When Sunsuper recently ran a series of focus groups, the questions they asked members were a touch left of field. One question asked what they would prefer – a visit to the dentist or doing their super.

Not surprisingly, the results showed Australians could be better “engaged”, given 16 per cent preferred giving up television for a week, 13 per cent would rather visit the dentist, 7 per cent would have the in-laws stay and 6 per cent selected being stranded on a desert island without food.

The fact Sunsuper used a slightly irreverent approach speaks volumes about the need to engage members.

“The more we can get to this concept of ‘people should be thinking about their super’ into the public domain, the better members are going to be. We are looking to try and get the public to talk about super,” says Steve Travis, general manager of customer service at Sunsuper. “We know that there’s a disengagement; but why is that and how can people talk about it?”

There are a few Goliaths to battle. While super is increasingly a competitive playing field, with funds facing potential leakage to SMSFs and retail funds, the industry is also up against the public’s perception of what super is, and for now, it’s muddy ground.

“The compulsory nature breeds disengagement, it breeds apathy. It says, well it’s there, it’s been done to me, I will just participate and it will happen,” says Travis.

That banks are getting clients to think about super in the same way people look at mortgages and savings, notes Salvador Saiz, head of advice, wealth and super at Core Data, creates greater engagement with super as a product.

“For the most part, everyone’s just got super to the side,” Saiz argues. “Until you bring super into the whole future and say it fits in with everything else, people just won’t get it.”

Australians, he adds, don’t think of super as their own money.

“You think it’s just out of your employer’s pocket. The fact is, it’s actually out of your own pocket. No one gets that.”

But what defines engagement?

Saiz acknowledges that the term gets “thrown about”, but there is a formula for the purposes of Core Data’s research. It tracks satisfaction, intention to recommend, how frequently members are looking at their statements and how active they are in choosing their fund and investment option.

Satisfaction levels have risen substantially over the past year across all sectors due to a pick-up in returns.

However, satisfaction is only one component of engagement, and it can be measured separately.

According to Core Data’s research, QSuper’s members are the most engaged, while HESTA has the most satisfied members.

“In terms of QSuper, I’m not actually surprised by that, given the innovative approach that they’ve taken across the board, obviously on the investment side of things and what they’re doing with the different age cohorts and so on,” says Saiz.

Travis says there’s a huge difference between satisfaction and engagement, explaining that the fund measures engagement by how many people act when stimulated by communication.

This involves a cost, he adds.

“How should I invest that cost? It needs to be where I’m going to get a response.”

People, not accounts

For Equipsuper, the way of engagement is similarly about the level of response to emails and letters, says Geoff Brooks, executive officer of strategic marketing and communications.

“That response may be just to respond to where members are at and they may not actually lead to any sort of transaction. But on the other hand, it may prompt them to make some adjustment if they haven’t looked at it in a long time.”

In particular, through its data analytics platform, the fund is tracking outcomes and actions from members.

“What you can do is build a cascading communication model, where you can do your next communication based on what that person last did when you contacted them. So that becomes personal,” says Brooks.

The result is a very complex and highly personalised approach. And in terms of the actual correspondence, Brooks says recent focus groups showed members want communications to be short and sweet.

“The message we got from the focus groups is they want simple, relevant and timely information from the fund.”

Practical, too, given that a number of members said they were pleased when the fund sent them advice that they were nearing their contribution caps.

Equipsuper is heavily data-driven. It is one of many funds investing in analytics and, as Brooks points out, starting to look at members as people rather than accounts.

Using decades-old systems has meant super funds haven’t been able to look at data intelligently, adds Brooks. “They were built around accounts rather than people and their behaviours.”

Equipsuper has used an annual member satisfaction survey with Core Data since 2007, but it’s currently scouting for new methodologies.

“There’s a multitude of things we can invest money in to improve member services and communications and so on. We take the member research quite seriously, we don’t just do it to gauge how people felt about us over the past year.”

Demographics and adequacy

In terms of the issues on which funds need to engage members, demographics determine a lot. Travis says adequacy is the key element to engagement, but pitching it to Gen Y isn’t the right approach. It’s about getting them on track with base level elements, such as checking the fund has the correct tax file number and address.

“The second order of engagement beyond those sorts of things is, are you in the right investment? Do you have the right level of insurance? Are you putting enough away? Which packs on that adequacy question. Once you get members thinking about their adequacy and wrestling with the question, then they’re really engaged.”

Frequency of contact

Meanwhile, one of the major points of engagement is frequency of contact, but more precisely, determining how often funds should be in contact with their members, and vice versa.

“I don’t think you will ever find a time when people are engaged on a daily basis with their super. It’s just not going to happen. They don’t need to be,” says Brooks.

“Expecting them to be engaged in a regular conversation is probably unrealistic and perhaps not even desirable.”

Travis similarly says that the goal for Sunsuper isn’t to engage every member. “The default process is pretty good for lots of members. It is now 9.25 per cent of salary savings.

The default process in Australia for investments is pretty good – it’s a balanced growth-type investment.

“We have, particularly industry funds, good default insurance. So even if you do nothing, you’re getting a good product.”

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