Chair of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, Jocelyn Furlan talks to Amal Awad.

What’s an average day like for you?

An average day for the chairperson is a mixture of working on the business and working in the business. Since I’ve been chair we’ve undergone a huge change process at the tribunal to try and really make sure that our complaints resolution process is as efficient as it can be.

The tribunal had its first independent review in 2009, and then in 2011 we started a major re-engineering project because we were getting more complaints, and we just wanted to make sure we were ready for being able to resolve complaints effectively now and into the future.

Is it a demanding job time-wise?

I certainly do a lot of work thinking on the weekend. I do take files home to write determinations as well in the sanctity of my study at home (which is not a sanctuary).

What is the biggest challenge in your work?

When I first got the job it was a bit of a leap, and it was a bit of a risk for government, but I’ve grown into it. I was conscious of what a big step up it was to get the chairperson’s role, because I hadn’t been a person who was known at all prior to this role.

So I did get some executive coaching to build emotional intelligence and self-awareness, but also to get some skills around leadership. And I still do it. It gives you skills and it makes you think in ways you wouldn’t necessarily do so by yourself.

How do you separate Jocelyn the person who cares for people from Jocelyn the chair who has a job to do?

I have tenets that I live by. One is that I never send an email on the day I draft it if it’s a difficult strategic issue where I’m either negotiating for extra resources or something like that. Because of my role, I always apply what I call the “Herald Sun test” with emails. I imagine it on the front page of the Herald Sun and wonder whether I’d be embarrassed by it.

It’s very important to pause. It’s really important to have adult-to-adult conversations. And because I’m passionate about what I do, and I’d like to think I’m sort of a humanist and that’s why I love this role so much, sometimes it’s hard to separate that out when you’re approaching some of the more strategic or business-type issues involved in running the tribunal.

How many complaints do you receive on average?

We receive just over 2500 written complaints a year and about 150 of those will go through to a formal hearing and decision by us.

What are some of the quirkiest cases you’ve seen?

The most interesting ones are always the death benefit distributions. We get some amazing stories. The hardest thing with these cases is to not get emotionally involved.

What else stands out in your casework?

When you look at superannuation death benefits, people talk about that being an estate asset. But when you actually look at them, most of them are insurance, they’re not assets. And because we’re dealing with people who are pre-retirement, usually it’s the insurance, so it’s a risk amount.

A lot of adult children complain about it. The typical story is mum and dad have some children, get divorced, dad finds a new partner and has very little to do with the children of the first marriage, and then dies and they’re often adults.

Then there’s a fight over the death benefit between the current spouse, and maybe the second family, and the adult children from the first family. And invariably the adult children from the first family will argue birth right or “dad would’ve wanted us to have the money”.

It’s very common. The difficulty with that is the benefit is often just insurance.