AustralianSuper chief executive Ian Silk aims to capitalise on foreign opportunities by having more people on the ground in major markets to identify and execute deals earlier, thus avoiding the prospect of a bidding war for prized assets.

Australia’s largest superannuation fund plans to open offices in New York and Asia and beef up its London operation as part of a strategy to invest in, and directly manage, more offshore assets, Silk said.

“The best opportunities are often ones that don’t go through a big public process or auction which drive up prices to some very lofty levels,” he argued.

“We want to carry out transactions that don’t occur in the public gaze and don’t have the sort of competitive tension that auctions spark.”

Silk believes building relationships and understanding a vendor’s particular circumstances makes it easier to cut a deal that suits two parties.

The superannuation fund, projected to reach $300 billion in assets in five years, is forecast to increase its allocation to overseas investments from about half to about 60 per cent by 2024.

AustralianSuper’s overseas ambitions are partly driven by watching rival funds snare key assets through having a greater presence in major markets, according to the superannuation fund boss.

Silk also conceded that running foreign transactions out of Australia is not sustainable.

“We are approached on investments because we have a big pool of capital but if we are on the ground in these markets, we think we will be aware of opportunities earlier,” he noted.

Importantly, with $160 billion in assets under management, the fund now has the scale to make this cost effective.

“The next wave of change is going to be a much greater allocation offshore and a much greater direct investment,” Silk said.

TheAustralianSuper chief called this  “very significant shift” in the way the fund invests.

Twelve years ago, funds were run by external managers. Now, he said, only 62 per cent is managed by external parties and the rest is managed internally.

Speaking earlier at Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney on Friday, Silk said the $16 billion of new inflows this financial year was up about 90 per cent on last year, adding that the vast bulk has come from the big four banks and AMP.

Silk says he is “staggered” to see that inflows from retail funds is continuing.

“We thought there’d be a short-term blip during the currency of the royal commission when the publicity was at its keenest,” he noted.

“But its continued and we have had certain months this year which have outstripped many months last year so it shows no signs of dropping off.

“Presumably it will at some point but there are but no signs yet.”

Silk said the fund’s goal was not growth for its own sake, and the new money had to drive better performance for members.

Critically, he argued, unless the inflows are actually driving enhanced performance, then AustralianSuper should be shutting the door on new members and new money.

“If the money was coming in and we couldn’t invest it well and continue to deliver good performance we would be acting entirely contrary to what a for member fund is all about.”

At a briefing after the lunch, Silk spoke of Australia’s superannuation system more generally, citing the compelling figures from Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia that revealed 80 per cent of people support the Superannuation Guarantee rising from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent. New research showed a solid 90 per cent of  respondents supported compulsory super.

“We know the facts, we know people are living longer and we know that 9.5 per cent will not provide them with what they need;12 per cent will get very close for most people,’ argued Silk.

“If we want to send retirement income policy back into the ice age let’s freeze the SG at 9.5 per cent.”

Once again commenting on ASFA figures, Silk cited the age pension cost 2.6 per cent of GDP or 4.8 per cent by adding the cost of super tax concessions.

This compares to the OECD average cost of pensions which is a much higher 8.9 per cent, leaving aside tax concessions.

“Australia’s superannuation system is not costing the sort of money its opponents claim it is.”

Elizabeth Fry has been a financial journalist for more than 25 years and has written for a number of publications, including CFO, The Financial Times and The Australian Financial Review.