Mason, a partner in superannuation at Deloitte, began his career as a solicitor, but his consultancy work in superannuation has spanned decades, with experience at Prudential and 24 years at Mercer. He spoke to AMAL AWAD about super and why he loves consulting.
How did you land in superannuation consulting?
Pure chance. I trained to be a solicitor and my father was a country solicitor in Gloucester. And my lack of imagination as a 17-year old finishing high school thought, ‘Well, that’d be a good job, I’ll do the same as my dad’. So I guess at that stage I thought I’d go to university, get a law degree, and go back and work with him or be a country solicitor.
I ended up getting a job as a solicitor in Dee Why. The firm folded after a short period of time, and I saw an advert in the paper for a small consultancy looking for a solicitor to help draft trust deeds and do legal work. And I thought, it’s a job; I’ll try that for a little while.
Thirty-one years later, I’m no longer doing legal-type work. I’m still in the industry but I know that when I started there I thought, ‘I’ll do this for 12 months and then get back into a solicitor’s job’. The longer I stayed in it, the more people I met, the more I enjoyed it.
How has this industry challenged or amazed you throughout your career?
The fact that superannuation has become a universal employee entitlement and that it can make the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald or The Daily Telegraph.
When I started in the industry, coverage was probably 25 to 30 per cent of the working population. It was very much something that was almost gifted to you or offered to you by your employer if you’re lucky enough to work in, usually, a multinational or the public service or a bank.
Then, not many people knew about it, even those who had super didn’t really understand it. You could leave your employer after 20 years and often just get your own contributions back with a notional amount of interest.
What role do you see the consultant playing in the evolution of super?
Someone who has hopefully helped funds develop from small one-person operations through to what they are today, which are financial institutions in their own right.
What are the big issues playing on your mind?
Which funds are going to survive and grow – be that industry, retail or corporate funds. If you added up the growth plans of all the funds in Australia, we’d need a population of about 60 or 70 million people. Most funds have got fairly aggressive growth plans. Some of them are going to be achieved, some of them aren’t.
So for those that I work with, it’s helping them be successful. How do they get the edge on their competitors? How do they grow? How do they succeed? And it’s also compliance, governance. We’re all, in one form or another, custodians of someone else’s money.
You’re obviously very committed to your work. Where does Russell Mason the consultant and the man begin and end?
I’ve never worried about work-life balance because the two just integrate, and I’m lucky: I’ve got a very understanding and supportive wife in Ros [Lyon], who understands that my career is important, just as hers’ is important. So what do you do in down time that doesn’t involve super? I play golf, not particularly well, as anybody will say who’s played with me. But I do that, and I’m lucky that Ros and I play golf most weekends together.