The $23 billion industry superannuation fund Cbus will start allowing members to invest directly in infrastructure and unlisted property from next year, to stem the loss of wealthy members establishing self-managed super funds.
The building and construction industry fund is also closer to finding a way for members to invest in residential property through the fund, and agreed to a trial allowing certified financial planners to advise its 700,000-plus members.
"The issue for us is opening up the product range," said Cbus chief executive David Atkin at a Deloitte Financial Services Council lunch in Melbourne. "Having a better response to self-managed funds, because it's clearly attractive.
"We've been slower than others but we will in 2014 be producing our own self-managed offering, which will include unlisted property and infrastructure."
Self-managed funds and "retail" funds run by banks hold 58 per cent of Australia's $1.6 trillion in retirement savings, figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority show.
By contrast, industry funds and public sector funds hold 36 per cent. Self-managed funds have been among the fastest-growing sectors of the market.
Mr Atkin said Cbus members "like the idea of investments in bricks and mortar".
He said: "If an accountant or an adviser out there was talking to you about self-managed funds, you get the same flexibility but in the protection of an industry fund and low cost, plus you get access to assets that you would not get in a self-managed fund environment, through our unlisted assets in property and infrastructure."
Mr Atkin also warned the looming financial services inquiry against arguing the shift of national savings to superannuation from bank deposits was a bad thing.
"Banks are already an enormous part of the economy ... and they already have an extensive reach through the economy - they are involved in superannuation, financial advice, insurance, residential housing," he said.
"I would argue, as you'd expect, that superannuation has added to the quality and strength of the financial services sector and beyond. Most Australians would assess the merits of superannuation against its capacity to provide retirement income, rather than the impact of their ... savings on banks."
Mr Atkin said the jury was still out on whether the industry could make a smooth transition from the accumulation phase to the pension phase as baby boomers retire. But he predicted the industry would grow more confident about speaking on macro-economic issues as it increasingly performed roles in-house, rather than relying on external financial services providers.