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When deciding whether an SMSF is right for you, you’re faced with your first question – is an individual or corporate trustee structure right for your SMSF?

When setting up an Self Managed Superannuation Fund (“SMSF”), you must appoint either a two or more individuals or a company to act as the trustee of your fund. The trustee structure you choose is critical for the long-term operation of your fund and will influence how your fund is administered and the cost of setting up and running your fund. It’s important to choose the Structure that best suits your needs and the needs of the other members of your fund.

Member and Trustee Requirements

Individual Trustee Structure

Under Superannuation Law, an individual trustee structure is that you cannot have a single member fund, you must have at least 2 members and a maximum of 4 members. Generally, subject to certain exceptions, all members must be trustees of the fund and all trustees must be members of the fund.

Typically, an individual trustee structure will incur lower costs than a corporate trustee structure particularly with a number of “online” administrators offering “free SMSF set-up” to establish an SMSF with individual trustees. However, these cost savings are often negated by the potential fees and difficulty involved with adding or removing a member, death of a member and when member’s circumstances change, which often outweigh the upfront cost savings. A prime example where a member’s circumstances change is often around succession planning, where a member is removed from the SMSF, for instance, death of a member or a marriage breakdown.

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Corporate Trustee Structure

While establishing your SMSF with individuals as trustees may save you a few dollars in the short term, the benefits of registering a corporate trustee for your SMSF far outweigh the short term savings. Here are the key reasons why we believe you should use a corporate trustee.

5 Key Reasons to use a Corporate Trustee

Asset protection/ Separation of assets

Having a corporate trustee reduces the risk of personal assets becoming intermingled with SMSF assets. Companies have limited liability, where a corporate trustee provides greater protection if the trustee is sued for damages.

ATO Penalties

If the complex superannuation laws are breached, administrative penalties may be levied on each trustee. Therefore, the trustees would each be liable individually for penalties incurred. This is a obvious advantage for corporate trustee which in the event of non compliance will be levied with one penalty as opposed to a penalty for each individual trustee.

Borrowing to purchase property

Corporate trustee is a must for both the SMSF trustee and bare trustee when purchasing property both for asset protection and also to satisfy the lenders borrowing criteria. In the current environment, many lenders will require a corporate trustee for the SMSF, and if allowed will limit the loan to value ration for the loan for individual trustees.

Succession upon death

A company continues indefinitely in the event of a member’s death, ensuring control of the Super Fund is always certain. This is an especially important factor when a member of the fund dies or become permanently incapacitated.

Ownership of SMSF Assets

Registering ownership of assets can be simpler for a corporate trustee rather than individual trustee. Further, when a member of an SMSF resigns or cease to be a member of an SMSF, no changes will need to be made with titles office or share registry whereas with an individual trustee, changes will need to be notified immediately.

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Current Trends

Due to the influx of online SMSF providers offering “free SMSF set-up” and the lack of advice of the benefits of corporate trustee, according to the Australian Taxation Office; over 95% of new SMSFs are established with an individual trustee rather than 5% with corporate trustee. Further, 78% of the more than 500,000 SMSFs had individual trustees at 30 June 2015. In my view, corporate trustee is always the best choice and more attention should be provided by the Regulator on these bewildering statistics, particularly in light of the five key benefits highlighted above. Any Accountants/ Advisors providing a recommendation of individual trustees should be made to justify this decision.

This trend can be seen to correlate with the increase of online providers in recent years which can include outsourcing accounting functions to foreign countries such as Sri Lanka or Vietnam to name a few. Effectively, many online providers focus on low cost SMSFs, however do not provide guidance/ advice on the best structure based on a clients individual situation.


SMSFs are all about “Strategy” – a key component of SMSF strategy is the structure chosen. It is important to consider the benefits in the long term of a corporate trustee structure and not the set up cost of a company. As identified, the benefits of a corporate trustee structure over the long term clearly outweigh the short term cost savings of an individual trustee structure. For me – its corporate trustee 100% of the time.

Ivan Filipovic is a leading SMSF Specialist Advisor with Redwood. Ivan has over 16 years provides a range of services across all sectors of Self Managed Superannuation, Property and Finance with an emphasis on long term wealth strategies. Ivan has been educating and coaching investors for over 15 years and has built a successful property portfolio with a number of positive geared properties across Australia. Ivan provides detailed strategies at https://redwoodadvisory.com.au/. Ivan is a Chartered Accountant, ASIC registered auditor, Mortgage Broker and Licensed Property Professional.

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