WA Super’s new chief executive, former BT Group and GESB executive Fabian Ross, is confident his recent experience in the retail sector will help him drive growth at the industry fund.

“My main focus in the first year will clearly be to grow the fund,” Ross told Investment Magazine. “We’ll be focusing first on the relationships with our existing employers and members, to help them get the right outcome to achieve retirement adequacy.”

WA Super is a $2.6 billion Perth-based industry super fund with roughly 40,000 members.

Ross will finish up in his current role at BT Group – as regional executive manager for Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria – on Friday, December 23, 2016, before commencing his new role on January 16, 2017.

Home-brand advantage

Ross, who has been a WA local for most of his life, is excited to be back working for an organisation based in the state and wants to leverage members’ affinity for a local brand.

“It is helpful to have a strong WA-focused brand when we are trying to reach into the market,” he said. “It is really important to grow that brand and capture more of the market.”

WA Super’s marketing tagline is “Trust the locals” and the fund has a black swan as a mascot.

Ross said he would use his first quarter in the job to conduct a review and flagged that this might lead to some changes.

“I want to get in there and spend the first 90 days having a good look at … how everything is running and where there might be better efficiencies,” he said.

The current practice of managing fund administration in-house, rather than outsourcing it, might get close inspection.

Time to embrace digital

Ross said he believed his recent experiences working in the retail sector would be beneficial to his performance at WA Super.

“I’ve worked in both industry and retail funds before and am excited about bringing some of the innovation that is happening in the retail world,” he said, tipping data analytics, member services and technology to be areas of focus. “One of the most important things for WA Super’s growth will be how we make sure we are providing the right services to the right cohorts in the right way.

“It is about being able to communicate with our members in the ways they want. Technology is going to be enormously important for the superannuation sector as we move into the next decades.”

Ross joined the Westpac-owned BT Group in May 2012. Prior to that, he was general manager, investments, for $22 billion WA public sector super fund GESB, where he also had a stint as acting chief executive.

Before that, Ross spent five years as head of wealth management at the HBOS-owned St Andrew’s, prior to its acquisition by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

161212_ross-fabian-photoRoss succeeds John McNally

The retirement of former WA Super chief executive John McNally was formally announced to members in the 2016 annual report.

McNally was involved with WA Super for more than 25 years, holding the role of chief executive for the past 11. He is now looking for independent director roles.

General manager client services and deputy chief executive Paul Owen has been acting chief executive since McNally’s retirement a few months ago.

WA Super chair Tim Shanahan said he thanked McNally for his considerable contribution and was delighted to welcome Ross to the role.

The appointment reflects a growing trend of industry fund boards poaching executives from their retail rivals to tap a broader range of experience in areas such as online services and digital marketing.

Ross will join WA Super a year after $6 billion SA-based industry fund Statewide Super appointed former National Australia Bank executive Richard Nunn its chief executive.

Following his appointment, Nunn said he planned to draw on his experiences in the retail wealth management sector to ramp up marketing efforts and turbocharge the fund’s growth.

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