Cbus Super chair Steve Bracks (left) with CEO David Atkin.

David Atkin, Cbus Super’s outgoing chief executive, is looking for a new job that will see him lobby companies to adopt a wider purpose to reshape finance and the economy and invest more sustainably.

“The need for the financial services industry to reorientate itself and focus on societal and environmental issues is fundamental to the success of companies but also to economies making the necessary transition to survive a changing and difficult environment,” he said.

Atkin, who will step down as head of the $56.5 billion fund mid-year after more than 12 years at the helm, said he is keen for the chance to work in a broader role possibly outside of superannuation and the building and the construction industries.

The Cbus boss is a member of the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative steering committee and has been one of the central forces in pushing for integrated reporting. That’s the space he says wants to work in, either as a senior executive, a board member or running a high-level sustainability project. At this early stage, he is not ruling anything out.

Cbus “has led that integrated reporting process in Australia and I genuinely believe that’s a model that needs advocacy out in the market place,” he said.

Unfinished business

Atkin said his decision to quit the fund was a tough one to make. But at the age of 56, he figured he had one more senior executive role ahead of him so he had to choose between finishing his professional career at Cbus or look for another opportunity. Ultimately, he said didn’t want to head into his 60s with the regret that he did not push himself out of his “comfort zone”.

Under his leadership, Cbus has grown from $12 billion to almost $56 billion. Yet while Atkin is happy with what he has achieved, he has some regrets and frustrations with some “unfinished business”.

A key ambition when Atkin joined the fund in 2008 was to improve member engagement and decision-making by providing retirement income projections. As a result, Cbus was one of the first funds to begin that process to help improve financial literacy as well as outcomes.

That said, he concedes that no fund, including Cbus, have nailed member engagement by having the right systems and data feeds to create a whole-of-customer view.

“We have built a leading edge $80 million system in the last 18 months,” he said. “I guess the frustration is I would have liked to be in this position five years ago as it would have made a big difference to members. But it is what it is. You need a whole lot of building blocks to get to this point.”

The Cbus chief said he is pleased with the move to internalise the fund’s investment program but is disappointed that he won’t be around for the next phase of the five-year investment strategy. “The large super funds are playing a bigger role in the economy but that role will become much more significant in the future,” he added.

Go direct

Atkin said Cbus’s will invest more directly in assets.

“That means making strategic investments and being an active investor, deploying patient capital in companies that have solid long-term strategies and supporting their aspirations through a very interactive relationship,” he said.

“We want to be at the front of the queue for quality companies which are looking for capital support whether equity or debt.”

This is a growth area for Cbus especially in the Asia Pacific which spurred on by a young demographic and strong economic growth.

“We have already invested in those economies, but Cbus will likely invest much more directly whether through listed equities or through private markets,” he said. “You will start to see Cbus building its capability in that region over the next five years.”

As to which Cbus executives have put their hat in the ring for the top job?

Atkin said there was definitely leadership capability within the fund and he was confident that the board chaired by former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, will look both internally and externally when recruiting the next CEO.

 

Elizabeth Fry is the editor of Investment Magazine's digital platform. 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.
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