Debby Blakey

HESTA boss Debby Blakey is unashamed in her focus on making superannuation fairer to women which is part of the reason she has taken on a new campaign to increase member engagement in the sector.

Her fund recently launched the Future Planner digital tool.

It’s a project, she maintained, that aimed to bridge the gap between high-cost financial advice which often exceeded the needs of many people and the do-it-yourself online advice that’s often not personalised and isn’t designed to build confidence.

Long-term planning

“We started by asking our members and they told us they wanted support with long-term planning,” Blakey said.

“Future Planner helps our members build confidence in their financial future by supporting them to take successive small but powerful steps that builds their confidence. The tool gives members a snapshot of their future situation by incorporating other potential income, such as the aged pension, as well integrating lifestyle planning to provide members a more personalised picture of what a fulfilling retirement looks like for them.”

The product is already being used by 60,000 of the fund’s 900,000 membership base. (HESTA’s membership comes mainly from the health and community services and education professions.)

She maintained the launch of Future Planner laid the foundations for further digital developments at HESTA which now has $68 billion under management.

Education is key

Much of the broader government regulatory drive in 2021 was devoted to the default space and Blakey figured that it was also designed to increase member engagement with their super.

Education of members is a key plank of her plans as evidenced by the push to make members more aware of the benefits of insurance and of using the fund to provide that service.

Blakey first joined HESTA in 2008 and was mentored by the then chair Angela Emslie and chief executive Anne Marie Corboy.

She started her career as a consulting actuary after studying at the University of Natal in South Africa. She became chief executive of HESTA in 2015.

A focus on fairness

Some 80 per cent of HESTA’s members are women (she said the membership base was one of the key reasons for her decision to join the fund) so making the system fairer for women is, fairly obviously, a front-of-mind issue for Blakey.

“The superannuation system is designed for full time employment and the reality is women bear a significant load with children,” she said.

Asked what she would do to make the system work better for her members she said that superannuation should be paid on parental leave and that affordable, quality childcare was also important.

“[At the moment] women are retiring on one third less than men,” she said.

Jobs for women

While supporting the concept of more investment in social infrastructure she said the fund had to achieve an appropriate return so this is where, she maintained, Government should have a role.

As a result, this meant the fund is not particularly weighted toward social infrastructure.

She did note, however, that $1 million spent on new construction creates 0.2 new female jobs but the same amount spent on education creates 10.6 new jobs.

HESTA recently launched the 40-40 Vision initiative with industry partners Chief Executive Women and ACSI, among others, with the aim of having at least 40 per cent women in ASX200 executive roles by 2030.

So far just 16 companies have signed up which means 184 haven’t, just nine years away from the deadline.

Diversity often means outperformance

Blakey cites McKinsey studies noting companies with a more diverse work forces outperform by 20 per cent. Not surprisingly, Blakey is a keen support of ESG investing noting: “it delivers the best return for members”.

The fund is also starting to manage more assets in-house, starting with Australian equities then moving to cash and fixed income. The aim is to manage up to 15 per cent of funds in-house.

The process started five years ago coinciding with the appointment of then QIC’s Sonya Sawtell-Rickson as chief investment officer.

“Internal management is better because it brings us closer to the market and some cost savings [and] enhances our decision making,” Blakey said.

But the fund will continue to use outside managers and Blakey stresses the value they add to the fund.

The past year saw a raft of changes to superannuation rules but she said some had been positive. Top of the list is the proposed change to the Family Law act which improves the visibility of superannuation assets in settling marriage disputes. She also cited the planned end of the $450 threshold below which superannuation wasn’t paid.

“[But] the changes added complexity,” she noted, pointing also to the new rules around My Super default products which didn’t apply to member choice arrangements.

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