Three streams need to be developed if superfunds are to better engage with Indigenous peoples on superannuation issues.

These streams focus are: connecting to traditional knowledge; building elders’ capabilities; and using the language of caring.

Dr Vinita Godinho, managing director of Financial Resilience Australia, gave these recommendations at the Indigenous Super Summit in Melbourne last week, using her extensive research to move the conversation beyond the unique problems and challenges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to a place of practical advice.

The summit was the first of its kind, being supported by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST), Financial Services Council (FSC), the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), Industry Super Australia (ISA) and Women in Super alongside a number of superfunds, for the purpose of establishing the unique requirements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and meeting these specific requirements.

Connect to traditional knowledge

The first recommendation was that any knowledge about money must be connected to traditional knowledge systems. According to Godinho there is a wealth of knowledge in the traditional systems about managing and preserving valued resources and about the rights and obligations that apply to the collective use of those resources, which need to be connected to super. This includes individual obligations for the use of money to have a collective benefit through its allocation, management and preservation.

Godinho said it was vitally important to recognise that money is not necessarily a topic that is talked about in Indigenous households.

“One of the first things we need to do is how do we encourage people to talk safely about money within families and communities,” she said. “This is called financial socialisation and has found to be one of the most critical motivating factors to get people to engage in money matters as a whole.”

Elders are vital

The second set of recommendations deals with the vital role of the elders.

Elders are an essential part in teaching financial literacy. Although most education program are targeting the young the elders as custodians of knowledge hold a valuable position as role models and mentors.

Focusing on building the elder’s capability alongside that of the young, should encourage people to practice financial skills in their families, which has been found to be a key detriment in raising financial capability.

“It also feeds directly into the Indigenous way of learning which is often by following the example of the elders and learning by doing,” she said.

She added storytelling was more appropriate than relying on written words and the use of audio-visual media, particularly TV and radio, has been found to be very effective in terms of cueing peoples’ knowledge and awareness about superannuation.

“I was at a workshop a couple of months ago and we had tables which came up with stories about why superannuation is important in different parts of Indigenous life and I think that’s a wonderful way to teach people about superannuation in ways that are relevant to their culture,” she said.

Language of Caring

The last set of recommendations, which the financial services industry “might find a little bit uncomfortable”, is to use the language of caring when talking about money.

Godinho’s research shows a more acceptable way of talking about savings, including superannuation, is to frame it in the context of caring for oneself so that one is better able to care for others, rather than focusing on individualised goals.

One conversation is to encourage people to talk about superannuation as caring for themselves in retirement and caring for their family when they are no longer there. Another part of the story is the employer’s obligation of care for their Indigenous staff by making sure they are managing their superannuation well.

“When we talk about managing money, if we can talk about managing wellbeing of individuals, families and communities and the role that money can play in that it’s a much more acceptable way of learning how to manage money, and why to manage money,” she said.