Cbus Super chief executive David Atkin is set to share with his peers what he’s learnt about building a fund’s identity and promoting a brand, at the 2018 FEAL Fund Executives Forum.

Connections are the theme for this year’s Forum, to be held at The Melbourne Business School, Carlton today, Thursday, March 1.

The program includes thought-leaders from within the superannuation industry and outside it, and dedicates time to exploring how fund executives can best connect with their brands, boards, members and contributing employers.

Ahead of that, Atkin – who was FEAL’s Fund Executive of the Year for 2017 − previewed some thoughts in a Q&A with Investment Magazine.

Investment Magazine: When did you start thinking of the fund in terms of being a brand?

David Atkin: Cbus has always had an enviable position or brand. Back as far as my first role in the super industry, as the manager of marketing and communications for the then-STA Fund, I would often reflect with a degree of envy on the Cbus brand and the solid loyalty of its membership.

Cbus was born from the actions of building workers and, with agreement from employers, it grew to be their industry superannuation fund. Many of the fund’s members do not refer to superannuation, they simply refer to their Cbus. That sense of ownership of the fund by its members, and a continuing focus and investment back into the built environment, makes Cbus iconic.

When I became CEO in 2008, I understood immediately that I was both blessed to be taking up the leadership of such a strong fund and brand, and awed with the responsibility of keeping it that way.

IM: How would you define Cbus’ brand identity?

DA: I think it’s more than a brand identity. It’s the whole purpose of its existence and whose interests it serves that make Cbus what it is today. It’s a collective pool of members’ deferred wages being invested to assist them in enjoying financial security in retirement. That’s what makes it so trusted by the membership.

You ask a plumber, a labourer, a sparkie or a chippie what they expect of their fund and they will tell you, ‘I’m an expert at my trade, but I’m not an expert in superannuation. I expect Cbus to take care of my super for me and I trust them to do that.’

And the brand is growing beyond its base. It is synonymous with blue-collar trade workers, but it’s also attracting new cohorts of white-collar workers and non-traditional professions associated with the built environment. It does so because of its great track record but also because people are drawn to its strength and our willingness to invest back into the industry, creating economic activity and jobs.

IM: What sorts of external experts have you worked with to develop the brand and what have they added?

DA: While we are talking to members every day, we don’t take their views and opinions for granted. We deploy opinion and market research consistently to understand how the fund is tracking amongst its membership and how it is viewed by consumers more generally.

Pleasingly, Cbus continues to rate highly in trust, loyalty and net promoter scores. Aside from research, we work with business partners who are experts in their field of advertising and brand marketing. They add that level of creativity to reflect our membership and our aspirations back to members themselves and beyond to the broader public.

We also have a remarkable team within the trustee office responsible for marketing and communications.

IM: Do you believe branding is becoming a more important area of expenditure for funds? Why?

DA: We exist in a choice environment that is enormously competitive and contested. On top of that, to continue to deliver to members, funds require scale. That means being able to attract and retain members, maintaining costs and keeping a positive cash flow that allows for long-term, patient investment in strong-returning assets.

The brand promise is central to this. Consumers are savvy, our members are savvy. They expect all aspects of our brand to deliver for them, whether it’s using our app to check their funds, talking to one of our co-ordinators about insurance cover or visiting our front office.

Every touchpoint is about the brand promise. It’s more than transactional, it’s about honouring the trust that members place in us by showing them we care. Marketing is one element, but delivering on your commitment, your promise, is critical.

IM: What is your top tip for measuring the return on investment from branding?

DA: If by branding, you refer solely to advertising and marketing, then there are any number of metrics you can draw from, be it retention, attraction, roll-ins, etc. But I think the most pleasing aspect of the Cbus brand is the continued loyalty and trust it elicits. To me, that is a measure of more than just a response to a television campaign or a billboard, it’s a sign that we are delivering our promise across all of our activities and honouring our commitment to keep members at the heart of everything we do.