In recent times we’ve heard a lot about the need for greater accountability and transparency in our superannuation system. With mandatory super contributions to be lifted from 9 to 12 per cent of wages and a global focus on governance in the wake of the global financial crisis, super funds are – quite rightly – having to provide much greater detail on how, where and at what cost they invest their members’ retirement savings.
But the public accountability of our retirement-savings system doesn’t stop with super funds. From employers to the fund administrators, clearing houses and the Australian Tax Office, the stakeholders in our system are many and varied and they, too, must be accountable to members.
In this year’s budget, the government announced a $467-million levy for the implementation of the so-called SuperStream efficiency measures. These measures are a key plank of the government’s Stronger Super reform package and have the broad support of the super industry.
The levy is to be collected from super funds over six years and the government wants to collect $121 million in the first year.
While $121 million may sound like a drop in the $1.3-trillion ocean of national retirement savings, this is members’ money we are talking about and every cent must be spent wisely.
There is also an equity issue. The SuperStream levy is in addition to other levies paid by super funds. One AIST member fund has calculated that its next levy bill will rise from $230,000 to more than $1 million.
Under the government’s current proposal, the Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF) sector is excluded from contributing to the levy. Yet the sector has acknowledged that SuperStream will benefit SMSFs by reducing the time and complications involved with rollovers and contributions. A lot of time is currently spent by super funds trying to verify SMSF details to ensure rollovers are prudently managed. The ready and accurate verification of SMSF bank accounts will add to the efficiency of the super system as a whole, and to that of SMSFs in particular.
AIST has proposed that SMSFs – now the biggest component in the super industry in funds under management – pay their share of the costs. The average member balance in an SMSF is nearly $500,000, compared to about $30,000 in a pooled fund. Why should the largest account holders enjoy the benefits of SuperStream without having to pay for them? Why should they get a seat at the table unless they make a contribution?
AIST has also recommended that the ATO be required to provide a regular detailed breakdown of its development costs to the soon-to-be established SuperStream Advisory Council. The industry should know how the reform it is funding is spent and that it is being spent properly. This council will be overseeing the levy expenditure, hopefully with sharp teeth.
Across all industries, there are countless examples of multi-million dollar cost blowouts involving changes to computer systems.
The implementation of SuperStream has the potential to deliver significant cost savings to everyone involved in our super system – but only if we get it right. Before we spend members’ money, we need to ensure that all those who stand to benefit from the changes contribute to their cost in a fair and equitable way.