Financial advice firm impersonated client to her super fund, banking royal commission hears
Financial adviser Sam Henderson leaves the banking royal commission hearing in Melbourne. (AAP: Stefan Postles)
A public servant was impersonated while receiving financial advice from a high-profile financial planner, the banking royal commission has heard.
- Financial planner Sam Henderson’s advice would have lost client $500,000 in super
- Client Donna McKenna was impersonated by a Henderson Maxwell employee
- The employee was not fired, Ms McKenna was refunded nearly $5,000 in fees
Donna McKenna, who is a Fair Work commissioner, told the inquiry she went to firm Henderson Maxwell after seeing its chief executive Sam Henderson in the media.
Ms McKenna said if she had followed the advice Mr Henderson gave her, she would have lost $500,000.
Mr Henderson followed Ms McKenna in the witness stand.
The financial planner is a regular media personality, with a show on Sky News Business channel and articles published in the Australian Financial Review and Money Magazine.
Mr Henderson’s appearance before the commission did not get off to a good start, when it was revealed he does not have a Master of Commerce degree, as stated in a 2016 financial services guide from the firm.
The hearing was then played a damning recording of a Henderson Maxwell employee impersonating Ms McKenna in several phone calls to her super fund.
In the recordings, the employee can be heard giving Ms McKenna’s membership number and the State Authorities Superannuation Scheme (SASS) representative refers to her as Donna.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Rowena Orr QC grilled Mr Henderson over the impersonation.
“Was that your customer service officer impersonating Ms McKenna?” Ms Orr asked.
“Yes,” Mr Henderson replied.
During the recording, the Henderson Maxwell employee put the call on hold.
Mr Henderson said he could not recall if he spoke to the staff member during that time.
“Potentially, but I can’t answer with any certainty,” he said.
“I can say though, for the record, that I was not aware of the impersonation, I was quite disappointed … it was inexcusable.”
The inquiry heard up to six phone calls were made to the SASS super fund by Henderson Maxwell’s customer service officer.
Mr Henderson said the information his employee had provided him about Ms McKenna’s account was inconsistent with the information given to him by Ms McKenna.
Mr Henderson refunded Ms McKenna the nearly $5,000 in upfront advice fees she had paid.
The customer service officer who impersonated Ms McKenna was not fired.
‘All but threw the advice in the bin at that stage’
Earlier, Ms McKenna gave evidence that she emphatically told Mr Henderson she was not interested in starting a self-managed superannuation fund during an initial meeting but he pressed the issue.
“I was almost laughing at him at this stage,” Ms McKenna said.
“I said words to the effect, ‘Oh look Sam, if there’s some secret financial planners’ business about having an [SMSF], you can put it in your advice’.”
Ms McKenna’s retirement savings were held in two public service super accounts.
When Mr Henderson presented Ms McKenna with a financial advice statement just over a month later, the recommendations revolved around opening an SMSF and moving money into Henderson Maxwell managed funds.
If Ms McKenna had followed the advice and transferred the funds to the SMSF, she would have forfeited $500,000 in a deferred retirement benefit payment from SASS.
Ms McKenna described the advice as “risible”.
“My initial skim reading of the statement of advice suggest it was so poor, that all but threw the advice in the bin at that stage,” she said.
Henderson labelled McKenna ‘nitpicky’ following complaint
Ms McKenna made a complaint to the Financial Planning Association (FPA) about the quality of the advice.
Despite complaining in March last year, the complaint is still not finalised.
“It seems it is going to take a royal commission before I can find out what happened to my complaint to the FPA,” she said.
The inquiry heard Mr Henderson responded to the complaint in a lengthy letter to the FPA, describing Ms McKenna as “nitpicky” and her complaint as a “barrage of aggressive and presumptive accusations”.
In March this year, Mr Henderson proposed a deal with the FPA that would see him admit to multiple failings in the financial advice he provided to Ms McKenna and agree to implement a number of changes at the firm.
The deal would have also required the FPA to agree to not publish Mr Henderson’s name in relation to the proceedings.
The FPA wanted an additional provision that would prevent Mr Henderson appearing in the media for a year.
That proposal was not acceptable to Mr Henderson and the complaint has not yet been formally resolved.
Ms McKenna told the hearing she would have preferred to maintain her privacy but felt it was her “public duty” to come forward and share her experience.
“If someone with my educational and occupational background hits a wall … what hope are other people going to have?” she said.
The commission hearings resume on Thursday, with Financial Planning Association chief executive Dante De Gori due to give evidence.