PUBLIC VS PRIVATE  INTERESTS Despite compulsion, despite the promise of super, Australians’ general level of engagement with the industry is woeful. Brett Jollie, managing director of Aberdeen Asset Management in Australia, reckons the foundations of an engaged membership could be set by introducing the fundamentals of financial markets and superannuation into the high school curriculum. This would go some way to preventing members from making poor investment decisions with their retirement savings, such as divesting at the nadir of investment cycles. It’s younger people that are usually the least engaged with and have the lowest level of confidence in super, says David Leggo, chair of Telstra Super. “I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak to some late-20s and early-30s people about their level of engagement, their level of certainty and what they think about superannuation – and yes, they would like to go to 9–12 per cent, but they also believe the system [will] change so many times by the time they’re 60. They have no confidence.”

They are also disengaged for less industry-specific reasons. Shorten, drawing on his 15 years dealing with workplaces, says it’s natural for young people not to engage in super as fully as they do with other, more imminent, life decisions. And it is because of this general aloofness towards super that the Government supports the MySuper proposal from the Cooper Review. The basic, low-cost, default product suits an unengaged member that is not interested in more personalised and expensive funds, he says. Disengagement should not be costly for people, and they should not incur costs they haven’t asked for.  The key words arising from the reform debate, Leggo believes, are “certainty, adequacy, confidence, engagement and now education”. To this list, Liz Gray, leader of law firm Henry Davis York’s financial services team, adds “simplicity”. “I don’t think anyone around this room would like to see [more] of the complexity that we’ve got in Financial Services Regulation laws at the moment, and what we’re talking about here is a lot of law reform over the next couple of years, and I think simplicity is key.

Complexity is cost, and at the end of the day that will cost super funds’ members,” Gray says. In many ways, complexity is a sign of the times. Shorten points out that the 1915 Tax Act, passed to fund Australia’s World War I campaign, was just 22 pages long. Simplicity is an admirable but difficult goal to achieve – “plenty of our predecessors have been unable to rein in the beast of complexity,” he says – but some proposed measures, such as enforcing the use of tax file numbers as the primary identifiers of members, are likely to make the delivery of superannuation easier. In essence, the task of superannuation is simple, says Mark Delaney, deputy CEO and CIO at AustralianSuper. But it’s a very big job, and the industry’s complex and at times clunky mechanisms don’t serve this basic purpose. “The simple fact is [we’re] gathering people’s savings today and paying them out tomorrow. But it’s just a massive task,” he says.

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