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Richard Gilbert steps down at the end of August after 11 years at IFSA, the last six of which as chief executive. In that time, membership has doubled, the members’ total funds under management has risen two-and-a-half times and the association’s influence grown immeasurably. He speaks with GREG BRIGHT about the highlights and lowlights of his tenure. When Richard Gilbert joined the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA), as deputy chief executive, in 1997, the industry was divided. IFSA had resulted from the merger of three organisations representing managers and insurers – the Australian Investment Managers Association (AIMA), the Life, Investment and Superannuation Association (LISA) and the Investment Funds Association (IFA).

While the consolidation of the three bodies was largely welcomed by their members, many of whom were paying multiple fees, there was also scepticism about whether they could provide a united front, particularly in Canberra, behind the new organisation. When he leaves IFSA at the end of August, Gilbert, 60, leaves a much more united industry – at least among the funds management core membership of the association – and one which has undeniably got the ear of government, whether or not the Government agrees with what it’s being told. Gilbert had been chief executive of the retail-orientated IFA for about a year prior to the merger and took the deputy’s job at IFSA under Lynn Ralph who was the inaugural CEO.

But he was already more experienced in superannuation and financial services than most of his contemporaries, his involvement with the industry dating back to 1991. After a stint as an economics teacher, Gilbert became the director of parliamentary education in Canberra and then in 1991 took up the position as secretary of the then-new Senate Select Committee on Superannuation, chaired by the young Labor Senator from Tasmania, Nick Sherry. “I learned about superannuation by listening to witnesses and reading,” Gilbert says. “I was a raw recruit.” But he had a politician’s instinct, which he was to turn to great advantage for IFSA in later years.

Perhaps aided by his subsequent role, in 1994, as secretary of the Senate Inquiry into Print Media, Gilbert always played a lot of attention to the media. He measures the column inches devoted to IFSA views and he measures journalists’ opinions about the association and the industry. He then joined the industry proper, running the funds management arm of CUSCAL, before moving back into more of a mediator’s role at IFA. But even though he is not going to retire, and will likely take a new role in a services firm dealing with, rather than within, the funds management industry, Gilbert will be well remembered for his time at the helm of IFSA.

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