I have seen David Murray speak three times over the past year and interviewed him for an hour at the office he shared with ASIC in Sydney. What has been growingly apparent from these encounters is his resistance to charm, to being swayed by emotion or to be distracted by tangential detail. As such, many people who have come through his office over the last year making their case with charm, emotion and detail that he saw no use for would have been frustrated.
This might explain why Murray’s supposed loyalty to the banking sector after serving 13 years as chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank has proved to be unfounded given the report’s stipulation for higher consumer protection and higher capital requirements. And why the banks formidable charm offensive has cut no ice.
It would also explain why neither industry super funds nor retail super funds can claim victory from the report. The end of default of awards would appear to be in sight, but the consumer protection Murray has emphasised looks problematic for retail funds looking to leverage business clients to sell superannuation to.
Given how many in financial services can envisage their lives getting tougher as a result of the report, it is worth noting one glaring exception. The recommendation that all super funds pre-select a retirement option for all members that includes a mixture of investment and a pooled longevity solution is one that will for the first time put actuaries at the heart of the superannuation system. By stealth they have had a major bearing on this recommendation given the almost uniform willingness for every sector of superannuation and for every political party to hold up their hands and agree that there needs to be a greater suite of retirement products available to Australians and that longevity protection was where innovation was needed most. Who better to talk to than the Actuaries Institute on this subject?
From my ten years’ experience of reporting on the UK pension system, I would warn the superannuation industry, that while actuaries are certainly some of the smartest guys in the room, their strengths do not lie in communication. Defined benefit plans in the UK and the US have blown out their liabilities partly as non-actuarially trained decision makers have recoiled from the complex maths around actuarially devised plans. There is danger that while Australia ends up with an enviable and much improved retirement system, it might be one that not everyone will properly comprehend and one that might pose some unpleasant financial shortfalls as a consequence.