Superannuation industry associations Industry Funds Forum and the Australian Institute of Superannuation trustees are to merge, in a move designed to improve efficiency and remove duplication, while maintaining a forum for industry super fund chief executives to meet and develop policy.

IFF was formed in 2000 by a group of industry super fund chief executives, to share information, to develop and influence policy to improve product and service delivery for funds and members, and to work in partnership with other organisations to support industry super funds. Today it has 18 members.

AIST represents profit-to-member superannuation funds and provides policy development programs and professional training for trustees and staff. It has fund, individual and associate membership categories.

All members of IFF are already also members of AIST.

‘Easy conversation’

IFF executive officer Chris Matthews said the association’s board had completed a review of its activities and strategy before AIST approached it with a formal merger proposal in October 2016, and a decision to proceed happened quickly.

Matthews said he was increasingly “attending the same forums as the other associations”, and “it was becoming a bit of a challenge to differentiate” IFF. He said IFF was conscious of not duplicating work being done elsewhere and “we would often start a project, and then stop it because someone else was doing it”.

“The CEOs, given where they’re from, are thinking about efficiencies and things like that, and it became an easy conversation,” Matthews said. An in-principle merger agreement was struck with AIST in March this year.

The functions of IFF, including research, will be transferred to AIST, and IFF will be wound up.

“There are some assets there, but not a lot, and those will be transferred across and quarantined,” Matthews said. Those assets will help support research and policy development by the former IFF members, who will provide input to the AIST board.

Matthews said IFF regarded the forward-looking nature of its members’ work as one of its biggest strategic differences from other associations, and under the merger terms with AIST, a forum will be created for fund chief executives where IFF’s research and policy development can continue. The inaugural AIST chief executive forum will be held in Melbourne on December 7.

Matthews also said the merger would  potentially open the chief executive forums AIST runs to chief executives who are members of AIST but have not been involved with IFF.

‘History of collaboration’

AIST chief executive Eva Scheerlinck said the association’s expansion of its activities made it unnecessary for IFF to continue as a stand-alone association. She said the two organisations have “a long history of collaboration on various projects” and accommodating IFF members within AIST would be straightforward.

“AIST for the last six years or so has been running chair forums, where we bring together the chairs of funds for peer-to-peer learning – very similar to the structure the CEOs have at IFF,” Scheerlinck said. “I think they started to see that AIST would be capable of delivering the services and the networking and that input into research that they wanted. It didn’t make sense any longer for them to continue to exist outside of AIST.”

IFF chair and CareSuper chief executive Julie Lander said in a statement that IFF’s members “look forward to continuing a meaningful forum for discussion” within the AIST structure.

Lander said that notable IFF research and policy projects have included input into SuperStream data standards, the Insurance in Superannuation Working Group (ISWG) and the Future of Financial Advice (FoFA) reforms. She said the chance for chief executives to liaise directly with regulators via IFF had “brought about improved understanding and practical implementation of new regulations or guidelines for all parties”.

Additional research provided by Stella Matthews.