SMSFs outperform large funds over 7 years

Note: The ATO publishes an annual report about SMSFs for each financial year. This article covers the latest SMSF performance data available from the ATO, as at February 2015. The ATO will provide updated performance data (for year ending 30 June 2014) in late 2015.

A common argument put forward against individuals starting a self-managed super fund is that budding SMSF trustees could lose their hard-earned super savings through inexperienced investing, and bad investment decisions. Until relatively recently, there wasn’t much evidence confirming or denying this ‘world view’ mainly proffered by the large super fund sector.

The ATO now publishes SMSF performance data and the real story is quite startling. SMSFs had outperformed the large fund sector (corporate, industry and retail funds in four years out of seven. Due to updated performance figures for the 2012 financial year however, the large fund sector slightly outperforms SMSFs for that year (delivering 0.6% compared with 0.3% for SMSFs). With the adjustment to the performance figures for the 2012 financial year, the large fund sector can now claim to outperform SMSFs 4 years out of seven.

SMSFs outperformed large super funds for the three years ended 30 June 2007, 30 June 2008, 30 June 2009, but large super funds performed better for the years ended 30 June 2010, 30 June 2011, 30 June 2012, and 30 June 2013.

Note: For the year ended 30 June 2011, SMSFs delivered 7.7% and large funds delivered 7.8%: a difference of one-tenth of 1 per cent, which means the ‘winner’ over 7 years to be a little unclear.

SMSFs outperform over the long term, on average

The figures become even more interesting when you look at the average annual return over the 7-year period that the statistics cover. Based on the figures in the table below, the average annual return over the seven-year period to 30 June 2013, is:

  • 4.33% a year, for SMSFs
  • 3.69% a year, for large super funds.

In anyone’s language the long-term averages listed in the bullets above are not impressive for either category of super fund, but note that the Global Financial Crisis occurred during this period.

We will be able to get a better sense of long-term investment performance when the ATO releases the 2014 and 2015 financial year performance data.

Investment performance
Financial yearSMSFs (%)Large funds (%)Outperformer
2008-5.9% (loss)-8.1% (loss)SMSF
2009-6.7% (loss)-11.5% (loss)SMSF
20107.7%8.9%Large funds
20117.7%7.8%Large funds
20120.3%0.6%Large funds
201310.5%13.7%Large funds

Note: While the methodology used to estimate SMSF performance resembles APRA’s, the data collected is not the same. The data in the table above is sourced from five ATO reports: SMSFs – A statistical overview 2012-2013, SMSFs – A statistical overview 2011-2012, SMSFs – A statistical overview 2010-2011, SMSFs – A statistical overview 2009-10, and SMSFs – A statistical overview 2008-09.


Source: Table created by SuperGuide using ATO performance data. 

For more information on investment performance and asset allocation see the following related SuperGuide articles:

You can also check out the following ATO reports on the ATO website:


  1. Robert R says:

    Hi Trish,

    Interesting data but the ATO comparison is a bit of a blunt tool.

    I followed the link and had a look at the full report. What struck me most is the very high correlation between ROA and fund size with the SMSFs >$2M showing much better performance than even the SMSFs $1m – $2m.

    Just why the performance is so much better for the largest SMSFs over the next band of SMSFs is not explained in the report. We could conjecture that people with the highest balances are the most engaged, or perhaps people with such high balances are more likely to engage professional investment advice, or perhaps those with the highest balances are less adverse to higher risk (volatility) investments. In any case, there is no such correlation in the large funds where performance is very much dependent on which fund the member is invested in rather than the balance of their account.

    If you compare the average performance of the different bands of SMSFs against large funds, you will see that the performance of most common band ($200k-$500K) is somewhat worse than the large funds average for years 2010, 2011, 2012, much the same for 2008 and SMSFs are better in 2009 – overall, the performance of the large funds over the 5 year period is considerably superior. All bands below the $200K -$500K band perform much worse than large funds, the $500K -$1M band looks like it is neck and neck, in the bands $1M-$2M and >$2m SMSFs perform better than the large funds.

    The other interesting data is the very low level of overseas investments in SMSFs. The period covered by the report is one where returns from overseas equities were somewhat lower than Australian equities and featured a rising dollar. We are now in a period where overseas equities are outperforming Australian equities and the Australian dollar is falling. Since the majority of large fund members are in the balanced options of funds that have considerably more exposure to overseas equities than SMSFs, it will be interesting to see the comparison in performance in the next ATO report.


  2. Wow. 3 out of 5, eh? That wouldn’t have anything to do with ‘chance’? Any guess on what the 2012 results might be, given the tendency for SMSFs to hold cash and property, and the performance of sharemarkets last year?

    I’m willing to guess, and I think large super funds outperformed, which would put average performance at 50/50 by year. In other news, the sky is blue.

    • Looks more like 4 out of 6 by my count ….with an accumulated (but not adjusted , rough I know) gain of 7.5% to the SMFS over the large funds

  3. I manage my own SMSF and over the last 9 years we came in 2nd when compared with the best 25 superfund performers in the country with a 8.5% return per annum. Just because some SMSF’s dont get it right, dont penalise the ones that do with more regulations.

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