Enablement of others is central to Mark Williamson’s vision – a consistent theme whether he is talking about relationships within the super fund, the role of technology, or insurance and retirement products tailored to Energy Super’s members.
“I learned a long time ago not to get in the road of management,” Williamson says. “The chair needs to work closely with the chief executive and support them, but not get hung up in the detail. You develop with the executive the strategy and measure
the implementation through them.”
Williamson is the incoming chair of Energy Super replacing Bob Henricks, who stepped down from the role after two decades helming the fund. Henricks guided the formation of Energy Super through the merger of industry super funds, ESI Super and SPEC Super in April 2011. The fund has since grown to more than 49,000 members, predominantly in the energy sector, and has more than $5.5 billion in funds under management.
“Bob has created a record in the number of years spent serving in the super industry and has been a great asset to Energy Super,” Williamson says.
Serving on Energy Super’s board for three years, Williamson for the past year has had a close working relationship with Henricks in preparation for the role. While Henricks has stepped down as chair, the plan is for him
to serve on the board for another year.
“It was always the boards plan to transition me to the chair,” Williamson says. “We have a great working relationship and Bob said he doesn’t want to stick his nose in, but I will ask him for advice.”
Serving on boards for the past two and a half decades, Williamson’s name has been associated with Stanwell Corporation and CS Energy. He is also a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
“There has been a lot of questions on the quality of people sitting on super boards. I’m on a number of non-super industry boards and I’ve been delighted by a high level of governance at Energy Super. I have not noted any deficiencies.”
He has also held senior executive roles in the electricity, IT, telecommunications and airlines industries in Australia and overseas.
“In the 70s and 80s I got a great taste for the energy industry and I’ve been fortunate to work in energy for many years, but originally I come from an IT background,” Williamson says.
Prior to Energy Super Williamson experienced the power and opportunities information communication technology brought to people, and saw where technology was heading.
“A lot of people don’t have access to phone centres during the day,” he says. “We are improving the ease of access as we’ve seen the power it delivers as an enabler to members. We’ve noticed a dramatic increase in mobile access versus phone centres. My professional background in IT has been helpful in driving some of our thinking into mobile.”
Energy Super has a wide membership base across Queensland and includes regional industries aside from electricity. Williamson has been visiting members in preparation for opening offices as the fund gears up its growth. One office has already been opened in Townsville and the fund has “a short list of places for more offices, with central Queensland being a priority”.
Williamson is also keeping an active eye for mergers.
“We are constantly reviewing opportunities asking what are the percentages and prospects,” he says. “We’ve always got our eye on opportunities down the track. We believe we should grow in Queensland, but the current organisation also represents members out of state, so we are looking for opportunity in other states. Not that we are starting border wars.”
Insurance is an area where Williamson feels Energy Super really differentiates itself from other funds. The hazardous manual nature of certain energy industry jobs means that some members have historically found it difficult to acquire appropriate TPD. He cites linesmen (those who work on high voltage electrical cables) as a case in point. The fund has developed cost-effective insurance specifically for these members, ensuring they can be covered.
“Young workers view themselves as bullet proof and think they don’t need insurance,” says Williamson.
As a result, if someone joins through an Energy Super employer they are automatically entered into a scheme which increases cover as they enter new life-stages. The cover is designed to give modest income protection for apprentices, at low premiums, stepping it up incrementally so that increased cover is provided at the time when it is likely needed due to work, debt and family commitments. The option exists for additional cover, if a member wants to gain greater coverage.
This tailoring of products spreads across to post-retirement products as Williamson and his team search for the best way to enable members in that phase of their life.
“We’ve been addressing the competing requirements of long-term and short-term objectives,” he says. “A blend when members approach retirement could involve default and risk offerings. The account balance of members is quite large and growth assets in retirement have been looked at, as well as a moving members onto an income stream.
It could be a phased thing, rather than hitting retirement age and switching. But there needs to be tax reform in the space.”
Like most in the super industry Williamson is waiting for the tax paper to be released and the government to issue its response to the financial system inquiry (FSI), as these will set the environment in which any product would work.
“I’ve been spending time analysing the FSI and I note encouraging words around the retirement space,” Williamson says.
“I agree with its philosophies and conclusions, but I’m sure there are some things to grapple with and I’m looking forward to open dialogue, joining with colleagues and giving the right feedback