Where the twain shall meet

5 February 2015

For some financial planners industry superannuation funds are just another product option while for others they represent an unfair playing field and an attack on the advice sector as industry funds take on many of the trappings and services of their retail counterparts.

This convergence of retail and not for profit superannuation, driven by the desire to maintain fund member numbers - and by extension the funds under management they hold — can be traced back to the introduction of Choice of Fund legislation in 2005.

Lauded by the retail sector and condemned by the industry fund sector at the time of introduction Choice of Fund has given millions of Australians the freedom to choose their own superannuation fund but it appears that many of them still don't do what the legislation allows.

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However given the increasing size of individual member balances and the overall pool of superannuation, industry funds have made it clear they will not be idle when it comes to competing for mind and market share.

Referral arrangements are becoming more common and are starting to cross industry boundaries with the referral arrangement between Cbus and the Financial Planning Association being the most prominent.

State Super Financial Services general manager James Paneretos said this is a result of compulsory superannuation passing the ‘mandate' it had at the time of its creation — to build a suitable balance for retirement.

He states that with a growing number of people heading towards retirement the discussion around superannuation has moved from accumulating funds to ensuring they were adequate into and through retirement.

"The mandate of super, to take pressure off the pension system in retirement, has changed and expanded since it was first introduced in 1983," Paneretos said pointing to the advice efforts of his own group.

"Our heritage is defined benefits schemes and complex super but at retirement defined benefit or accumulation is not an issue anymore."

Rather Paneretos sees industry fund members moving into retirement searching around for information and advice about what to do next, something which is not dissimilar from what takes place in the retail funds sector as well.

"We are looking to retain members after retirement and so provide member services and financial planning is part of that but we know we can't commoditise advice and that retirement income streams are an evolving thing," Paneretos said.

"We are also aware of the need to engage people at an earlier stage than retirement and advice is the hook to do that."

It is also a recognition that pure performance, something which industry funds pride themselves, is not enough to swing fund member's minds to the issues of superannuation and adequate retirement planning.

Local Government Super chief executive Peter Lambert said industry super funds, like their retail counterparts, would not offer ancillary services such as planning advice, if they did not believe it would make a difference to the fund members.

"It is part of the package on offer by many industry funds now and has become crucial to the retention of members since our competitors' appeal is via the one to one relationships they may have with our members," Lambert said.

"Most of these approaches happen with a member around the time of retirement so we have built advice models to provide the same and we are unashamed about that. We are trying to build a model of engagement and that will include younger members who may also have a range of investments outside super."

Industry Super Australia chief executive David Whiteley is just as pragmatic about why industry super funds have moved into advice and banking services stating their members are not homogenous and neither is their philosophy when it comes to superannuation.

He states that while engagement with superannuation remains low, demand for advice is starting to increase as members near retirement and the ongoing debates in the sector will continue while retail and industry super funds approach issues from differing starting points.

"The debates will go on while people are still not engaged and we will continue to view super as vehicle for members while the banks will view it as a vehicle for market share. There is a healthy dose of philosophical stuff involved with these approaches and the same debates will roll on but the sheer size of the superannuation market makes them important."

Lambert says despite these fundamental differences super does not have to be trench warfare and retail and industry funds can offer super products and advice into a rapidly growing market.

"All sides of superannuation have been guilty of mis-representing themselves in the past but there is room for all sector and a space for all funds," Lambert said.

"These things are not an issue if there is transparency and we think it is important that consumers know if an institution employs their planner. Industry super funds should also disclose any relationships they have and be held up to the same standards of accountability."

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