Bernard Reilly

On the day the mega-merger of Sunsuper and QSuper completed in February last year, the Queensland floods were at their apex and Russia invaded Ukraine.

It was symbolic of the frenetic schedule and complex national and geopolitical problems that would stay with Bernard Reilly throughout his subsequent 18 months as inaugural CEO of the new Australian Retirement Trust.

Reilly, who yesterday announced he will step down from the role in February next year, admits the job was a challenging one.

“The last four years have been pretty big – Covid-19, mergers, integrations. These jobs are all-consuming and you never really switch off,” says Reilly, who lives in Sydney with his family but runs the increasingly national ART mostly from its traditional Brisbane headquarters.

“But [my departure] is not actually about that. [I had achieved the] things that I wanted to achieve in bringing these two organisations together. I also think as a leader, knowing when to go is important. And most leaders aren’t great at that, they stay around too long… We’re a year into a five-year strategy. And if you wait a couple of years to the back end of that, it’s not great for someone to inherit. So, it feels like the right time.”

While he concedes there were hurdles – including closing a major deal during the pandemic lockdowns and the political and media scrutiny that comes with being a leader in the prudentially regulated and compulsory super system – he doesn’t want those to deter ambitious, values-based peers in the industry from stepping into his shoes at the $260 billion fund, Australia’s second largest.

“This is an amazing job,” he tells Investment Magazine. “I’m stepping away because it’s the right time for me. But for the right person there is an amazing platform to continue to grow Australian Retirement Trust to benefit our members.

“We are around the 20th largest pension fund in the world. That’s an amazing platform to think about what we can do in [an] Australian context, but also when you think about the role that we play in the assets that we manage globally.”

Under his tenure which commenced almost four years ago, the fund has inked corporate super mandates with ASX-listed giants Woolworths and Commonwealth Bank and says it continues to experience organic growth from members switching of their own volition.

Retirement reflections

Asked to name some of his achievements in the role, other than completion and integration of the two Queensland-based legacy funds, Reilly pointed to the fund’s work in preparing members for retirement and investment in external financial adviser relationships. He singled out the fund’s appointment of an executive-level chief of retirement in Kathy Vincent, who will shortly join the fund from Westpac’s BT.

“I think the industry is actually pretty well equipped to be able to meet [the retirement] challenge. I think the focus is probably where it needs more attention. The fact we’re having a discussion [is] incredibly positive, I think we’ve got the building blocks, tools to be able to deliver for members.

“It probably requires some changes and tweaks to regulations over time. Quality of Advice [Review] is a great example.”

ART chair Andrew Fraser, a former Labor treasurer of Queensland, praised the outgoing CEO in a statement.

“Bern has expertly guided Australian Retirement Trust to deliver merger benefits to our more than 2.3 million members,” he said.

“But I think the thing Bern should be proudest of, and a true testament to his leadership capabilities, is the culture he has helped grow across our organisation.”

Recruitment giant Egon Zehnder has been appointed to commence a global executive search for the next CEO.

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