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Super industry needs to raise its game

Super funds need to do much more to excite and engage their members.

April 2016

In this election year, it suddenly seems like everyone is talking about super.

And that's not a bad thing. With over $2 trillion held in superannuation assets, super is arguably the most important sector in the Australian economy.

It is also incredibly important on a personal level. Improvements in life expectancy mean that for most of us, super will determine the quality of our life for decades after retirement.

It's therefore appropriate that we have a debate about whether the super system is working effectively, and whether the billions of dollars devoted to super tax concessions are well spent.

But if we only see superannuation as a source of budget savings, there's a risk that we miss out on a bigger problem at the heart of the system: the fact that far too many consumers are just not interested in their super.

One reason for this is that super seems like a long-term, far-away issue. Over 30% of people aged 18 to 64 consider retirement too far away to plan for. Even 17% of those aged 50-54 say this.

Even when people do try to get interested, they find it hard. Our research shows that 47% of people feel it's complicated to find the superannuation product that is best for them. That's an awful lot of confused people for a mandatory system.

But that's still not the main problem. I think the big problem with super is that it's just too boring. The consumer experience of super has barely changed in the past 20 years. Most changes have been either copied from other sectors or driven by regulatory change.

The digital experience of super is pretty underwhelming - the only major change I've noticed is that I now receive my statements by email. In contrast, digital product innovation has led to sweeping changes in other sectors.

We've got a right to expect better. The super sector has been built on strong public support, mandated by legislation and reinforced by compulsory employer contributions. Consumer groups have argued for these features, and they make our retirement income system strong and unique. But super funds need to see them as a privilege. And in return, those funds should be doing a lot more to make it easy for people to understand how their super works, and to make decisions about what's right for them.

Most importantly, they should be aiming to radically transform super, based on a deep understanding of how consumers think and feel.

CHOICE plans to have a lot more to say about super in the next year, because no other voice in the debate is speaking purely from the consumer perspective. This is too big a problem for us to ignore.