Board briefing March 2022
Welcome to our first confidential Board briefing for 2022.
If you are on the eastern side of the country, we hope that you have remained safe through the extreme weather that we've experienced in the past month. The scale of these events means they have affected thousands of CHOICE members and their families, some in severe ways. We are also conscious that our members in Western Australia will be dealing with the effects of the Omicron wave, after many months of being largely shielded from COVID-19. Wherever you are reading this from, we hope that you are keeping safe. If you have any suggestions about things that CHOICE can be doing to better support people in your community, please feel free to email us.
The Board met for the first time for 2022, on 28 February (via videoconference), with a diverse and interesting range of topics on our agenda, including:
- our first Reconciliation Action Plan
- a litigation matter against CHOICE
- our investment strategy
- cybersecurity and governance.
Our first Reconciliation Action Plan
Over the past year, a group of staff has been working to draft our first Reconciliation Action Plan, which was presented to the Board at this meeting.
As a Board, we consider it important for CHOICE to support reconciliation and justice for First Nations people because it's core to our purpose – people from First Nations communities are often the target of unethical and exploitative business practices.
Just last year, for example, Telstra was fined $50 million for sales practices including signing up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers to expensive mobile phone contracts that they did not use and could not afford. That's just one prominent example – we continue to see similar practices in other industries across the country.
The Board was very happy to approve the Reconciliation Action Plan. As this is our first plan, it focuses on developing relationships with First Nations organisations in our local community and at a national level, listening to the needs of their communities, and thinking about how we can change the way we work as an organisation so as to better meet those needs. This will provide a basis for us to do deeper work in partnership with First Nations organisations to solve consumer problems that their communities experience.
We now need to submit the plan to Reconciliation Australia and once approved, we'll be very pleased to share it with you.
Litigation against CHOICE
We received a briefing on litigation that has been commenced by Theracare Home, a business that sells adjustable beds, against CHOICE. The litigation concerns our article Theracare Home called out for misleading sales tactics published last year.
A core part of our work involves highlighting business practices that may cause harm to consumers. This article was subject to our normal fact-checking process before publication. We sought comments from Theracare Home, which were included in the article.
Since receiving correspondence from Theracare Home, CHOICE has reviewed the evidence and remains confident that the information in the article is accurate and fairly presented.
Our ability to share information about poor business practices and unfair practices is key to informing and protecting consumers, and after considering legal advice, the Board confirmed its commitment to defend the matter. The litigation is at an early stage and we will keep you updated if it progresses further.
Our investment strategy
It is an important part of our role as a Board to ensure that the organisation's assets and investments are managed in a prudent manner. This is important because it helps to support our longer-term financial sustainability, giving us the flexibility to respond to any unexpected external events.
We currently have over $11 million in cash, and it's invested in bank accounts and term deposits. Low interest rates mean that the value of these investments is effectively going backwards in real terms. While we need to keep some of these funds readily available, we can afford to invest some with a longer term view and in a way that is consistent with our values as an organisation.
Over the past year, we have revisited our approach to investments and decided that it is appropriate to diversify our approach by investing some of our funds outside term deposits. This will involve a minority of our cash reserves – the majority will remain in term deposits.
We have already made some high-level decisions to guide this change in investment: we won't be investing directly in any shares or property, and we want our investments to be ethical.
We have appointed an independent adviser, Equity Trustees, to help us develop a more detailed investment policy. We held an initial discussion with our adviser at this meeting so we can start to consider the decisions we'll need to make, such as our approach to ethical investment, our other investment objectives and the types of investments we would be willing to make.
Once we've settled our investment policy, we will be looking for an investment manager who can help us to make investments in line with the policy. We'll keep you updated as we work through this process. As this is a significant shift, we would welcome any questions or feedback.
Cybersecurity and governance
An increasing risk of cybersecurity attacks means that cybersecurity is on the agenda of boards of all sorts of organisations. This is particularly important for CHOICE, given that we depend on digital technology – primarily our website – to reach and deliver to consumers. Members also expect that we will ensure that any personal information that we hold is secure.
While no organisation can completely eliminate the risk of a cyber attack, it's important to invest in reducing risk. Over the past year, CHOICE has been working on a program of improvements to our systems and processes so as to improve our overall approach to cybersecurity. At this meeting, a cybersecurity specialist from a firm that has been advising us presented on current trends in cybersecurity threats and the ways in which some of these apply to CHOICE.
We plan to spend more time during 2022 focusing on cybersecurity and in particular the program of improvements underway at CHOICE.
As this was the first meeting of the year, the Board was also required under our constitution to appoint the officers of the organisation. While we have been informally sharing leadership of the Board for the past year, the constitutional change approved by members at our AGM in November meant that we could be formally appointed as Co-Chairs. We are delighted to now be formally appointed to this shared role. CHOICE employee Sarah Coombs, who many of you will have dealt with, was reappointed as Company Secretary.
We look forward to keeping you updated throughout the year. We're meeting again in early April for a strategy workshop with the management team, so will be back in touch after that.
Until then, we hope that you keep safe, and please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or feedback.
CHOICE Co-Chairs Anita Tang and Robert Southerton
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See the 2021 Board member briefings.