Andrew Fairley, chair at Equipsuper and lawyer at DLA Piper, was one of the first in the legal profession to carve out a superannuation practice specialty after he identified a gap in advice to super funds.
How did you move into the superannuation space as a lawyer?
I got into superannuation in 1978 because I saw it as this wonderful blend between the areas of interest to me and the law. There was tax, there was equity or trusts, there was contract in terms of the employment relationship, and there was the potential for a little bit of skirmishing/litigation. So all these things came together and I could never understand why the profession wasn’t involved. Trust deeds were drafted by actuaries.
How did you address the gap?
I started to develop a bit of an expertise and an interest in it, and we then had only about eight or nine pages in the Tax Act. We could pretty much draw a very broad brief within those clauses. I then started to identify the fact that most of the large superannuation funds had as their lawyers the same firm that acted for the employer. Now it was very difficult to be able to chisel that work out of the big firms… So I had to run a very robust campaign to trustees to say, “Do you understand that it’s actually a conflict of interest for you to be using the same lawyers as the employer?” And some of them got it as early adopters, others didn’t.
You founded the Superannuation Law Council Committee and chaired it for 10 years. What was its purpose?
We really sought to try and put a view to government that we were a legitimate stakeholder in the superannuation discussion, and we were accepted absolutely as legitimate a stakeholder as the accounts, actuaries, administrators. We were a key player.
You seem very passionate about what you do. Do you feel you have more work to do?
My whole life has been devoted to being a fiduciary. I’ve been in the tourism sector and I’m one of the early adopters of eco tourism because I think that eco tourism is all about using people’s assets in a way that’s responsible, and trying to teach the public how to ensure that they tread lightly on tourism assets. So I was one of the founders of Turtle Island in Fiji, which is one of the world’s leading eco-tourism resorts. Another example is (that) I’m chairman of Zoos Victoria. We have three zoos and our whole metier is really about conservation and I see myself as a vendor of fiduciary values, and superannuation is really all about that. It’s fiduciary values, it’s managing people’s money in a way that is going to be responsible, that’s going to give them the maximum opportunity given whatever they contribute to a dignified retirement.
So you can fulfil your fiduciary sense of duty through other pursuits?
I’ve got to fullfil my commitment to myself to ensure that every day I make sure that people are doing things better and that we have a better world, a better outcome.
How is Equipsuper addressing regulatory change?
We’re going forward with MySuper and we’re very committed to ensuring that we have a product that’s going to be attractive, sexy and is well placed. It’s not going to be the cheapest, but it’s, we think, going to be very attractive.
Can super be sexy?
I think if you go back into a super funds magazine, and I think it was probably in the early-to-mid-90s, I was on the front cover and I think the caption read that I was in superannuation before it got sexy. It got very sexy after the industry fund movement was commenced by [Paul] Keating and the whole SGC (superannuation guarantee contribution) area unfolded. That’s when it became super, super sexy.