Funds brought to account

Auto-consolidation of accounts will be a boon for clients but may prove testing for providers.

Auto-consolidation of accounts will be a boon for clients but may prove testing for providers.

Heard much from your super fund lately? You will.

Funds are ramping up their efforts to attract and retain members as the government pushes for lost and forgotten superannuation accounts to be consolidated.

From January 2014, super accounts that have been untouched for two years and with less than $1000 will be rolled into their owner's active account, unless the owner opts out of the process.

The $1000 threshold will be increased to $10,000 later in 2014, following a review by the Treasury, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Tax Office.

Auto-consolidation is likely to reduce the number of accounts in the system by between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, according to the managing director of research firm SuperRatings, Jeff Bresnahan. Bresnahan estimates there are 28 million accounts in Australia, down from the 32.9 million last counted by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) in June 2010.

ASFA's research suggested Australians were aware of only about 19 million of these accounts. Bresnahan predicts 5 million accounts will disappear quickly once the scheme kicks off, followed by a second tranche if and when the threshold is increased.

While auto-consolidation may spell good news for customers - fewer accounts to keep track of and fewer administration fees, and higher balances in the accounts they choose to keep - it's a less-cheerful story for the funds. The national leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers' superannuation practice, David Coogan, says some funds stand to lose up to 30 per cent of their membership base, along with the administration fees they generate.

Industry funds are expected to be hardest hit, particularly those focused on sectors that employ a large number of casual and itinerant workers.

Bresnahan says funds covering retail and hospitality workers are particularly vulnerable. "These sorts of people [casual workers] will have four, five, six separate accounts scattered around the traps," he says.

"Some funds have up to 80 per cent inactive members ... Out of 100,000 members, only 20 per cent may be contributing. There are significant implications for these funds."

Falling revenues are likely to result in higher fees for remaining members and, potentially, mergers among funds, Bresnahan says.

The super industry charges an average $722 in fees, including investment management charges and annual administration fees, for an account with a $50,000 balance, according to SuperRatings.

The chief executive of Energy Super, Robyn Petrou, says auto-consolidation won't be ruinous for the industry fund, which has $4.4 billion under management.

Energy Super's 49,000 electricians, linesmen, power station workers and independent contractors have an average account balance of $80,000.

Less than 1 per cent of accounts are likely to fall under the first wave of auto-consolidation.

Graham Sammells, the chief executive of The IQ Business Group, a management consultancy that works with the super industry, says significant fee hikes are unlikely in the short term, even for funds that will lose a high number of members.

"Funds are turning a lot of their attention to this," Sammells says. "They're looking for efficiency gains and working harder on the investment side of the equation."

Over the past year, funds have stepped up their efforts to communicate with members, many of whom remain chronically disengaged from their retirement savings.

Advertising, letters, emails, phone calls, digital media campaigns and workplace visits are becoming the norm as they look to poach new members and lock in existing ones.

Historically the sector's promotional expenditure has been tiny - guaranteed contributions and sharemarket growth meant they didn't need to market themselves aggressively.

While funds are not required to disclose their annual spending, a SuperRatings survey revealed that 7 per cent of them spent nothing or had no budget for marketing, and 13 per cent spent less than $100,000.

Forty per cent spent between $100,000 and $500,000, the survey found. Twelve per cent spent between $500,000 and $1 million. Just 8 per cent spent $3 million or more.

"In the past, there's been not a lot of wanton spend on marketing," Bresnahan says. "Ten years ago you never saw a super ad on TV; now they are coming up a lot. Marketing is pretty foreign to this industry."

Sammells says members can expect to be bombarded throughout 2013 with messages from funds eager to keep their business.

Previously, communication was largely transactional in nature - annual statements and the odd form with a box to be ticked - but funds are now focusing on building their corporate brands, Sammells says.

"Funds are getting more clever about how to get to members ... targeted messages for specific groups of members," he says.

The chief executive of ASFA, Pauline Vamos, agrees. While larger funds such as SunSuper are likely to go down the sponsorship route to boost their visibility, others are looking to social media and mobile apps to strengthen the bond, Vamos says.

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