AustralianSuper aims to substantially boost its level of digital advice engagement with members over the next 12 months, according to a senior member of its advice team.

“Traditionally industry funds have had a very high level of disengagement…but we are starting to see, as people are in the system a bit longer, that’s starting to change [relative] to what it was 10 years ago,” says Shawn Blackmore, group executive of member experience and advice, AustralianSuper.

Being adequately prepared to meet the sheer volume of potential demand for advice from its more than 2 million members is one of the key challenges he sees ahead for the fund.

“The economics of setting up a model that can…meet their demand for advice if they all rush to get it is going to be the trick for us in a few years time,” Blackmore says.

AustralianSuper currently employs around 20 financial advisers in its phone-based intra-fund team and 20 that provide face-to-face advice, along with an education team of 30 others that run its seminars for both members and advisers.

The fund also has access to a network of around 500 external financial planners, who all operate on an exclusively fee-for-service basis.

A technology solution

Blackmore indicates a heavy bias toward digital engagement with members – including a combination of both robo-advice (with no human adviser interaction) and online advice (mediated by an adviser) – will be adopted to help address this.

In addition to client-facing online tools, it will be launching a web portal for advisers, providing self-service access to various information about AustralianSuper products, fees and other details.

“Once we get the technology solution in place, we should be able to open up the channel to any [approved] adviser,” Blackmore says.

In terms of digital technology, he sees this as a means to help lower the entry point into advice. “I think it will help triage people through the advice proposition…[and] cut out some of the inefficiencies, making it possible for more face-to-face advice to be given.”

“We want to be quite aggressive in increasing the number of members who engage with us online. The overall goal is to default all members into online advice…and then to become more engaged [with them] through different life stages,” he says.

While some industry funds, such as UniSuper, are increasing the number of in-house planners, AustralianSuper is not pursuing this approach.

“The economics of building a big in-house team of planners just didn’t stack up…it just wasn’t a core business for us,” he says.