HESTA rapped by ASIC over misleading performance figures
H.E.S.T. Australia Limited (HESTA), the trustee of HESTA super fund, has been hit with three infringement notices from the corporate regulator for alleged false or misleading statements made in their marketing material.
The fund has paid $48,600 to comply with the notices that focus on statements about its ‘Balanced Growth’ investment option and 10-year performance figures shared on HESTA’s Facebook and Instagram and in a webinar published on its website.
ASIC said the statements referenced 10-year performance figures of the Balanced Growth option but did not note the period the figures related to.
It alleged these statements may have misled consumers into believing the performance figures used were up to the present day, when the 10-year period used by HESTA to calculate those figures had ended between five and 14 months prior to publication.
The figures were published at various times between 23 August 2022 and 18 July 2023.
“ASIC was concerned that these figures were misleading because consumers were not given all the necessary information and might have assumed the fund was performing better than it was,” said ASIC deputy chair, Sarah Court.
“Funds commonly focus on performance in their advertising and promotional material. Advertising involving performance figures needs to be clear and transparent about how those figures are calculated. This allows consumers to make informed decisions, including choosing or moving between funds.”
She noted super is among the biggest investment decisions in an individual’s life and “it is a decision that must be based on accurate information.”
The corporate regulator stated it has reviewed almost 7,500 advertisements across print media, television, radio, digital and social media, including across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, in 2022.
The infringement notices were issued in relation to statements contained in three communications made by HESTA:
- Between 23 August 2022 and 21 October 2022, HESTA published an advertisement on Facebook and Instagram stating the Balanced Growth option “has returned 8.87 per cent average returns p.a. over the past 10 years”. The date range was not provided in the advertisement. The average return for the 10-year period to the time of the advertisements was between 8.01 per cent and 8.51 per cent.
- Between 21 October 2022 and 20 June 2023, HESTA published an advertisement on Facebook and Instagram stating the Balanced Growth option “has returned 8.53 per cent average returns p.a. over the past 10 years”. The date range was not provided in the advertisement. The average return for the 10-year period to the time of the advertisements was between 7.90 per cent and 8.23 per cent.
- Between 9 December 2022 and 18 July 2023, HESTA published a webinar on its website regarding market volatility representing that a hypothetical consumer would have realised a net return of approximately $67,000 on a $50,000 investment by staying in the Balanced Growth option for 10 years “right up to today”, which was incorrect.
Payment of an infringement notice is not an admission of liability.
In a statement regarding the notices, a HESTA spokesperson said: "HESTA understands that the news that ASIC has issued infringement notices to HESTA will be as disappointing for our members as it is for us, especially given the high standards to which HESTA holds itself.
"We take regulatory compliance very seriously. We have cooperated with ASIC’s investigation and acknowledge and have acted on ASIC’s concerns. We have since improved our internal processes and strengthened our controls."