The chair of Qantas Super, Anne Ward, has an extensive and eclectic background working in the boardroom including as chair of Zoos Victoria, the Centre for Investor Education, a director of the Foundation for Imaging Research, and a governor of the Howard Florey Neuroscience Institutes. Investment Magazine speaks to the woman who has made a career out of the boardroom.

With an extensive and eclectic background working in the boardroom – including as chair of the Centre for Investor Education, a director of the Foundation for Imaging Research, and a governor of the Howard Florey Neuroscience Institutes – Anne Ward has spent her career guiding companies through the business world.

Ward currently serves on seven boards including Colonial First State Investments, Avanteos Investments, MYOB Group, and is a member of RMIT University Council.

For good measure she is also admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the Supreme Court of Victoria, as well as a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Moreover she has been the chair of the $7 billion corporate Qantas Superannuation Plan (Qantas Super) for the past 10 years, a reflection of her experience in the financial services sector, with her areas of expertise spanning banking, insurance, wealth management, superannuation and investment.

This portfolio of skills has given her strong, passionate and informed views on good governance and investment strategies, and from her perspective, more independents, such as herself, should be brought onto boards.

“Personally, if I look at the equal representation model, it has served the industry well over the years, but it is time to change. The scale, the regulatory requirements and the sophistication that is required means the industry needs an influx of new talent and ideas,” she says.

While supportive of the principle of independents, Ward does not know what this means for her role as chair of Qantas Super. She explains the Qantas Board is comprised of five directors appointed by Qantas and five elected by members. Ward and fellow director Paul Costello were both appointed by Qantas, but had no prior roles with Qantas or Qantas Super.

“The Government’s draft legislation to amend the SIS Act is still in consultation stage and it is unclear whether Paul and I will meet the definition of “independent” when it is finalised,” she says.

“I understand the ASFA submission has flagged the issue that a number of funds that use nominating bodies have appointed people from outside their industry, but whether those people will be classified as independent, I don’t know,” Ward says.

“It might be a moot point for me because I’ve been chair for 10 years now and I’m probably approaching the end of my useful run,” she quips.

30% Club

Anne Ward-8129 400x200One topic that animates her greatly is diversity on boards. One of the most important lessons she has learnt through her 32 years in business is that diverse teams get better solutions than homogenous teams.

For her, it is enormously important for organisations that have a broad demographic – and in particular super funds – to have management and governance reflecting the membership or customer base.

As such she is a supporter of the 30% Club, an organisation with the aim of ensuring boards comprise of at least 30 per cent women. Answering her own rhetorical question of why progress has been so slow in this country on the issue of gender at senior leadership levels, she points to unconscious bias as a key feature.

“Unconscious bias is deeply ingrained in our business culture,” she says. “None of us are immune and it takes significant time and effort to address the problem.”

“I’m not a great fan of quotas – it’s an emotive term – but I am a fan of hard targets because without them things are too slow to change. What I mean by hard targets is setting an aspiration, and there being consequences when you don’t reach it.”

She adds the issue is not just one for boards – change also needs to happen in management ranks. Only 3.5 per cent of companies in the ASX 200 have a woman as a chief executive.

“Diversity is not just about gender, it’s about culture, life experience, functional expertise, age, geography, and all those different things. Gender is the obvious one because you can see it when you walk into the room.”

Investment

Qantas Super has $2.4 billion in defined benefit – about a third of the fund – and like many funds saw the vested benefit index (VBI) drop significantly in the GFC. VBI represents the amount of assets that the defined benefit section has in relation to its liabilities, should all members leave today.

If the VBI is 120 per cent, the fund has 20 per cent more assets than it needs; if the VBI is 80 per cent, it has a 20 per cent shortfall.

To prevent a similar situation to the GFC-induced drop in VBI from occurring again, the fund has introduced a ‘journey management plan’, which adjusts the asset allocation of the defined benefit investment portfolio by taking risk off the table as the funding level passes through certain predefined steps.

“When the VBI went through 100 per cent [after the GFC] we looked at how we could lock in the surpluses as we rebuilt that pool. It’s been incredibly pleasing to go through the first trigger point and reduce the risk and for that to go really smoothly.”

She adds that a lot of the fund’s thinking in all of its investment portfolios is driven by the thinking they apply to the DB side.

Due in part to this, in October the fund will launch a life cycle investment strategy for default members as well as a retirement product tailored to Qantas Super members’ needs.

“In the case of the accumulation division you still are managing to a liability, and the liability you are managing to is the quality of people’s retirement,” she says.

One of the areas where Qantas Super has taken a different approach is in investment implementation and efficiency.

Having made the decision that it is not going to manage money in-house, after a full strategic review, it worked hard to ensure the external investment model is as efficient and operationally efficient as possible.

One example of this is the centralised portfolio management approach which applies to all the fund’s equity investments. Qantas Super’s equity managers make the decisions around the stock they wish to hold, which are then transmitted to the centralised portfolio manager. The centralised portfolio manager gathers information from all of the managers and then implements trades in the most tax and operationally efficient way.

For example, if one manager wants to sell a stock and the other wants to buy, it crosses the trade.

“Taxes have been part of that, but it’s not the only part. We’ve also reduced brokerage and other implementation costs. Our savings year on year have been well above the business case – 56bps have been added in value, which to me was leakage before,” Ward says of the benefit of the strategy.

Looking to the future, Ward says the review resulted in a “shared commitment, with our sponsor, Qantas, to the strategy we are pursuing” and laid out a clear strategic roadmap for the fund over the next 10 years, which includes no major changes to the current structure of Qantas Super.

The immediate task for Ward is finding a new chief executive to replace Jane Perry, who retires in December this year. Ward notes that Perry leaves the fund in an excellent position and the search for a replacement is well underway.