Regardless of the political, regulatory and competitive challenges, not-for-profit superannuation funds need strong leaders, capable of guiding their members’ retirement incomes, according to QIC and AMP Capital executive Brian Delaney.

After almost 40 years as a fund manager with a strong belief in mentoring, Delaney steps in as chair of professional development body, the Fund Executives Association Limited (FEAL) on May 3, replacing Jane Perry.

A former professional basketballer who used strength and conditioning coaches, Delaney said his own career was enhanced by mentors, something FEAL provides for fund executives through education and mentorship.

FEAL has been in existence for 22 years. The “collegiate approach” fostered by the Association has enabled its members to shine in one of the most sophisticated investor markets in the world, Delaney maintained.

People like to help each other

“Australians like to help each other,’’ he said.

“Of course, we all acknowledge the competition that now exists between funds. There’s a lot of pressure but I still observe very good relationships between people that run competing funds,’’ he said.

“Providing forums where members can share and learn from each other is an underpinning and cornerstone of FEAL’s success as an organisation.”

Delaney said living in the US and travelling to Japan, Korea and Britain helped him to realise Australia has one of the most sophisticated pension fund systems in the world.

“I think Australia is one of the most sophisticated investment markets in the world largely because of the size of our equity market being close to under 2 per cent. [That meant] we always had to look at innovative ways to invest.”

A unique approach

While FEAL has comparative associations elsewhere in the world, it is unique in its approach in “investing in executives that are going to make a difference”, he said.

“I practice what I preach. I have had a mentor externally and [have] paid coaches over my executive career in addition to people I’ve always admired,’’ he said.

“I don’t understand why people don’t use their networks more powerfully to reach out to people that have expertise in areas that they don’t have. I found people always very gracious in that regard and now I’m one of those people happy to give back. FEAL provides many different opportunities for people to build their networks.”

He credits industry fund chiefs such as Deanne Stewart, Debby Blakey, Ian Silk, Ian Patrick, Sonya Sawtell-Rickson, Michael Dwyer AM and David Elia, and their involvement in FEAL as setting a high mentoring and professional development standard for executives in the super sector.

He also pointed to current FEAL sponsors which have allowed the Association to offer scholarships for its signature Melbourne Business School post-graduate program for fund executives as well as seven other scholarship and award programs. These scholarships have contributed to its success.

Managing long-term risk

“I’ve got my own money in a not-for-profit fund. I have all the confidence in the world that these investors will understand the beginning of an inflationary and higher interest rate cycle risks… bearing in mind they are managing for the long term,’’ he said.

“I have a lot of faith in Australian investment capability and expertise because the evidence as measured by long-term returns against benchmarks over the last 20 years shows the calibre of our investment talent.

“I believe FEAL can continue to develop the skills and provide the professional development that’s going to help people like my mum who rely on their fund-based pension. It personalises it for me.”

This extends to a focus on diversity. “In an industry that’s still not balanced across female and male representation especially across executive ranks, FEAL ensures that, whether you’re male or female, you get an opportunity to be mentored, to win awards. I will be continuing to support and drive this forward as the new Chair of FEAL,’’ he said.

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