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Industry funds capitalise on Commission wins

[Editor's note: Eva Scheerlinck is the CEO of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST), the peak representative body for the profit-to-members superannuation sector. Industry funds have come through the Royal Commission largely unscathed, in complete contrast to the retail fund industry. It is a stunning success for industry funds, a traditional target of Coalition governments, and the Commission’s findings will reshape the superannuation landscape forever.

For example, the largest industry fund, AustralianSuper, reported over $1 billion of new customer inflows in each of July and August 2018, double the same period last year. Gains were mainly transfers from retail funds. It's therefore an opportune time to hear what the CEO is thinking. This is a transcript of her introduction at the 2018 AIST Super Investment Conference in Cairns on 5 September 2018.]


It’s almost unbelievable we’ve had to defend our outperformance over retail super funds. Our statistics have been questioned, as has our asset mix. The establishment and use of collective vehicles like IFM and ISPT have also been attacked. Decades of being on the defensive and yet continuously delivering results for our members.

But now it turns out our strongest response to our detractors has been our success. In the last four months or so, there has been a significant shift in the discourse. The Productivity Commission affirmed the profits-to-members sector's consistent outperformance and for once people listened. The message was freely accepted as fact.

Then came Round 5 of the Royal Commission’s hearings into superannuation containing a 223-page report with a strong focus on fund governance. Yet there was no significant criticism of equal representation, nor the role of unions, nor employer groups. There was no mention of the need for independent directors on our boards.

[Editor's note: 'equal representation' is where the trustees of a fund come equally from employer representatives and representatives of the fund members, usually nominated by related unions.]

Instead, structural and governance issues in the retail sector were called out. Indeed, the Royal Commission proved to be a damning indictment on the retail super funds with the Commission concluding that it was open to find that eight retail funds and related parties covering almost the entire retail sector may have engaged in over 150 separate instances of misconduct. These ranged from fee gouging, charging commissions banned under FOFA, cross-selling members into higher fee products to the snail-paced transfer of members to MySuper products to preserve both grandfathered commissions and fees-for-no-service.

The report noted that ASIC expects that compensation due to members will top $1 billion for problems relating to fees-for-no-service alone. In sharp contrast, the Commission identified two instances of possible misconduct involving profit-to-member funds out of a total of more than 50 such funds.

So we were not surprised two weeks ago amid a leadership spill in Canberra, and a new ministry being sworn in, that the Government conceded defeat on its governance legislation requiring a third of independent directors on profit-for-member boards and an independent chair. Only this morning came the announcement that the Government is also abandoning raising the retirement age to 70. Both these policy areas have been at the heart of AIST advocacy for many years and we are relieved to see some common sense come into the discourse.

Many battles have for now been won

So many of the things we have been staunchly defending seem at least for now to have been won. We are not, however, naïve enough to think that many challenges don’t lie ahead still. As everyone here would be well aware, bull markets do not last forever. While investment returns to members of profit-to-member funds have far exceeded expectations over the past year or two, this paradoxically raises the likelihood of a market downturn soon.

Another challenge for profit-to-member funds is responding to an increased focus from both the media and some super fund members on how funds are responding to ESG issues such as climate change. Increasingly, funds will need to provide more transparency around ESG investments.

Compulsory super has been around for over 25 years, and we are seeing how the unique collective approach in the profit-to-members sector is delivering value for members. Just yesterday, IFM Investors which is owned by 27 industry funds announced it was giving investors a 7.5% rebate on management fees after better-than-expected returns.

The values-based leadership at the heart of decision-making in our industry, where member outcomes are always front and centre, delivers results. But we are not complacent. The Royal Commission has signalled it will consider recommending a range of radical reforms to superannuation in its final report due next February. It has also posed some important questions.

Trustees have a special and privileged job

With regard to governance, the closing submission asks whether there are structures in the retail sector that raise inherent problems for trustees being able to meet their fiduciary obligations. AIST's answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’. Being a superannuation trustee is a special and privileged job. Trustees are the stewards of other people’s money. A trustee director cannot be focussed on returning profits to members when he or she is also having to return profits to shareholders or to prop up related parties. You cannot serve two masters and look after members' best interests at the same time. Retail trustees with their independent directors were unable to protect members from fee gouging and other misconduct. And the regulators have proved themselves unable to stop the bad behaviour.

Therefore, AIST believes there is no place for retail funds in MySuper where members in a compulsory super system have the right to expect the highest level of protection. We will be advocating this position to the Commission, to the regulators and to the Parliament. There exists now a real opportunity for us to capitalise on our outperformance, our governance structure that puts members first and to take our market lead to a whole new level.

 

Eva Scheerlinck is the CEO of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST). Graham Hand, Managing Editor of Cuffelinks, chaired a session at the 2018 AIST Conference.

7 Comments
Paul Stik
September 15, 2018

Further confirmation of the slant of this sheet.
Sycophants for the Industry funds.
Australia Super has a massive influx due primarily to forced member enrolment.

Peter C
September 16, 2018

We have to face the overwhelming facts, over the past 20 years industry super has clearly outperformed for profit super funds. What this means is that ultimately members of industry funds will be better off in retirement than members of retail funds. That is the bottom line.

There should be no surprisesabout this: given over 80% of investments are in the same assets, i.e. Australian shares, international shares, bonds, cash and listed property. If you are investing in the same assets then the lower fees of the industry funds will mean they will out-perform in the longer term (Super by it's very definition is long term).

In my case, I made a conscience decision to switch into a industry fund several years ago, and a couple of years ago, move into my funds extremely low cost indexing option. It's not just a mantra, fees really do matter.

Warren Buffet get's it and when he dies the vast majority of his estate will be placed in index funds, because of the lower fees.

In the end it's all about long term performance, because that is what matters for my retirement, and as a group Industry funds perform better than retail funds.

Jimmy
September 14, 2018

Seems that the Industry Super Funds have been hit with a wet lettuce once again. There has been a convergence on fees between retail & industry super funds since the MySuper legislation has come in. In fact many of the Retail MySuper accounts have lower fees than their Industry Super Fund counterparts. But let's just ignore that....

There is also the issue of performance reporting. Ms Sheerlinck touched on it in her speech and brushed it off as sour grapes from a vanquished competitor, but any decent analysis shows that most of the Industry Super Funds invest in ways that would've been called into question at the Royal Commission if they had been done by the Retail Sector.

The hotly contested 'Balanced' fund space is dominated by a Top 10 that has asset allocations that look more like Growth or even High Growth funds. That's like having a V8 SuperCar or F1 rocket competing against a 6 cyl family sedan. It should be a disgrace if they didnt outperform.

Then there's the unlisted investments where you cant get information about what they are invested in, who they are invested with, not enough transparency.

And there's the question of crediting rates versus daily unit pricing & marking to market. We've seen what happens when you have large pools of unlisted assets subject to 'Trustees valuation' in troubled markets. The Trustees have kept the value of the investment at book value for up to 3 yrs before being forced to reduce the value of the holdings. Importantly, they market the performance of the fund on the basis of those asset values. So the competitors show negative or at least lower returns, members flock to the 'better performing' funds only to suffer when the Trustees can no longer avoid revaluing assets to market value.

And lets not get started on the insurance offers within many of the Industry Super Funds. Maybe in the current insurance round at the RC when they are focusing on Group & Direct insurance we will see some attention given to this, but I wont hold my breath. Then you have some funds changing the definition of their TPD cover from an "unlikely to return to work" to the much tougher to satisfy "never, ever returning to work" and selling it as a "win for members because premiums aren't increasing this year". Or changing a policy so that lump sums arent paid out in many cases and they will drip feed you the money over 5 years with your condition being re-assessed continually to see if they are happy to keep paying you. If these two examples had been implemented by AMP or Comminsure or Clearview we would have heard about it by now. It wouldve been front and centre at the Royal Commission and the media would've been all over it.

Bob
September 16, 2018

Yep,my accountant / financial planner advised that Australian Super's "Balanced" fund bordered between Growth and High Growth fund allocation, hence the returns. watch out when the market dips.

Raymond Page
September 16, 2018

Jimmy,

On the matter of the risk profiles for industry funds verses that of retail funds, I did analysis of the largest retail funds 'Balanced' option and came to the same conclusion you did about industry funds!

Asset allocations for some retail balanced funds are just as aggressive as those for industry funds - they have had to adopt higher levels of risk in order to generate net returns (i.e. after fees) that are even passable!

Gary
September 13, 2018

Hi Graham, how can the industry funds be the enemy of the retail fund groups when they are also their biggest clients? Is it another example of the conflicts and misalignment with vertical integration when the asset management business can be looking to protect and grow the assets of industry fund members while the retail platform related part of the business is engaged in an expensive war to undermine the industry funds position as the default provider? It’s a very strange industry indeed!

Frankie
September 13, 2018

The industry funds escaped the RC too easily. There was a massive focus on retail fees, but consider one example in industry funds. Most charge $1.50 a week as admin fee, or $78 a year. And many members have small balances. It might sound like a small fee but it's 3.9% on $2,000. It eats away at balances when contributions stop. One of many things not explored.

 

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