UNSW’s Sandbox Program is designed to introduce students to industry projects.

Industry partners develop project tasks which reflect contemporary challenges and then engage with student project groups throughout the term. Adopted across various courses at UNSW, this is the second year it has been part of the popular ‘Retirement Saving and Spending over the Lifecycle’ course taught by Dr Kevin Liu.

Once again, the Conexus Institute collaborated with Super Consumers Australia’s Xavier O’Halloran and Matthias Oldham.

“We believe it is important that students develop a consumer framing to take into the workforce” said O’Halloran, when explaining their involvement.

The project was titled: “Developing a ‘Your Retirement’ information portal which helps households understand their retirement finances and have confidence to consume appropriately”.

While no student project group was able to perfectly solve such a difficult problem, there were some very good ideas. The use of digital presentation tools is always a highlight of working with students.

The prize-winning group (Mu Li, Christopher Kumar, Yiran Yuan, Alice Zhang, and Evan Guo) began by focusing on education (pillars), and then used household budgeting to engage retirees, using this as a foundation to develop a sustainable retirement plan.

A second project developed by Aware Super focused on ESG risks and opportunities.

“Feedback constantly shows that students love the Sandbox Program and find it provides them with great exposure to the challenges faced by industry. Collaborating with industry leaders, we can co-create learning experiences that inspire young people to unleash their creativity to provide innovative solutions to some of the largest challenges faced by the superannuation industry,” commented Dr Liu.

Retirement support: a challenging project

The leading student project teams had a clear understanding of the problems faced by retirees, with most referencing the Retirement Income Review. In many cases people are not spending as much as they could in retirement, denying themselves an appropriate retirement lifestyle. Retirement financial decisions are complex, and many consumers have low financial literacy and a limited understanding of the multiple pillars of retirement income. Many retirees are concerned about funding future healthcare and aged care costs.

Both the Conexus Institute and Super Consumers Australia believe that the range of existing services to address these issues require significant improvement.

“The Retirement Income Covenant strongly encourages super funds to go beyond just product solutions and develop tools and support to assist members make an appropriate retirement decision, meaning they enter retirement confident in their finances,” commented Oldham.

Student difficulties a microcosm of those faced by industry

Where the project proved difficult for students was the range of techniques required to address the challenge. Education of the retirement income pillars was a common foundation amongst student groups. There was also a significant modelling piece (which students only had to scope, not develop) to access the necessary personal information and then develop a retirement plan, complete with information to provide confidence and address common concerns that retirees may have. The final piece of the puzzle was framing and presentation: the information needed to be framed in a way which was engaging, could be understood, and provided assurance.

These are the very challenges industry is grappling with. Industry faces the additional challenge of navigating laws and regulation associated with financial advice and guidance.

Some of the shortcomings amongst student group projects are also evident in industry: a focus on accumulation rather than decumulation, and difficulties in framing complex information in a way which can be easily understood.

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