It’s not just in asset allocation where MTAA Super has been an industry game-changer for the good. In 2004 it was the first super fund to act decisively on the distressing number of suiciderelated death claims it was receiving on its group insurance policy. At Delaney’s instigation, the fund entered a partnership with Lifeline, which sees Lifeline counsellors around the country work with automotive industry trainers. The award-winning ‘readthesigns’ campaign has produced workplace seminars and a website focussed on self-help for those feeling depressed, with tips for identifying symptoms in workmates. Much like MTAA Super’s heavily illiquid asset allocation strategy, ‘readthesigns’ was tailor-made for the fund’s young demographic, with its strong representation of apprentices, which in the case of auto mechanics are overwhelmingly male. There is a lot else to like about MTAA Super.
It’s relatively good value, for instance. Its administration fee of $1.95 per week plus 0.66 per cent for its balanced option might be on the expensive side for an industry fund, but it’s well below the average when retail funds are taken into account. So, with all of this going for it, why has MTAA Super been so controversial? In March it acted as the poster-child of bad governance for an article in the Fairfax weekend papers, which castigated Australian super funds for not themselves displaying the transparency they were demanding from their investee companies. The article was so confused about MTAA Super’s internal machinations, it stated the fund “faced closure” if it could not pay $840,000 in legal costs incurred by its chairman of 1996-2006, John Rickus, whom it unsuccessfully sued in late 2007. Not for the first time in his life, Delaney threatened to sue Fairfax (via the MTAA trustee) and the media company apologised, rightfully.
For while Rickus has the option to issue a wind-up order to MTAA Super’s trustee company if he doesn’t immediately get his money, the fund indemnifies the trustee. With almost $6 billion under management, the matter is a drop in the ocean in terms of outcomes for MTAA Super members. Not surprisingly, it’s meant a lot more to Rickus. “Litigation is expensive, lengthy, and is rarely the most commercial way of resolving these types of issues. It is a very poor use of members’ money, and very hard to see how this was in the best interests of members.” The outsider could be forgiven for asking what a multi-award winning, top-performing fund was doing taking its former chairman to court in the first place. Unfortunately, after witnessing the torturous Rickus vs MTAA Super case, few have an appetite for speaking on the record about MTAA Ltd, MTAA Super and the role in them played by Michael Delaney – including the man himself. So, one must look to the history books for an answer to that question.