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Choosing a super fund is one of the most important financial decisions you will make during your working life.
With the difference between a top fund and a poorly performing one potentially adding tens of thousands of dollars to your retirement nest egg, choice of fund deserves careful consideration.
Whether you are self-employed or an employee receiving compulsory Superannuation Guarantee (SG) payments from your employer, you can generally choose your fund, with some exceptions. Some people covered by industrial agreements or members of certain defined benefit funds may not have a choice.
These days most super funds are open to all comers, or what is called public offer, but not all. For example, some companies offer low-cost funds that are restricted to their employees.
Other types of funds may attract certain types of members for historic reasons, such as public servants or members of a trade union, but now accept all-comers.
Wealthier individuals and families, including those who want to hold business or investment property inside their super fund often prefer to run their own self-managed super fund (SMSF).
Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to canvass all your options before you make your final selection. It’s also worth remembering that your choice of fund is not a life sentence. If you are unhappy with your fund for whatever reason, you are free to switch super funds provided you have choice.
Types of super funds
Here is a brief summary of the five types of funds:
- Corporate funds. These funds are offered by companies such as Telstra and Qantas for their employees. Some large corporates operate the fund under a board of trustees representing the employer and employees. Smaller corporate funds may operate under the umbrella of a large retail or industry super fund. Funds run by your employer or an industry fund are generally not-for-profit, while those run by retail funds retain some profits. They are generally low to medium cost, especially for large corporates. Most are accumulation (pre-retirement) funds, but some older funds may be defined benefit (see ‘Accumulation vs defined benefit funds’ below).
- Industry funds. These once catered to workers in single industries across multiple work sites, but most are now open for anyone to join. They generally have a limited menu of pre-mixed investment options designed to meet most people’s needs, including MySuper accounts (see below). However, larger funds these days often allow members to create their own investment mix from a menu containing options such as Australian shares, international shares, diversified fixed interest and cash. Some funds also allow you to select your own direct holdings in shares, ETFs and term deposits. They are generally low-cost not-for-profit, meaning profits are put back into the fund for the benefit of members. Most offer accumulation and pension (retirement) accounts.
- Public sector funds. Originally created for federal and state government employees, some of these not-for-profit funds are now open to anyone. They generally have a limited menu of investment options, including a MySuper option, low fees and good member services. Some employers contribute more than the minimum Superannuation Guarantee. Older members are often in defined benefit products while newer members are in accumulation funds.
- Retail funds. These funds are run by banks and other financial institutions and are open to all investors. People who consult a financial adviser/planner are generally offered a retail fund via an administrative platform with access to a wide range of investments, often running into the hundreds. Most retail funds are medium to high cost, with advice fees and platform fees, although fees have been coming down in recent years and many now offer a lower cost MySuper alternative. They generally offer accumulation and pension (retirement) accounts, and the company running the fund retains some profit.
- Self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs). DIY investors who want more control or flexibility can run their own super fund or make it a family affair and involve their partner, adult children or other members up to a maximum of six members. All members must be trustees (or directors if there is a corporate trustee) and are responsible for all decisions made about investments and compliance with relevant laws. There is no minimum investment but set-up costs and annual running expenses can be high, especially if you use administration and other services. To learn more about self-managed super funds, including how much they cost to set up and run, see our SMSFs section.
While SMSFs are regulated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), all other types of funds are regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).
The table below gives an overview of super fund accounts and assets by fund type.
|Type of fund
|Total assets ($ billion)*
|Number of funds*
|Number of member accounts**
|TOTAL (incl. small APRA and other funds)
Sources: APRA and ATO statistics – *September 2022 and **June 2022
MySuper funds are not a type of super fund but one of the options they offer, mostly as a default account for people who don’t choose their own super fund when they start a new job.
They are designed to be simple, low cost and easy to compare, to protect the retirement savings of members from being eaten away by fees for services or advice they don’t want or need.
As at June 2022, there were 69 public offer MySuper products with 13.7 million member accounts and total assets (as at September 2022) of $887.4 billion.
MySuper accounts can be offered by retail, industry and corporate funds to members in accumulation phase (pre-retirement), but not as defined benefit funds or super pension accounts for retirees. Roughly half of super providers offer MySuper products.
Choice products and options are those in which members have made an active decision to invest and are aimed at members seeking greater control and flexibility. They are more diverse and complex than MySuper products. Super fund trustees may offer multiple Choice products and within these products a wide range of investment options.
Choice investment options enable members to select investment options based on their risk profile, goals and personal circumstances. Choice members generally get access to a wider range of features than members of MySuper products, such as additional website functionality and member reporting.
It is common for Choice funds to be assisted by a financial adviser. APRA estimates there are over 9,000 Choice options available with approximately $985 billion assets at 30 June 2021.
Accumulation vs defined benefit funds
Most funds these days are accumulation funds, so-called because your savings accumulate and grow during your working years. Accumulation funds are also referred to as defined contribution funds. What comes out when you retire is determined by what goes in (employer contributions and your personal contributions) plus investment earnings and how that money is managed, less tax and fees.
Defined benefit funds are gradually being phased out, but that doesn’t mean they are no good. In fact, some defined benefit funds are very generous. Most are corporate or public sector funds and often closed to new members. Their appeal lies in the fact that you are guaranteed to receive a ‘defined’ benefit on retirement irrespective of how well markets and the fund perform.
With a defined benefit fund, your retirement benefit depends on how much you and your employer contribute, how long you have worked for your employer and your salary when you retire. This probably explains why fund managers were keen to shift to an accumulation fund model, where the risk of adverse market movements and poor management lies with members, not the fund manager.
If you are lucky enough to be a member of a good defined benefit fund, then do some research before you are persuaded by a financial adviser or anyone else to switch to an accumulation fund. It could be in your best interests to stay put.
Small APRA Funds
Small APRA Funds (SAFs) are super funds regulated by APRA with less than five members. They are essentially self-managed super funds but with a professional trustee, rather than member trustees or a corporate trustee with members as directors.
Because all trustee responsibilities and compliance obligations are in the hands of an independent trustee, SAFs can be useful for:
- People who want control over their super without the trustee responsibilities
- Elderly people who have lost the capacity to run their own fund
- A disqualified person who is ineligible to run an SMSF but can have a SAF
- People moving overseas who can no longer be a trustee of an SMSF.
Retirement Savings Accounts
Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) are super accounts offered by some but not all banks, credit unions, building societies and life insurance companies. They offer a simple, low cost way to save for retirement, but the trade-off is low returns that are only slightly better than the interest you receive from regular bank accounts.
RSAs are capital guaranteed, which means the balance can only be reduced by fees and charges, not investment losses. They are fully portable, so the balance can be transferred to another RSA or super fund at any time. They can also accept a transfer of funds from a super fund and are subject to the same laws as a super fund, but they are structured as bank accounts, not trusts.
These accounts are becoming rare now that most people automatically become members of a super fund when they start work. They attracted a brief upsurge in attention in the wake of the GFC when people were looking for the safety of a capital guarantee, but they have faded into the background since.