3 September 2021
James Kirby – Wealth Editor
If you consider that we have a compulsory system where everybody has to put away 10 per cent of their earnings into a super fund, it’s hard to believe the wider public had no way of comparing their fund’s performance until this week.
The release of the government’s super fund performance figures – and importantly the decision to name and shame the worst funds – is a genuine breakthrough. The trillion-dollar question now is what happens next?
It’s worth picturing what is going to occur when more than a million households will soon receive a letter from their fund telling them the most important investment in their life (outside of their home) is in a ‘dud’ super fund.
We should not be surprised if there is uproar from this unfortunate constituency where people who may not always keep up to date with the super industry will be confused and angry.
What’s more this group of stranded investors is going to get a lot bigger in the near future when the exercise is expanded to include all super funds.
In this first version of the performance assessment 13 funds out of 76 in the MySuper category failed to pass industry standards. (If you want to compare your current super fund and see how it fared alongside the 13 loser funds tagged as ‘underperforming’ then simply go to ato.gov.au and it’s all there under ‘YourSuper comparison tool. The best way to do this is to use your MyGov personal password if you have got one of those.)
Within those funds are big names. There are funds linked with CBA and Westpac along with well known industry funds such as the Maritime Super.
Importantly, the majority of the investors stuck in these loser funds were in so-called retail funds from banks and insurers. As expected, non-profit industry funds which often have trade union links were the overall winners.
So what are you supposed to do if you find you are in a dud fund? Should you contact the fund where some call centre operator will probably read a script telling you things are about to get better.
Should you pull out of the fund and move to one that has a better record. You will have to expect that the fund you pick this year (which will be on the basis of its recent performance) turns out to be just as successful in the future. Remember, statistics strongly suggest the winners of today are rarely the winners of tomorrow.
Or maybe you turn your back on institutional super entirely by opening a self managed super fund.
Top advisers suggested this week there could be a material increase in SMSFs when people realise they are in dud funds.
Perhaps this will happen, but you have to ask, would an SMSF be the right choice for people in this situation? Even if they were capable of running an SMSF would it be economically feasible? You need to digest costs of $3000 a year in fees to make an SMSF really work and that rarely makes sense for anyone with less than around $600,000.
Certainly people are more likely to switch funds if they are seriously worried – we know for example that switching activity inside big funds tripled in the immediate aftermath of the sharemarket crash last year.
What to do?
It just so happens that the super system is about to experience some very big changes that are mostly for the better. In a few weeks time – November 1 – the old arrangements where each successive employer could default workers into a different fund is due to formally end.
Combine this new era of stapled super (where you can choose to take the same fund with you through your working life) together with regular publication of performance tables and we are going to get a much more active super investing public.
This is the perfect juncture to explore the idea of a national super fund – a fund that would be run by the government and very likely managed by the Future Fund.
The idea has been bounced around for some time. However, ‘big super’ – industry or retail – does not want to hear about it. Similarly, Self Managed Super Fund professionals won’t like it because people might surrender their SMSF management to a government fund faster than an institutional fund – especially if it is run by an operation with scores on the board.
To be precise, first the government would have to launch the concept and kickstart a fund. It would then have to put the management of the fund out to tender. Under current circumstances, the Future Fund would simply have to win the mandate because it’s returns are exceptional. Across the spectrum, the worst super funds have been doing about 6 per cent, the best have been doing closer to 9 per cent – the Future Fund has been doing 10.1 per cent.
For the investor the winning aspect of such a plan would be that the regular competition to win the right to manage the money would mean it is always underpinned by the best funds – the Future Fund might not always be top dog.
What we got this week is improved transparency in the superannuation system, but we have not seen substantial improvement in the system itself.
Every investor – the apprentice starting out, the young family with multiple accounts, the older couple petrified of low interest rates – are all still mandated to make a choice.
A national fund would allow them to join a fund that sits above and beyond the current choices.