Since inception, HESTA has returned more than 1 per cent above its benchmark: 8.86 per cent versus 7.1 per cent and Anne-Marie Corboy cites such strong long-term returns to members as one of her greatest achievements.
She’s also proud of a somewhat unique default insurance that the fund was able to maintain throughout the MySuper approval process. For many years it has offered an income protection-based payment instead of a lump sum, and that design is now being copied throughout the industry.
“It is much better for members to have an income. The fact we have been offering this for some time shows the innovation at HESTA, and now about 15 per cent of funds have that sort of design.”
HESTA was also one of the first to offer intra-fund advice, with Superannuation Advisers attending work places to offer advice on co-contributions, salary sacrifice and investment options.
All of these innovations have been a response to membership needs. Uniquely HESTA’s members are about 80 per cent women, and with many also being low-income workers it throws up very particular saving needs.
“We think it is important to get the individualisation right. About 80 per cent of our members are women and they need to fill savings gaps.”
Chair of HESTA, Angela Emslie, says Corboy has driven a culture based on the needs of members, and in particular the fund’s members, not just all industry fund members.
“She always keeps in mind what will benefit our group of members, and we don’t over-innovate and add bells and whistles that our members would never use,” she says. “She’s leaving the fund in an exceptionally strong position and that is testament to her leadership.”
All of her career, Corboy has been an advocate for women and low and middle income workers – it’s a personal passion but it’s also a response to the member base.
Corboy believes the discrimination against women as an unconscious bias needs to be addressed in Australia – it’s ingrained in who we see as leaders. And while she acknowledges it is good to give credit where funds are making a difference, it needs to be seen as normal to have women on your boards, not something special.
While Corboy says the pace of change of women on boards and in executive roles within the industry is too slow, it is a vast improvement compared with when she first started.
Women in super
Corboy first came into super as an elected trustee member of the State Superannuation Board, endorsed by her union. At that time there were only about five women who were public sector directors in Australia in super.
“Back then there was unbelievable systemic discrimination against women,” she says. “Until the 1970s women were excluded from the State Super Fund when they got married because when they got married they became “casual” workers as it was assumed they would have children.
Married women then could join the Married Women’s Fund, which gave back interest on member contributions on resignation, but still had no employer contributions,” she says.
Corboy would have none of that, and had worked hard in negotiating a 3 per cent productivity improvement which included everyone getting the same level of contributions. Her election to the Board of State Super meant she could be part of the team to implement the changes.
She’s now been working in superannuation for more than 30 years, including 10 years as a board member before moving into the executive function as chief executive of HESTA in 1998.
It was a perfect role for her. In addition to the experience of superannuation in negotiating the productivity improvements and being on a board, she had business experience as chief administration officer of the union and essentially ran the organisation looking after staff, budgets and managing the building.
“The job was written for me, it was rare to have both super and business skills,” she says.
But more than that, Corboy also had public speaking skills and advocacy is in her blood. She has not stopped fighting for her members and never lost sight of the fact she is representing other peoples’ money, always striving to improve retirement income for the less advantaged.
“As a leader in the industry you have to be able to argue in public forums for your members, it’s them you’re representing,” she says, adding that her own leadership style could be described as “strong but fair”.
In fact if she could be remembered for anything, it’s “being tough and challenging with a big heart”. She was recognised for her leadership winning the FEAL fund executive of the year in 2008.
In 1998 HESTA had 15 staff, and now there are nearly 120. Emslie says Corboy has grown with the organisation, something not all leaders can do.
“When she started she was doing everything, including investments. Anne-Marie has been very good at mentoring and developing others, particularly young women,” she says, adding that HESTA has high staff retention and many women returning to part time work after having children.
The culture is described as collaborative, inclusive, respectful, and passionate and Corboy has been an inclusive leader, and has fostered her staff. “I believe it’s an achievement that I’ve developed a number of managers who will be future leaders in the industry,” she says.
She describes leadership as being a role model, which means allowing people to see the good and the bad so they can develop their own style. Ultimately, she says, to be a leader you have to be a decision-maker and be accountable for your actions.
“Leaders are people who can be accountable when things are right, and accountable, not necessarily responsible, for when things go wrong. They need to be able look at why something happened and say it won’t happen again. Accountability is an important quality and it means anyone can be a leader.”
While the past 30 years Corboy has achieved a lot, she is also frustrated that she hasn’t achieved more. “It was a personal KPI for me to have the $450 a month eligibility threshold of the SG removed, so that’s a frustration,” she says.
She’s also frustrated that most discussions about super in the media and within the political system focus on the top 10 per cent of income earners and high account balances.
“Use medians not averages,” she begs. “Government modelling doesn’t take account of that properly. It’s a problem in the industry as well, there is a pre-occupation with it. We need to look at public policy settings that are right for the 90 per cent.”
While she’s not ruling anything out, it is more than likely Corboy will take non-executive roles rather than another job running a superannuation business. She has plenty of board experience including the MCG Trust for nine years, and both chair and director positions in health and education and is a current director of Netball Australia. She will take up the HESTA nominated role as a Director of Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA) in March. “It seems like the right time to step down now,” she says. “But maybe ask me in 12 months and see what I say then.”
Anne-Marie Corboy won’t sit still for long.