CMSF 2017: An industry in interesting, if not extraordinary times

by Rebecca Thurlow, 28 March 2017

We are living in “interesting, if not extraordinary times”, according to one leader of the superannuation industry, AIST CEO Eva Scheerlinck.

This was the observation she made when opening the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds (CMSF) last week, where over 1,600 delegates descended on the Gold Coast for the annual conference. Honner was on the ground to hear first-hand the issues that are front of mind for Australia’s superannuation industry.

Ms Scheerlinck’s observation was in reference to recent examples of questionable conduct by a number of Australia’s major financial service corporations. She opined that confidence in the financial services sector has been eroded and that according to a recent global trust barometer, our level of trust is at crisis point.

This is based on more than geopolitical uncertainty; it is about social erosion at every level. Trust in the government, media, business and non-government organisations is at an all-time low.

She said this is why it’s important to point to the different approach of the “profit for members” sector and the differences which exist between funds which look to their members first and those whose first priority is driving returns to shareholders.

It was a powerful message followed up with a plenary session from The Hon. Michael Kirby on social inclusion.

The tone demonstrated a shift in mindset of the financial services industry. Things need to change in order to restore trust.

Throughout the conference, there was a strong focus on lifting the bar to restore trust – and this was apparent in sessions that ranged across the impact of the mandatory data breach reporting regime, cyber security, expanding social and digital member engagement, personalising marketing campaigns and incorporating a deeper understanding of data analytics.

The conference fostered a conversation that was deeper than we have seen in previous years.

On the last day of the conference, Helen Rowell, Deputy Chairman of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) gave a rousing speech encouraging Trustees and Boards to do more than was minimally required.

“That means that all trustees must move beyond a focus on just meeting minimum legislative requirements, to an approach that seeks to embed the principles of the prudential standards into their business practices, meeting the spirit and intent and not just the letter of the standards,” she said.

“Doing ‘just enough’ is not good enough to meet member and community expectations. And there is no room for complacency – all trustees need to review and enhance their operations and practices on an ongoing basis.”

She also encouraged Trustees and Boards to more readily consider merger opportunities or closure, if it was the right decision for members.

Her impassioned speech was met with a resounding round of applause.

There is no doubt that Australia’s superannuation industry is serious business, and with that power comes responsibility. The CMSF certainly lifted the bar this year. It will be interesting to see if the industry follows suit.

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