THE nation's $80 billion Future Fund has spent almost $1 billion in fees in the past year - more than double what was previously disclosed.
A decision by the Future Fund to become more transparent with its reporting revealed more than $500 million of additional costs, and shone a spotlight on Australia's $1.4 trillion superannuation industry. It also raises questions about the true size of the fees the sector pays, amid calls for more transparency in relation to costs, remuneration, conflicts of interest and financial statements.
The Future Fund managing director, Mark Burgess, who took the top job last year, said the decision to report the additional costs was in line with its policy to be more open and transparent. "These other costs are more difficult to find and you have to make assumptions about performance fees, but we felt we should dig further to provide more depth," he said.
Mr Burgess said the relatively higher fees paid by the Future Fund were a reflection of the fund's diversification strategy. But he said keeping fees down was critical.
In Australia, most super funds do not fully report their investment management costs on the basis that some fees paid to fund managers are indirect and therefore too difficult to extract. This means the indirect cost ratio - the ratio of investment costs to funds under management - can understate the true cost. (An indirect cost ratio is the industry standard to express investment management costs.)
The industry super fund Cbus has taken a leading role on transparency, and in its latest annual report said: "Unlike many funds, Cbus incorporates all underlying trust and 'fund of fund' investment management fees into its total investment cost."
Cbus said it did this because it believed members should be informed of the total investment management cost of their superannuation.
The Future Fund is the latest fund to embrace transparency, reporting for the first time that its indirect cost ratio excludes investment costs in its "non-consolidated investment vehicles or where the fund is part of a co-mingled group of funds".
It says if these costs were included it would add another 68 basis points to its indirect cost ratio, almost doubling it to 1.11 per cent. This is equivalent to $524 million in additional fees. This puts its total investment fees at close to $1 billion if transactional costs and management fees are included.
Cbus's indirect cost ratio was 73 basis points in its high growth fund and 47 basis points in its conservative fund.
A spokesman for the Future Fund said the fund generated an annualised five-year return of 4.4 per cent a year, compared with negative 0.2 per cent for the median balanced super fund.
In the 2011-12 financial year, it generated a return of 2.1 per cent, which is below its long term return target of at least consumer price index plus 4.5 to 5.5 per cent a year.
In the annual report, it said cost control would be a continuing focus and the board had introduced "additional oversight processes" and would work closely with industry bodies to ensure the "investment management fee practices better reflect alignment between the investor and the investment manager".
The Future Fund was set up in 2006 by the former treasurer Peter Costello to create a vehicle for unfunded super liabilities in the federal public service.