CareSuper CIO Suzanne Branton (Photos: Matthew Fatches)
CareSuper CIO Suzanne Branton (Photos: Matthew Fatches)

Following the damaging revelations of the Hayne royal commission, Australian superannuation funds are strenuously ramping up their efforts to engage and communicate with members.

Three of the award winners at the Conexus Financial Superannuation Awards – which were held at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney on Thursday night – are wholly focused on reaching out to members and taking stock of their concerns.

For more than five years, the team at Energy Super, the Small Fund of the Year, has worked tirelessly to deliver a highly personalised service to members.

“One thing we are really strong about is getting out into the workplace and talking to members to make sure we are delivering what they need to get the best retirement outcome,” said Michael Abbott, the fund’s general manager of strategy, who accepted the award.

These efforts are not just about reassuring investors spooked by turbulent markets, he said. They are about providing support for many of the workers who are not financially literate and require assistance when making decisions.

The award was presented to Energy Super by FEAL chief executive Joanna Davison, who said the fund was a “brilliant example of how a dedicated group of people can work towards the best outcomes for their members”.

A major concern for Energy’s members – mostly electrical energy workers – is the amount of investment based on environmental, social and governance criteria.

Abbott explained that members wanted to know how asset owners dealt with climate risk. He said Millennials were especially keen for the fund to ramp up its investment in renewables.

“Jobs are changing dramatically in the sector and, as such, we are responding with investment in a range of clean-energy technologies, while remaining very conscious that a lot of members are still working in the coal-fired energy space.”

ESG investment is also key for CareSuper, which won the award for Medium Fund of the Year.

CareSuper which has already implemented a program to deepen the integration of ESG risk management across the fund, is about to relaunch its sustainable balanced option, CIO Suzanne Branton said. The fund has eschewed the traditional way of simply screening out so-called undesirable assets and is focused on a more “positive and thematic” way of assessing ESG investment, a grey area.

Presenting the award to CareSuper, Conexus Financial director of institutional content Amanda White called the fund well-rounded with a clear focus on member outcomes.

Branton said: “You can’t win an award like this unless every part of the fund is working to achieve the same goal of good outcomes for members.”

The investment chief called CareSuper’s investment style distinctive.

“We are very active and we focus on opportunistic and concentrated investments,” Branton said. “It’s hard to be as active as we are and take advantage of niche opportunities when you have a much bigger footprint.”

The country’s largest superannuation fund, $140 billion AustralianSuper, took out the prestigious Fund of the Year award, along with Large Fund of the Year and Best Insurance Offering.

AustralianSuper CIO Mark Delaney said super funds “have got better…they’re a lot more professional, they do things the right way, there is much more member focus, they’ve improved a hell of a lot over the journey…We’ve got miles to go but at least we’re heading in the right direction.”

AustralianSuper has joined forces with Climate Action 100+, the investor group that forced Swiss giant Glencore to cap its coal production, and is now leading a similar campaign targeting 12 other Australian companies over their carbon emissions.

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