Younger and ethically aware members are leading the charge for more transparency regarding where and how their superannuation funds are invested, Energy Super boss Robyn Petrou says.

The chief executive says Energy Super’s members have always been vocal in their demands for more control over where their super is invested; however, the recent success of a number of superannuation start-ups such as Spaceship and Grow has caused a rise in the number of younger members getting engaged with super.

“Younger people seem to be very much aware of their environment and their surroundings, and I think we need to learn from some of the innovators around us,” Petrou says. “Often, the industry has been challenged in developing innovations and new ways of doing things, and I think the challenge for us is to be able to move away from the status quo while working in a highly regulated industry.”

The 2017 figures from the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) estimate that total funds under management in responsible investment portfolios in Australia has reached $622 billion, compared with just $13.9 billion in 2002.

The report also states that “nine in 10 Australians expect their superannuation or other investments to be invested responsibility and ethically”.

“People want to know more about how we are investing their money, how we are thinking about all the social, environmental and governance issues,” Petrou says, adding that Energy Super has been completely transparent with its members regarding where it invests its funds and in which assets.

In 2017, the fund completed a digital transformation that has enabled it to shift its focus from its older demographics to its younger and more “digitally savvy” members. The fund also underwent a major expansion into Western Australia and regional Queensland that Petrou says is a result of using its data to understand who its members are and where they are located.

She says the biggest challenge for Energy Super and similar-sized funds will be keeping pace with technological advancements, “especially when these advancements are driven by banks with deep pockets”.

“When it comes to digital transformation, we have to be smart in the partners that we choose and the technology we put into place,” she says. “While we may not be innovators in this space, we see ourselves as fast followers, and watching very carefully and learning from some of the other players out there.”

Energy Super was a finalist for the 2018 Conexus Financial Superannuation Awards in the category Medium Fund of the Year (for funds with between $5 billion to $10 billion in funds under management).

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