Steven O’Donoghue

Queensland-based Brighter Super is planning to step up its ties with financial advisers, with a series of roadshows this year to pitch its services to advisers around the state.

The $30 billion fund, which was formed from a merger of LGIA Super and Energy Super in 2021, has significantly increased its ties with advisers following its merger with Suncorp Super in April 2022.

Brighter Super head of advice Steven O’Donoghue, a veteran of the financial advice industry, says the fund is looking at ways to become more adviser-friendly ahead of the proposed changes to the laws around financial advice which will be presented to parliament this year.

O’Donoghue says the unique position of being in an industry super fund that took over a retail fund has given Brighter Super stronger links with advisers compared to industry fund peers.

“We pride ourselves on being an advice-led organisation,” he tells Investment Magazine. 

“We have 41 staff who travel throughout Queensland giving what we call ‘boutique at scale’ face-to-face advice.”

The fund also has over 1300 external advisers registered with it who can charge fees to members’ accounts where it is appropriate and launched an adviser portal in June last year.

“We allow all fee types to be charged to the members account, with the member’s permission, and we allow external advisers to be listed on the account,” he says.

“If a member calls and wants advice we can refer them back to their advisers.”

He says the planned roadshows by the fund for later this year, the first time the fund has done them, is part of getting its message out to more members of the industry.

“We want to let advisers know about us and how we can help them,” he says.

A third of Brighter Super’s 250,000 members came into the fund through the adviser network.

The members have an average account balance of $142,600 – higher than the average for industry funds.

Ties that bind

O’Donoghue says Brighter Super sees increasing ties with advisers as part of its future, particularly in the light of the proposed changes to the laws around giving financial advice which will make it easier for super funds to give more advice to their members.

He adds the introduction of the Retirement Income Covenant was putting pressure on funds to become more involved in helping their members move into retirement.

“There is an expectation that funds will be doing more for their members in the lead up to retirement,” he says.

“That’s where super funds are going and some, more than others, will look at advice. We are one of those which believes that advice led conversations, and having members getting advice, will lead to better outcomes.”

A trained financial adviser himself, O’Donoghue says LGIA Super and Energy Super only had internal advisers, but the acquisition of Suncorp Super had changed this.

“We now have a strategy of being advice led which means having both internal and external advisers,” he says.

“We know that Australians will choose to get their advice from various sources, and we want to make sure we are helping to accommodate that.

O’Donoghue adds this will be an area of increased focus because retirement is hard and people need guidance and advice. “We want to make sure we can facilitate that, whether it is internal or externally,” he says.

The fund has some 18 trained financial advisers on staff, but has also boosted its capability to deal with external financial advisers by having a dedicated business development team as well as a dedicated contact centre team to help independent advisers serving Brighter Super members.

“We have acquired a foundational skill set [in dealing with external financial advisers] and we will continue to invest more in building those partnerships,” he says.

O’Donoghue says Brighter Super has a “full suite” of financial advice offerings inhouse, as well as its external advisers, which is also different from other industry funds.

“Our members have higher average balances than the average fund member, so we see the need to provide more comprehensive advice, when needed, to those members.”

Believer in advice

O’Donoghue has a long history in the financial advice business.

He was a financial planner with Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank before joining the Suncorp Group in 2016 as national manager of its advice arm.

His earlier roles included being head of advice for MLC in Brisbane and head of the Queensland office of financial planners, the Shadforth Financial Group.

He joined Brighter Super as head of advice in October 2021.

O’Donoghue says Brighter Super has a goal of being a larger fund but it wanted to be able to maintain good ties with its members.

We’re not trying to be a mega fund,” he says.

“We want to be a bit more personal. Our unique value proposition is that we are not too big and can provide personalized service. Once you get to be a megafund, it’s a bit hard to do that.”

O’Donoghue says the super fund sector is watching the proposed changes to the laws around financial advice including the proposed introduction of a new class of “qualified financial advisers” who would be employed by super funds, insurance companies and banks, delivering simple, low cost advice.

He says providing more financial advice to super fund members in future would depend on the ability to provide services which could be delivered at scale.

“The only way you can build for scalable advice is to make the process less cumbersome than it is now,” O’Donoghue says.

He adds he is “optimistic” that the new financial advice laws proposed by Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones is a step in the right direction which would provide some sensible outcomes.

“That is what we are all hoping for,” he says. “Doing more of the same won’t fix the problem.”

He adds the fund has plans to “broaden and scale” its advice services, depending on the outcome of the proposed law changes.

“Whether that’s internal or external will depend on the outcome from a legislation and regulation point of view,” he says.

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