The problem of performance

4 February 2015

Compare the pair. It is likely these three words are some of the best known, and most irritating, among financial planners and advisers and have grated with them for the decade the advertising campaign has run.

As advertising campaigns go it has been very effective according to Industry Super Australia (ISA) chief executive David Whiteley who believes it is appropriate for industry funds to advertise in a competitive sector.

Yet it is also very effective in raising the ire of advisers who claim the comparisons are not fair in that they measure ‘typical portfolios' which do not exist in the real world or that industry super funds do not disclose many of their investment and administration charges financial planners need to know before they can provide advice on the funds.

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Whiteley rejects the suggestion industry funds are performing slight of hand with the numbers and said that when it comes to boosting the retirement savings of members the best position to be working from is the best performance, regardless of which investments generate it, leading to the greatest member balances.

He also rejects the notion that the retail superannuation sector is excluded from investing in alternatives and infrastructure — areas where industry super funds often invest heavily and for long periods — stating they have the same access as investment managers as the industry super funds.

"Bank owned superannuation funds complain about the methodology used to compare performance but every ratings houses reports that the not for profit sector outperforms over most time periods. While we do have a structural advantage in not having to pay shareholders we also access unlisted assets which the banks do not."

"In fact we have been criticised by the banks for being too vanilla but it appears in their MySuper products that they have opted for low cost index funds while also claiming to have access to the most sophisticated investment houses in the country," Whiteley said.

It is a point made by ratings group Chant West in its most recent super performance report which stated that the move to low cost MySuper products had undone some of the work the retail super sector had done in equalising performance with industry funds over the past few years.

According to Chant West retail and industry super funds performed in line with each other over the year both returning 8.6 per cent for the past year with the latter still ahead over three years and onward.

This is credited to lower allocations to listed shares during periods when shares underperformed and higher allocation to unlisted assets, a distinction that Chant West said is starting to fade as retail funds become much more active in their asset allocation decisions - MySuper not withstanding.

However a disconnect still remains in any discussion about performance and that is that many non-aligned and aligned advisers are seeking access to the best superannuation products, even if they are industry funds. At the same time industry funds are not making themselves available to these advisers or providing information necessary for them to provide advice in the best interest of their clients, effectively denying their own positive publicity.

While claims of high mindedness and member's best interests may exist the reality is that protecting client numbers and funds under management is still part of the game on both sides of the fence.

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