International affairs expert Keith Suter urged superannuation fund trustees to be “alert to the faint signals of change”, as the notion of democracy faces pressure in an age of “anxious individualism”.

In the closing session of the final day of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees’ annual Super Investment Conference (ASI 2018), Suter said there was growing anger about democracy that might eventually have an impact on Australia’s $2.7 trillion pension system.

“The challenge for us in the Western world is how [democracy] can flourish at a time when the concentration of wealth is in so few hands,” Suter said. “We live in an age of anxious individualism. People are being encouraged to look out for number one, so have very little commitment to the broader society. We must not take democracy for granted. As people get angry about democracy, they also get angry about superannuation. You will be caught up in the broader anger.”

Suter, who is the managing director of independent think tank Global Directions, discussed the development of the Social Credit System (SCS) in China as an example of a challenge to democracy.

“[The SCS] is based on facial recognition, internet surveillance and a cashless society,” he said. “Every time you spend money in China, they are monitoring what you are spending it on. In the social credit system, you start off with a score of 100, so if you’re buying diapers, you are seen to be doing something worthwhile. So therefore, you are earning extra points. On the other hand, if you spend too much time playing video games, you lose your points.”

By 2020, the Chinese Government plans to standardise the assessment of citizens’ and businesses’ economic and social reputations, or “credit”, under the national system known as SCS.

“This is the basis of a police society, which they are developing in China. Keep an eye on this, the SCS, and how they are going to control people in China,” Suter said.

Following from this, Suter said trustees “must be prepared to be surprised by what is going to happen in the world of geopolitics”.

“Every board needs a system to listen for the faint signals of change. And read broadly,” he said. “Of the top 20 TV programs in Australia, 17 are on sport and three are on cooking. Media are more concerned about sport and cooking. [Meanwhile] the world is undergoing major changes and we need to be on top of those changes for the sake of our members.”

Regarding the ongoing Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Suter said: “Politicians come and go, but we’ve been blessed by a good financial system, despite what the royal commission is throwing up.”

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