Creating and fostering a strong brand is important to any business, but it is especially difficult in the highly regulated superannuation industry. With minimal distinction between product and pricing across the sector, funds have long relied on a steady inflow of new customers from either financial advisers or industry-wide workplace bargaining.

However, the current reality is that funds need to hold on to every single member that they have, with stapling, reduced adviser numbers and APRA breathing down the neck of anyone who dares to create a MySuper product that’s a bit different.

To garner brand recognition and alignment, an increasing number of funds are using high-cost, high-visibility advertising to get their point across. However, the real battle ground is below the water-line – not in the heady space of advertising, but in the boring, mundane areas of standard letters, emails and phone systems.

If you want more evidence funds need to focus on the basics and on existing members, look no further than APRA’s heatmap reporting. Figures released in Feb this year show that only six of 69 funds are meeting all three sustainability measures, 41 are not meeting any, and the remaining 22 are in the middle. Holding on to your hard-won members has never been more important.

Achieving sustainability

Without its members, a fund does not exist. So how does a fund achieve long-term sustainability in this new operating environment? It’s no secret the member base of a super fund is its life force. For that reason, every decision made or dollar spent at every level of a fund should be interrogated with the underlying question: Does this push the member away, or does it pull them closer?

But hang on, what is wrong with advertising? Surely it’s pulling in members? That is certainly the goal of advertising, and it does often bring new members through the door. Sometimes not the intended door though.

Today, most super advertising messages look very similar – fees, performance, returns, awards.  Operating in such a heavily regulated field imposes limitations that make it nearly impossible to differentiate on a billboard. To be impactful with advertising, your other option is to flood the market but that is an incredibly expensive use of members’ money.

Unlike advertising, below-the-water-line communications provide a huge number of opportunities for a fund to engage with its members. There are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of touchpoints across call centres, standard correspondence and online platforms where a fund can build a solid connection with its members.

These communications are also subject to regulation and compliance and are not easy to just change on a whim. However, we’ve seen funds investing millions of dollars a year in advertising that is arguably ineffective. Reinvesting even a small portion of those resources to the operational teams who engage with the members day-to-day is the key to member engagement and brand strength.

‘Perfectly acceptable’ isn’t good enough

Just to be clear, most funds are doing a perfectly acceptable job of communicating with their members. However, in the current operating environment, perfectly acceptable isn’t going to guarantee your fund’s long-term survival. Instead, the key is finding ways to pull the member closer towards you, every time you connect with them.

By examining the various touchpoints and asking at each instance, how you can change this to pull the member towards us, the answers will become apparent.

For instance, your fund’s IVR system – listen to it, whilst imagining yourself as a very frustrated, time-poor member who has just exhausted every other avenue of finding an answer to your query before they picked up the phone. Knowing that member’s nerves might already be on edge, are you making the experience better by having complicated menus to navigate and the same recorded message playing over and over?

It might be just a small thing, but a poorly thought-out IVR is a push not a pull. When your frustrated member then reaches a live human on the phone who wastes another hour of the member’s time on hold, looking for account details or investigating, well, you may as well have opened the door and kicked them out.

Or, how about the processes between your fund and your insurer. If a member wants to increase their insurance coverage, do you make this a delightful experience or one that ends in either no action or a phone call? The choice is yours.

Sarah Penn is managing director of Mayflower Consulting.

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