The $31 billion Emergency Services and State Super fund has partnered with Australian software company Iress to provide new digital services for its members that will see most back office functions automated.

Australia’s largest opened defined benefit fund said Iress will provide digitally automated and cost-effective administration and help its 132,000 members to self-serve online. Chief executive officer Mark Puli said while some jobs will be lost to computers, they will look to retrain staff in new roles and grow local call centres to support the digital service.

“Super funds need to innovate and be more efficient,” the Melbourne-based CEO said in an interview. “Much like online banking, members are expecting 24 hour access now.”

KPMG warned this month that the strong asset growth enjoyed by Australia’s $2.9 trillion superannuation industry could no longer be guaranteed if funds did not invest in innovation. Just as ‘open banking’ is expected to be a game changer for Australian lenders, KPMG said the same dynamics will revolutionise the pension industry and open it up to disruption from newer players.

Puli agrees. While he declined to comment on the cost of the project, he said it was a “once-in-a-generation investment” that will adapt as new technologies emerge. “I think others will follow suit,” he added. The changes are expected to be completed in 2021.

ESSSuper’s deal with Iress follows an extensive tender and due diligence process. Puli said while the project will save money in the long term, they are being careful to preserve the expertise that has been built up over the fund’s almost 100-year history.

“A lot of organisations invest heavily in the front-end experience with mobile apps,” he said. “There has been a war of digitisation at the front end in the industry but not so much at the back end.”

Iress CEO Andrew Walsh said by automating ESSSuper’s administration and reducing manual processes, it had freed the super fund up “to focus their efforts where it counts.”

Earlier this year, ESSSuper launched its “AssistMe” interative online tool that helps members to forecast their super in retirement. Puli said they also had another couple of projects on the go related to member engagement, and they were examining how companies like Facebook and Twitter keep people engaged.

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