per year (on going advice)?

"For retirees who will be on a full age pension, the average price of advice is almost 10% of their combined annual income. Will they really risk this amount?

If they are getting a full pension they either have no additional assets or income or they are just below the full pension reduction threshold for a couple (own home) which is presently assets of $451,500 or combined income $9,360 p.a.
If no additional income or assets it's doubtful they need financial investment advice and if assets are at the limit their actual income is probably over $64,000 p.a., assuming full couples pension and a 5% return on their asset base.

Advice is probably still too expensive or superfluous (if no real assets)

Stick it in an industry fund?!

August 18, 2023

Hi James, thanks for these thoughts - but is advice really superfluous for a single- issue chat like downsizing a family home and using proceeds via super rules like Downsizer contributions? Are these rules that easy to follow? (I would say not). So who will support such a hypothetical couple to both understand the rules and make the right decisions, including knowing how long they can 'park' profits? It's not worth $4k - but definitely worth paying accountant or single issue adviser to have such a strategy checked and the numbers run? cheers, Kaye

August 20, 2023

"So who will support such a hypothetical couple to both understand the rules and make the right decisions":

A computer model could. "Retirement Calculators" come close. Simplest "AI".

More encompassing but more usable systems will be produced in time.

Government could induce more rapid development by offering a prize of a few $M for a better retirement AI model.

August 18, 2023

The comment above regarding the payment of $500 for a single issue consultation makes sense to me. I am with an industry fund and wanted to alter one item which I could do on line, but I thought I should seek advice from a financial planner to ensure I could proceed correctly.
I contacted a local independent planner who said it would cost me $5000!!!!! I said I only need one point clarified with a yes or no answer.
I sought advice elsewhere for free.

August 18, 2023

Kevin - unfortunately Financial Planning nowadays unfortunately is a heavily regulated industry. We are subject to: -

4 separate pieces of legislation and
oversight or regulation through 8 different bodies

All personal advice must be provided in the form of what is known as a "Statement Of Advice (SOA)". As financial advice is significantly regulated all initial advice must be completed in this format, as well as adhere to a 7 step best interest duty & ethical requirements under separate 12 part ethics code. Hence even if your local independent planner wanted to provide what may have been simple advice for you, they need to go through an extensive process to meet their legal obligations, hence why they quoted the cost of $5,000 to you. This article clearly misses this fact - without the law being changed it won't matter how many financial planners there are. Super Funds are not equipped to handle what will be bespoke requirements of their membership. To now they have had it easy, compulsory super contributions have rolled in, investment markets have been healthy for 15+ years - so "Billy The Goose" could have really run a super fund

August 18, 2023

I recall about 10 years ago a fin advisor saying
"I can organise your finances so you get at least $1 of centrelink pension". So that says it all.
These bits of the above also say it all :
"It’s no secret that the adviser sector has been through a hard time, but it’s fair to assume that by now remedies would have been put in place." Is that really true ?? I don't think it’s fair to assume that !!
"will retail funds, banks and other industry providers sit quietly by while industry super funds secure an even bigger slice of the retirement income cake"
"endless trailing commissions"

Ken Chenery
August 17, 2023

I would rather pay a significant sum for advice that was in my interest, and not designed to set up endless trailing commisssions, which was my experience, naively, for years before regulatory change.

Tone def
August 17, 2023

The fact is this; the advice industry has been destroyed by regulation and the regulators.

The endless compliance achieved nothing but made advice unaffordable, undesirable, and resulted in advisor numbers going into freefall. What a joke.

As for Fintech (Robo advice) what people don’t understand is that this is illegal! Under the law an advisor must “consider” the persons personal circumstances.

Consider - think carefully about (something), typically before making a decision.

But a computer cannot “consider”. It just follows an algorithm. It does not think about, ponder, consider, contemplate etc. It does not and cannot do any of these things.

David M
August 19, 2023

The programming of said computer will be well considered and capable of branching down different logic paths depending on each user’s stated situation

Tone def
August 21, 2023

The computer programmer can do this or that, but whatever they do it will be out of step with the law - until the law is changed that is.

Mark Hoven
August 17, 2023

“The ultimate irony is that the majority of those who have sought advice are extremely positive about it. They typically report higher confidence and better outcomes.” This message is so important for consumers but sadly often gets lost in other more negative and unhelpful media narratives.

August 17, 2023

The cheapest and most effective (and possibly hardest to achieve) solution is to improve financial literacy and engagement in childhood - whether that be inside the house or at school.

Alternatively, do we just accept that there will be people who are prepared to look after themselves by getting the "right" education while others just let life happen to them (with the negative financial consequences that come with it)?

David Orford
August 18, 2023

Quite right Neil. The Thoresen Inquiry in UK said as much and ASIC surveys have found that we Australians don't know much about the financial things that buzz around our heads - credit cards, bank loans, car purchase, etc - so many things that can happen to use vulnerable human beans (?) and we are so ill-prepared. Has the ëducation system"let us down?
The Barefooted Investor has some good ideas for what to teach in school - BUT more should be online

August 17, 2023

Major problem is financial literacy of many adults, and lack of engagement of many with financial matters. Whilst some of my clients, mainly over 70's, are savvy enough to use bank apps and other IT-services, many (including my wife and several of her friends) don't even use internet banking. These good people are sometimes comfortable to discuss things with a real person. FINTECH is unlikely to offer solutions. Me, just a grumpy old man deleted from the FAR.

August 20, 2023

Some great comments and insights thanks Graham, Kaye et al. Great reading.

These ubiquitous themes (cost of financial advice cost and how best to decumulate) have been a perennial topic of discussion and a thorn in the soft financial flank for a lot of folks.

On a massively positive side I’d say this issue presents as a great opportunity for an astute financial engineering outfit to get hold of this and give it some ‘welly’ and a real ‘shake-up’ to give the market what it is screaming out for – a simple user-friendly set of financial outcomes [a la traffic light green, yellow and red symbolism] that I’m sure would suit 95% of the advice market.

The game of football (soccer), to use a topical theme, is enjoyed and watched by billions because of its simplicity (without being too simple) which brings joy which brings engagement, is relatively straightforward to understand (off side rule is probably the hardest to understand for the uninitiated), you don’t need a lot of infrastructure or expensive equipment (i.e. fees) to play so you get ‘good bang for buck’ (investment) in outcome even by those who are not regular participants and fans (non esoteric audience) but who can enjoy and relate to the spectacle of recent World Cup events.

A newspaper headline I’d like to see: Vale the “Nastiest problem in finance…..”.

Picking up on an earlier contributors comments re ‘getting financially literate’, another Nobel Laureate, Professor Paul C Merton of ICPM fame, also comments on this issue and uses several relatable analogies.

The (topical) link below provides some good insights. At +2 hours you do need to tackle in chunks if interested. Some timeline reference points provided to highlight 2 salient points:

1. 1:38:30. What degree of education is required? Using the simple car analogy Professor Merton makes the point that we should “Design our products based on what people know, not expect people to become educated to understand our products”. Simply put we don’t need to know the detailed engineering behind these wonderful inventions i.e. ICE [Internal Combustion Engine] or PHEV [Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle] cars we only need to drive them properly . Why do busy people need to know about things beyond the basics. Make it so that ‘the heavy lifting’ is already part of the [traffic light green, yellow, red system]. Just like we always learn in 3’s [our ABC’s and 1,2,3’s] so should financial advice be simplified (without be too simple as a wise person once said).
2. 1:03:00 Identifying with cash flow NOT a lump sum. Sort of Retirement Income Covenant [RIC] stuff. We all know how to accumulate but decumulation annuities [timeline 1:25:35] remains a bit of ‘have a try and see how you go’ story.

My wife just bought a new telly and you need a degree in electronics to fly it. Why? I just need to know how to turn it on and navigate the channels. Ill leave the rest to the smart folks like John Logie Baird et al.

The time is right for some great Financial Disruptors to mobilise and become a financial ‘Disruptor for the Ages’. As my Scottish friend Tam reminds me, there must be a massive total addressable market for this innovation? It appears that the correct set of incentives is just not present whilst there is good money to be made by offering the well worn financial options that seem to pervade the industry at present.

It seems that it is time for the well worn principles of creative destruction, muda (eliminate waste and double handling) and kaizen (continuous improvement [2 great Japanese expressions from their dynamic car industry] to infiltrate this industry as well and to kick the tired worn out financial planning offers into touch and ‘reset’ to bring about long-overdue change to the financial industry that seems to be getting bogged down in relentless circular activity that benefits very few save selected outfits reaping big fees ($3.5t industry taking 1% in fees…..lets do the maths). They have had too many free kicks for too long. Time for the red card to make an appearance. Lets enjoy and learn some financial insights from the pending Sunday afternoon ‘beautiful game’ spectacle!


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