Superannuation fund executives and trustees have been encouraged to join the regulator on a trip to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia.

The proposed dates for this superannuation expo are August 6-18, 2017.

Corporate regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has organised the trip in partnership with MoneyMob Talkabout, an Alice Springs-based non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the financial literacy of Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.

ASIC has called on senior representatives from super funds to come along so they can provide direct assistance to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people, and gain a better understanding of the issues members living in remote communities face in accessing superannuation.

Representatives from government agencies such as the Australian Taxation Officer and the Public Trustee are also invited to attend.

ASIC has previously flagged that it sees ample room for the superannuation industry to make it easier for Indigenous Australians in remote communities to access super while also meeting their compliance obligations.

People in Indigenous communities often find it hard to access super because of stringent identity checks – originally put in place to stop fraud and financing of terrorism under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006. In July 2016, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), which oversees the Act, released updated guidance in an attempt to combat this unintended consequence by clarifying that super funds can accept alternative forms of identification. However, eight months later, those working on the ground in remote communities say they have yet to see funds implement the changes.

“Fundamentally, it looks like AUSTRAC’s guidance is not being embraced by the sector,” First Nations Foundation chief executive Amanda Young said. “There are a couple of funds that we know of that have taken special steps to try to improve this issue, but I have to say the challenge is they are not co-ordinated.”

Young said many super funds had put up constant resistance to asking members if they identify as Indigenous or as a vulnerable user.

“Funds are just not comfortable with it, even though it is perfectly legal,” Young said.

She added that one of the first steps to improving retirement outcomes for Indigenous members was for super funds to engage with the financial counsellors who work with and represent those members.

Financial Counselling Australia chief executive Fiona Guthrie said it was important to acknowledge that a handful of funds had started to improve in this area.

“That’s a testament to quite a few people’s passion,” Guthrie said. “But we’ve got a way to go yet.”

CMSF was also used to launch a new portal that allows super funds to verify the identity and contact details of financial counsellors. 

“Financial counsellors, who assist people in financial difficulty, interact with superannuation funds on behalf of their clients for lots of reasons – early access to superannuation, insurance claims, and amalgamation” said Guthrie.

“By law, a super fund dealing with a third party, such as a financial counsellor, needs to make sure that the financial counsellor has the client’s authority to talk to the fund on their behalf.”

This is a positive step in the right direction.

“There is a real issue for Indigenous people being able to speak with super funds,” ASIC Indigenous outreach officer Nathan Boyle said.

“I was out in a remote community recently and called a super fund on behalf of a local, because I know enough of his language to be able to interpret for him. But as I wasn’t a registered translator, the fund couldn’t talk to me.

“They said we needed to make an appointment with a registered translator – and there are only about three thousand people in the country who speak this person’s language, and about 10 high-quality interpreters – the appointment would be for a 15-minute slot, and in in two weeks’ time. Trying to get that person to be at an appointment in two weeks is almost impossible. It’s just not how they live their lives.”

“It’s also very difficult for a telephone interpreter to assist Indigenous people to answer the questions required by funds and government departments involved in the administration of superannuation. If an Indigenous consumer requires an interpreter to speak over the phone, they usually won’t have the English literacy to be able to determine which number they need to read out from their superannuation statement or other document to answer the question. Where there’s a non-registered person capable of interpretation on the ground with the consumer at the time, that person really should be able to provide assistance.

“There’s definitely some room for improvement, both from the superannuation industry and government departments, to reflect the legislative flexibility in the way policies are administered – many of the barriers are caused by the policies of individual funds and departments, rather than being due to the need to comply with legislative provisions”.

To read all our coverage from the final day of CMSF 2017, click here.