Superannuation is a home for your retirement savings, but it can do much more for you than that.
How much more depends on your super fund because some funds are doing a better job of engaging and supporting members than others.
Like Oliver Twist, many super fund members are lining up for more.
That much was evident from the Investment Trends’ 2023 Super Fund Member Sentiment and Communications Report. It found members are more engaged with their super than ever, and this engagement has led to a surge in the intention to switch super funds, with 9% of those surveyed indicating they plan to move funds within the next 12 months.
The report also found that members want more information about their funds’ ESG investment philosophy and are more likely to desire engagement with their super via a mobile app rather than a website for the first time in the survey’s history.
So how does your fund stack up? Here are some things to look for.
Super is not something that is taught at school or discussed around the kitchen table, so understanding how super works and how to make the most of it can be a steep learning curve.
The learning starts with choice of fund and investment options, reaches a climax when you are planning for retirement and continues as you manage your retirement income and estate planning.
As the super industry matures, member education is an area where the best funds can differentiate themselves from the rest. Education is being delivered via online articles, podcasts, videos and webinars as well as face-to-face seminars around the country.
For example, HostPlus offers a comprehensive financial education program that includes how-to videos on topics from how super works, through making contributions and choosing an investment option to insurance, consolidation and retirement. The fund also hosts regular webinars and provides a range of blog posts.
Calculators and other tools can also help your retirement planning. For example, TelstraSuper provides some excellent retirement planning calculators while REST has a First Home Super Saver calculator and AustralianSuper offers a tool to calculate the most effective way to contribute to super as well as a risk profiler.
After seeking out information and educational material, people often want more personal advice to help them grow their super and manage the transition-to-retirement phase.
Super funds are catching on, and many are beginning to improve their advice offerings as a way of retaining members.
Advice is offered on a scaled basis, beginning with simple advice over the phone about your account, the range of investment options it offers, contribution strategies, how to choose the most appropriate insurance cover and nominating beneficiaries.
At the top of the scale, some funds offer access to comprehensive financial advice from licensed financial planners on a fee-for-service basis.
Some funds, such as UniSuper, have in-house teams of advisers available for face-to-face appointments. Others, such as Cbus, outsource to an approved certified financial planner in your area.
In many cases, the fee for advice is deductible from your super account balance.
One of the most valuable benefits of super aside from retirement savings is access to life insurance at cheaper rates than you could negotiate yourself outside super.
Members who join through an employer are generally offered default death, TPD (total and permanent disability) and income protection insurance through their super. If you are a personal member you can apply for voluntary cover.
Insurance is difficult to assess compared with things such as investment performance because it’s so complex. Premiums differ according to your age, gender, occupation and smoking status. There can also be big differences in policy conditions and benefit design.
To get an idea of the best in show, SuperRatings and Chant West have categories for insurance in their annual super fund awards.
The difficulties many people faced when trying to make insurance claims came under the spotlight during the banking royal commission. Since then, ASIC has increased focus on claims handling practices and the quality of TPD insurance in super, publishing two reports on the topic and increasing surveillance of super funds to ensure progress is being made. A review in 2022 found that many trustees have made changes to the design of their insurance arrangements to better meet member needs and provide value for money, such as by changing restrictive ‘total and permanent disability’ definitions. Trustees have also worked with their insurers to streamline their claims processes to make them easier for members to navigate and taken steps to enhance their oversight of insurers’ claims handling practices. Some have improved the way they explain their insurance offerings to make it easier for members to understand their insurance and make appropriate decisions for their circumstances.
Speaking your language
Super funds know they need to lift their game when it comes to communicating with members. Generally, Australia’s super funds have a good story to tell but they have not been so good at spreading the word and engaging members in their financial future.
Traditionally, the fund’s website has been the first point of contact, with details of how to get in touch via phone, online chat and email. You can also download forms, annual reports and other information or request a printed copy.
These options may be enough for some members but, as the Investment Trends survey highlighted, others want to access their super through a mobile device. The last few years has seen most large super funds launch a mobile app, if they did not already have one. Apps provide access to up-to-date balances and transactions and permit interactions like investment switching and updating beneficiaries. Having your super in the palm of your hand can help you feel more connected to it and remind you to track your contributions and progress.
Rewards and other benefits
Some funds are also getting into the rewards game to attract and engage members.
Australian Retirement Trust’s ART Rewards program offers discounts on scores of products and services from their rewards partners. These are similar to the rewards you might find on offer from insurance companies, credit card providers or your union if you belong to one.
If your fund doesn’t have it’s own rewards program, you can always think about signing up with Grow My Money (previously super rewards). This service offers cashback from qualifying purchases in the form of super contributions. A rewards program is not reason enough to choose a fund, but it’s an added perk some members may find valuable. And if it gets people to check their account more often, that’s not a bad thing.
Apart from rewards, your super fund may offer access to other benefits. Aware Super, for example, provides a range of wellbeing services, in keeping with their ‘super helpful’ slogan. Members can access mental health support, talk to a dietician or exercise physiologist, or have three sessions with a grief support counsellor (if diagnosed with a terminal illness) at no extra cost.