Half Of Pre-Retirees Risk Significant Shortfalls

Almost half of Australians between the ages of 50 and 70 are at risk of falling short of a comfortable retirement, according to new research released by MLC.

The research explored the thoughts and habits of the “forgotten” low super balance Boomers, and revealed nearly half (43 per cent) of those surveyed admitted to having a superannuation balance of less than $100,000.

Additionally, 33 per cent of this age group reported having $50,000 or less in their super account, falling extremely short of what is recommended a single retiree needs for a comfortable retirement (over $545,000).

Lara Bourguignon, General Manager of Customer Experience, Superannuation at MLC, believes that all Australians should enjoy retirement – regardless of their financial situation.

“Australia has a high level of poverty among retirees, and we believe that super is one of the greatest tools we have to change this.”

“While these results are concerning, we want to remind people in this age group that it’s not too late for them to take action and better understand their holistic wealth position as they prepare for retirement.”

Ms Bourguignon said there are a number of steps Australians can take to maximise their super balance in their final years of work, and to structure their portfolios to make the most of what they do have when they’re in retirement.

“For example, we know some of the people in this age group have other assets such as property in their name beyond super, which is an important factor for them to consider when planning for retirement.”

“If they don’t have other assets, engaging with their super fund may prove to be a cost effective way for them to access advice in lieu of seeing a financial adviser,” Ms Bourguignon said.

Of those with a retirement saving of under $100,000, the research also revealed 42 per cent only became concerned about the balance of their retirement savings in their 50s, while over 30 per cent admitted they never checked their super balance.

“Sticking your head in the sand will often lead to unnecessary stress”.

Super fees set to become more transparent and easier to understand

ASIC says from 30 September there will be significant changes to the way superannuation and managed investment funds disclose the fees and charges that affect consumers.

The new requirement follows the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) identifying a significant amount of under-reporting of fees, as well as considerable inconsistency in the way fees and charges are listed by funds. ASIC found this made it very difficult for consumers to understand how much they were paying, what they were paying for, and to compare funds.

The changes will help bring industrywide consistency to exactly what must be included in the product disclosure statement (PDS). And, from later in 2018, the changes will also ensure that the information in PDS and in periodic statements will match more clearly. As a result, consumers will be better able to understand the fees and costs. The consistency and more accurate disclosure of fees will also help ensure that funds are competing more fairly.

ASIC also noted that the fees consumers are being charged may reflect the type of investment, with some higher cost investments also bringing higher returns in the long term. This change to reporting will also make it easier for consumers to identify when this may be the case.

ASIC will make amendments to provide more certainty around the relevant requirements and undertake compliance checks throughout the industry, to ensure funds are meeting their obligations.

Following extensive consultation with industry on the introduction of these changes, ASIC has agreed to extend the deadline for disclosure of property operating costs in the investment fee or indirect costs to 30 September 2018. The extension on this component will help provide additional time for discussions between ASIC and industry about how to calculate these fees.

ASIC has also extended the deadline for certain disclosures in periodic statements that require changes to the internal systems of funds. This is to ensure the change can be made in a cost effective manner.  Those requirements will have effect for annual statements for the year ending 30 June 2018.

Background

These changes to reporting of superannuation and managed funds fees arise from ASIC’s concerns with inconsistency and underreporting of fees. This issue was investigated in Report 398 Fee and cost disclosure: Superannuation and managed investment products, which identified the following key issues:

  • underdisclosure of fees and costs associated with investing indirectly through other vehicles
  • tax treatment of fees and costs
  • performance fees
  • under disclosure of management costs

Following the release of Report 398, in November 2015 ASIC issued updated Regulatory Guide 97 Disclosing fees and costs in PDSs and periodic statements to bring greater consistency and transparency to fees reporting. These changes are due to come into force from 30 September 2017, as outlined above.

The Future: Save More, Work Longer

According to the IMF Blog, Young adults in advanced economies must take steps to increase their retirement income security. Younger generations will have to work longer and save more for retirement.

But with flat income, high debt, and potentially rising interest rates, saving we think may be an impossible task, which will redefine the concept of retirement altogether.

Public pensions have played a crucial role in ensuring retirement income security over the past few decades. But for the millennial generation coming of working age now, the prospect is that public pensions won’t provide as large a safety net as they did to earlier generations. As a result, millennials should take steps to supplement their retirement income.

Pensions and other types of public transfers have long been an important source of income for the elderly, accounting for more than 60 percent of their income in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Pensions also reduce poverty. Without them, poverty rates among those over 65 also would be much higher in advanced economies.

Pressure on pensions

But pensions are also costly to provide. Government spending on pensions has been increasing in advanced economies from an average of 4 percent of GDP in 1970 to close to 9 percent in 2015—largely reflecting population aging.

Population aging puts pressure on pension systems by increasing the ratio of elderly beneficiaries to younger workers, who typically contribute to funding these benefits. The pressure on retirement systems is exacerbated by increasing longevity—life expectancy at age 65 is projected to increase by about one year a decade.

To deal with the costs of aging, many countries have initiated significant pension reforms, aiming largely at containing the growth in the number of pensioners—typically by increasing retirement ages or tightening eligibility rules—and reducing the size of pensions, usually by adjusting benefit formulas. Since the 1980s, public pension expenditure per elderly person as a percent of income per capita—the so-called economic replacement rate—has been about 35 percent. But that replacement rate is projected to decline to less than 20 percent by 2060.

This means that younger generations will have to work longer and save more for retirement to achieve replacement rates similar to those of today’s retirees.


Working longer

To close the gap in the economic replacement rate relative to today’s retirees, one option for younger individuals is to lengthen their productive work lives. For those born between 1990 and 2009, who will start to retire in 2055, increasing retirement ages by five years—from today’s average of 63 to 68 in 2060—would close half of the gap relative to today’s retirees. A longer work life can be justified by increased longevity. But prolonging work lives also has many benefits. It enhances long-term economic growth and helps governments’ ability to sustain tax and spending policies. Working longer can also help people maintain their physical, mental, and cognitive health. However, efforts to promote longer work lives should be accompanied by adequate provisions to protect the poor, whose life expectancy tends to be shorter than average.

Saving more

Simulations suggest that if those born between 1990 and 2009 put aside about 6 percent of their earnings each year, they would close half of the gap in economic replacement rate relative to today’s retirees. In practice, relying on people’s private savings for retirement requires a hard-to-achieve mix of fortune and savvy. First, individuals need continuous and stable earnings over their careers to be able to save sufficient amounts. Second, workers would have to be able to decide how much to put aside each year and how to invest their savings. Third, the risks from uncertain or low returns are borne by individuals. Finally, workers would have to decide how fast to consume their savings during retirement. These are all complex decisions, and people can make mistakes at each step along the way.

Time to cope

For younger generations, acting early is crucial to ensure retirement income security, especially because longevity gains are projected to continue. As millennials start to enter the workforce, retirement might be the last thing on their mind. But with many governments retrenching their role in providing retirement income, younger workers need to work longer and step up their retirement savings.

Governments can make it easier for individuals to remain in the workforce at older ages by reviewing taxes and benefits that might favor early retirement. Nudges to encourage workers to save can also help, for example by automatically enrolling them in private retirement saving plans. For example, starting in 2018, the United Kingdom will require employers to automatically enroll workers in a pension program. Boosting financial literacy and making the workplace more friendly to older workers can also be part of the solution.

The good news for younger workers is that retirement is some four decades away, allowing time to plan for longer careers and to put money aside for later. But they must start now.

ISA accuses banks of dodging FOFA

From InvestorDaily.

The industry super lobby has accused the major banks of attempting to evade the FOFA regulation within their superannuation products.

Industry Super Australia (ISA) recently posted a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the efficiency and competitiveness of Australia’s superannuation system.

ISA called for a crackdown on big banks and other for-profit entities who, it said, have been allowed to exploit superannuation fund members in the name of increasing sales.

The lobby group said the current superannuation system is like FOFA – where for-profit companies like the big four banks have been able to circumnavigate or “work around” legislation and exploit consumers for increased sales and insurance commissions.

“From inception, FOFA has been subject to substantial lobbying efforts that seek to weaken it, and for-profit entities have immediately sought to ‘work around’ and adapt to FOFA in a way that maintains as much of their lucrative businesses as possible,” ISA said in the submission.

“For so long as the superannuation system allows participation by entities that have a strong culture of prioritising themselves rather than serving others, this will happen. The inquiry’s proposed default [superannuation] models will certainly be subject to the same dynamic.”

ISA pointed to exemptions in FOFA which currently “allow bank staff to earn volume-related bonus for selling superannuation under general advice”.

FOFA also “allows the payment of commissions on individual life and income protection insurance on policies paid for out of choice superannuation products which provides strong financial incentives for advisers to switch members out of default superannuation products,” ISA said.

ISA pointed to research from the Roy Morgan Superannuation and Wealth Management in Australia 2011 and 2015 reports which showed the big banks shifting away from selling products via financial advisers and an increase in direct sales to consumers instead.

“This activity has almost doubled across the four major banking groups from 10 per cent in the 2011 Report, compared to 19 per cent for the three years to December 2015,” ISA said.

“[This takes] advantage of the lower levels of consumer protection outside personal advice to aggressively sell super directly.”

ISA said regulation and further competition are not the answers for cracking down on misconduct from for-profit entities in the superannuation sector.

“Regulation alone has never been enough to ensure good behaviour. Regulation is particularly unreliable in relation to the finance sector because that sector is especially vigorous in its efforts to influence policy makers,” ISA said.

There is a concern that “each of the inquiry’s proposals seeks to remove superannuation from the industrial system, and envisions private sector, for-profit financial institutions bidding for and winning pools of default superannuation members,” the submission said.

“Such an outcome will deliver to the for-profit part of the super system a ready-made, government-sanctioned, and generally disengaged customer base at a very low acquisition cost.”

Instead there needs to be a focus on culture and values within organisations ISA said.

“The reason why some funds tend to consistently perform well, and prioritise members, is an amalgam of culture, values, institutional objectives, and governance.”

ANZ pays further $10.5 million to consumers for OnePath breach

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has confirmed an additional $10.5 million in compensation for 160,000 superannuation customers who were affected by breaches within the OnePath group between 2013 and 2016.

ASIC has been monitoring the resolution of a number of OnePath breaches. This has resulted in ANZ (the parent company of OnePath) providing further compensation, mainly in relation to incorrect processing of superannuation contributions and failure to deal with lost inactive member balances correctly.

ASIC has also confirmed the finalisation of all recommendations made by an independent review of OnePath’s business activities. The final two recommendations were the last to be implemented after an independent review of OnePath’s compliance functions was announced in March 2016.

The independent review was sought by ASIC, following ANZ reporting a number of significant breaches. The review addressed OnePath’s life and general insurance, superannuation, and funds management activities.

OnePath has contacted the majority of affected customers and finalised the majority of these additional compensation payments. Customers who have queries about whether they are owed compensation or another form of remediation should contact OnePath on 133 665.

ASIC will continue to monitor the breaches reported to us by ANZ until the matters are resolved, including any remediation where appropriate.

Background

The ANZ Group’s subsidiaries with AFS Licences include OnePath Custodians Pty Ltd, OnePath Life Limited, OnePath Funds Management Limited and OnePath General Insurance Pty Limited.

From early 2013 to mid-2015 around 1.3 million OnePath customers were affected by breaches requiring refunds and compensation of around $4.5 million, rectifications and other remediation of around $49 million.

An ANZ spokesperson said:

In March last year we estimated we would reimburse about $4.5 million in relation to compliance breaches that affected 1.3 million customers.

Following detailed analysis this has increased $10.5 million impacting 160,000 customers.

While this work is ongoing, we don’t expect the majority of these customers to receive significant further reimbursements.

As soon as we became aware of issues in 2013 we reported these breaches to ASIC and have fully cooperated with their review of this matter.

In January 2016 we appointed PwC to conduct an independent compliance review, and reported the findings of that review in December 2016.

Home saver scheme may eat into your super before buying you a house

From The New Daily.

The Turnbull government’s plan to allow first home buyers to direct up to $30,000 of superannuation savings into a housing deposit could end up draining super accounts and costing savers more than using a traditional bank account.

Stephen Anthony, chief economist with Industry Super Australia, said the First Home Super Saver Scheme, sold by the government as a housing affordability measure, would offer limited benefits to first home savers and threaten retirement savings.

The plan, introduced in the May budget, allows first home buyers to salary sacrifice up to $30,000 into their super account at a maximum rate of $15,000 a year.

The savings are taxed at the super rate of 15 per cent on the way in, which is lower than the 19c bottom tax rate and so gives you a benefit. When funds are withdrawn they are taxed at the marginal rate of the saver less 30 per cent.

This is where the plan strikes trouble. The ATO doesn’t simply tax the money you take out when you buy a home, it will assume you made a return on it that is equivalent to the bank bill rate (what banks pay professional investors) plus three per cent.

That guaranteed return is added to the amount you withdraw, which is fine if your super fund is earning that amount or more. But in years when your super fund makes less than that benchmark, money is effectively being taken out of the rest of your super to make up the figure the taxman wants you to have.

“Super funds will be forced to dip into compulsory savings to cover shortfalls in ‘guaranteed’ returns, leaving people with much less at retirement,” Dr Anthony told The New Daily.

Those transfers from your super to fund your home deposit can be significant. For the year to June 2016, for example, using the ATO’s formula would have seen you transfer an average of 2.3 percentage points of your general super returns into your deposit savings account, ISA research says.

There are other problems with the proposal, due to go before Parliament in the second half of the year, as well. While it might look attractive at first blush, the savings you think you’re making are less than they appear.

The super contributions tax will take a significant bite from your fund.

“People must also understand that after paying super contributions and earnings tax, the $30,000 put into the scheme could be worth as little as $25,000 on withdrawal,” Dr Anthony said.

People are likely to forget that if they had saved the money into a high interest savings account they would have avoided to the contributions and earnings tax as well as getting interest on their deposit.

For people carrying HECS/HELP debt from their tertiary education days, the benefits are even less. That’s because they have to pay back their debt once they hit relevant income targets.

Add all that together and the overall benefits from the scheme shrink significantly, as the chart above demonstrates.

Eva Scheerlinck, CEO of Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, said the plan is in conflict with the aim of super because it diverts benefits to current housing needs.

“The use of a super fund for a deposit on a first home is inconsistent with the sole purpose test which requires that super funds maintain benefits for members’ retirement or for insurance-related purposes,” she said.

“It is also inconsistent with the government’s own stated objective of superannuation to provide income in retirement.”

Rising mortgage debt is the biggest threat to super balances

From The New Daily.

New data suggests rising property prices are a threat to the retirement system, as many Australians use their superannuation balances to pay off their mortgages before they retire.

The latest investment update from NAB highlights that many Australians are concerned about ending their working lives in debt. It reported an increase in the number of respondents who feared a lack of retirement savings. It also found that paying down debt was the highest priority for the next 12 months.

Likewise, the 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report – widely reported in recent days for its concerning home ownership numbers – also showed that both men and women were spending considerable chunks of their super to pay debts.

It found that men paying down debts spent on average $240,000 to do so in 2015, or 58 per cent of their super, while men helping family members spent $108,500, around 84 per cent of super. Women paying down debt spent $120,500, or 70 per cent of super and those helping family spent $67,000, or 48 per cent of super.

Some men and women also spent up big on things for themselves, as the following table shows. However, men spent far more than women here, indicating the gender imbalance in superannuation accounts.

Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA), said rising property prices could force more people to pay down more mortgage debt on retirement in the future.

“People are paying off debts of not inconsequential amounts on retirement. The numbers doing it and the amounts used surprised me,” he told The New Daily.

“It’s a concerning trend and if people plan to use their super to pay off a mortgage then they are not using it to provide retirement income.”

He said this could result in the government being faced with a dilemma.

“Given the family home is untaxed, the increased use of concessionally-taxed superannuation to pay off homes in retirement would not be what the government intended,” he said.

That could mean governments would be forced to review both superannuation and housing policy as “both superannuation and the age pension are predicated on high levels of home ownership”.

The HILDA report also showed that both men and women are retiring later with the average age of women retirees reaching 63.8 years in 2015 and men 66.1 years.

Mr Yates said the rise in retirement ages, while partly due to desire to work longer, also had a negative financial driver.

“A lot of people got frightened by the market crash accompanying the financial crisis and decided they need a bigger financial buffer before they retire.”

For 16 years the HILDA survey, run by the University of Melbourne, has polled the same 17,000 Australians.

The report’s author, Professor Roger Wilkins, pointed to the falling home ownership levels among younger people. In 2014, approximately 25 per cent of men and women aged 18 to 39 were home owners, down from nearly 36 per cent in 2002.

Younger people with housing debt saw average mortgages up from $169,000 to $336,500 between 2002 and 2014.

That reality plus rising prices meaning people have to save longer before buying “could result in the superannuation system being thwarted in its aim to provide retirement income by rises in outstanding mortgage debt”, Professor Wilkins told The New Daily.

More Households Worry About Saving For Retirement

An increasing number of Australians believe they will fall far short of being able to fund their retirements, which may be leading to a greater focus on paying down debt and putting more aside in savings, according to the latest research from MLC.

Between the fourth quarter of 2016 and first of 2017, the MLC Wealth Sentiment Survey Q1 2017 recorded an increase in Australians who think they will have “far from enough” in retirement, up from 24 per cent to 32 per cent of respondents.

The research also identified a significant disconnect between the retirement Australians want and the one they expect to have. Most respondents described their ideal retirement with words like “relaxed”, “comfort” and “travel”, while one in five used words like “stressful”, “worried”, and “difficult” to describe how they expect their retirement will be.MLC Wealth Sentiment Survey Q1 2017

“While economic indicators are quite strong, at an individual level it’s apparent that Australians aren’t feeling confident about their finances, and this may be causing anxiety about retirement,” MLC General Manager of Customer Experience, Superannuation, Lara Bourguignon, said.

“What’s interesting is that respondents said they need over $1 million to retire on, but even small super balances help in retirement, so instead of being worried and fearful, people should feel motivated and empowered to take the little steps that make a big difference.”

More Australians paying off debt, saving

The survey also shows Australians are now taking debt and saving more seriously.

Overall, 21 per cent of Australians plan to pay off more debt in the next three months, outweighing those who intend to pay off less debt (13 per cent) than they were previously. Further, 26 per cent intend to save more and 19 per cent save less.

“With people reporting they are concerned about having enough in retirement, it may be that Australians are taking a closer look at debt and implementing savings strategies that will help improve their overall financial position,” Ms Bourguignon said.

“While the catalyst may be a lack of confidence about funding retirement, getting in control of your finances is very empowering, and so we may see people feeling a lot better about their money in the long run.”

Australians don’t feel wealthy enough to seek financial advice

Another key insight from the research was that Australians believe they need to be wealthy in order to seek financial advice, a finding that may be holding many back from reaching their financial goals, Ms Bourguignon said.

“Many respondents said they would visit a financial adviser if their needs were more complicated, or if they earned more or had money to invest. But tackling debt or implementing a savings plan is actually the ideal time to engage a financial adviser.

“We certainly need to start changing our view around advice being only for the wealthy; it’s for all of us.”

Other key findings:

  • Women are more pessimistic than men about having enough for retirement – 62% don’t expect to have enough to retire on, compared with 52% of men.
  • Despite concerns about funding retirement, three in four Australians haven’t seen a financial adviser in the last five years.
  • Only three in ten Australians are comfortable borrowing to invest, with a third of these preferring investing in property.

About the MLC Quarterly Australian Wealth Sentiment Survey

The MLC Quarterly Australian Wealth Sentiment Survey interviews more than 2,000 people each quarter. It aims to assess the investment environment by asking questions related to current financial situation, investment intentions, level of concern related to superannuation and other investments, change in life insurance, and distance to retirement and investment strategy.

Double digit returns ‘not sustainable’: AusSuper

From InvestorDaily.

Super funds will not be able to sustain the relatively high returns members have enjoyed in recent years, warns AustralianSuper chief executive Ian Silk.

Speaking at a Thompson Reuters event on Thursday, Mr Silk said that superannuation funds had experienced “stellar performance” this year but that this would not continue for long.

“One of the challenges for all super funds, including AustralianSuper, is to convince members that double-digit returns in … the global economic environment that we have, are not sustainable,” Mr Silk said.

While AustralianSuper had delivered “quite fantastic results” this year, Mr Silk outlined a number of factors surrounding the slowdown of growth.

“We’ve got inflation at 2 per cent, we’ve got sluggish growth, we’ve got no real wage growth, record low interest rates – these returns are just not sustainable,” he said.

AustralianSuper’s ability to deliver results has been “on the back of equity markets that are rising very strongly”, Mr Silk said.

But the “very important” and “frankly obvious message” he wanted to convey was that “real returns of that dimension are just not sustainable”.

Covering a number of other issues in the event, Mr Silk also vocalised his support of one of APRA’s new responsibilities announced earlier this week that granted APRA powers to act on poor-performing funds.

“To my mind, that’s an unambiguously good thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter what sector they’re in – if you’ve got poor-performing funds, in an industry that’s characterised by compulsion and not particularly well-informed members, then it behoves the regulator to act on the poor-performing funds and get them out of the industry.”

Giving you more say in your super? Not likely with these changes

From The Conversation.

The government is introducing a raft of changes to the regulation of superannuation in a bid to give consumers more power over their retirement funds. But, in fact, consumers are unlikely to use these new powers and the changes might not improve super fund performance.

The headline change introduces annual general meetings (AGMs) for superannuation funds. Previously these weren’t commonplace, as they are with companies. The government proposes these meetings will help fund members hold superannuation fund trustees and executives to account.

But many of us barely glance at our own superannuation account balances when the six-monthly statement appears in our inbox, so it’s reasonable to predict that, of the 15 million or so superannuation fund members in Australia, only a tiny fraction are likely to go to an annual meeting.

And why would we? One reason shareholders attend listed company AGMs is so they can vote on appointments of directors and remuneration of managers. However, superannuation funds are trusts, not public companies, and members won’t have the same rights even if they attend.

These AGMs will instead offer members the chance to quiz the executives, auditor and actuary, but no votes on material decisions. So this is nothing new: superannuation fund members have virtually no influence over trustee appointments, executive remuneration or other decisions.

Even the industry fund trustees, who are representatives of member organisations in super funds (such as trade unions), are not usually elected by fund members but are appointed by their sponsoring organisations.

If members are consigned to tea and biscuits with the fund chairman, where is the consumer “power” in Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer’s reforms? It rests mainly with the regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).

The key changes intend to give APRA more responsibility for protecting the interests of superannuation fund members. This is particularly in relation to MySuper – the standardised default superannuation product.

Because superannuation is mandatory for most employees, the system captures many people who don’t have the will or the skill to make active choices about what fund manages their retirement savings. This includes decisions on where their savings will be invested, and what level of life insurance cover they take. Passive members don’t “shop around” for efficient providers, to their own cost.

Following the paternalistic reasoning of the Cooper Review, successive governments have shepherded passive superannuation fund members into MySuper options. MySuper products must have a single diversified investment strategy, are allowed to charge only a limited range of fees and must offer a standard default cover for life and total and permanent disability.

MySuper funds also have to report their investment goals and performance on a dashboard that is supposed to help people make comparisons between similar products. Employers must choose a default fund for their employees from the list of MySuper products.

Even so, MySuper product fees and investment performance vary widely. APRA quarterly superannuation statistics (2017) report that, in 2015, after MySuper was “up and running”, annual fees and costs on a A$50,000 account balance in fixed-strategy MySuper products ranged from $265 per year to $1085 per year (with a median of A$520 per year).

The investment performance of MySuper products also varies considerably. In the same year, the mean annual investment return (gross of expenses) for single-strategy MySuper products was 8.45%, the bottom 10% receive less than a 5.5% return and the top 10% receive more than a 10.9%.

While some variation in returns is due to intentional differences in the design of default investment products, some is related to differences in manager skill or efficiency.

These latest reforms, if passed into law, will mean APRA can refuse or cancel a MySuper authority, at a much lower threshold than applies currently. If APRA has reason to think that a superannuation entity that offers a MySuper product may not meets its obligations, that is grounds to refuse or cancel an authority. Since the default superannuation sector is large, such a decision would be extremely costly to the fund in question.

Under this legislation, trustees of MySuper funds will be obliged to write their own annual report card. Each year, trustees will have to assess the “options, benefits and facilities” offered to their members and the investment strategy (target risk and return). Trustees will also be required to report on the insurance strategy for members, including whether (unnecessary) insurance fees are depleting balances; and to evaluate whether the fund is large enough to do all these at a reasonable cost.

In each case, trustees are required to show that they are promoting members’ financial interests. They will have to compare the performance of their MySuper product to that of other MySuper products.

Even though the trustees score their own card, APRA will also examine these, under the threat that the MySuper authority could be cancelled. It’s not clear how much discipline these rules can impose on trustees, but there are some obstacles to implementation and some possible unintended consequences.

Most superannuation funds know very little about their members. Usually these funds only collect a member’s age, gender, some indication of income, and sometimes their postcode. To show that a financial service, investment or insurance product promotes (or fails to promote) the financial interest of a member will be very difficult on this little information.

For example, two 25-year-old men in the same profession will have very different needs for life insurance if one is single and the other has a non-income-earning partner and a child. But they will look the same to the MySuper trustees.

Also, having an annual peer comparison of investment performance by MySuper trustees will focus on short-term results rather than the long-horizon outcomes needed for a secure retirement.

So the governments’ claim that these changes will “give consumers more power” and strengthen regulation of this large sector are stretching the truth.

Author: Susan Thorp, Professor of Finance, University of Sydney