Paperwork dull but crucial

Outsourcing of super by employers is a regular occurrence. You start off as a member in one fund and find you are transferred to another when the employer no longer wants to spend time and resources administering super.

Outsourcing of super by employers is a regular occurrence. You start off as a member in one fund and find you are transferred to another when the employer no longer wants to spend time and resources administering super.

Funds also merge from time to time.

Sometimes the investment option chosen in the first fund is not available in the new one. The option you want might have a different asset class weighting - you could be moved from a balanced option to a growth option.

It is important to keep relevant documents about these changes in the event of any dispute.

This was highlighted by a recent decision in favour of the fund member in a dispute relating to a transfer of super in 2003, handed down by the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, precisely because he had the documentation relating to his old fund investment selection to back his claims.

When the member's fund was wound up he was fully invested in Australian shares. But when the balance moved to the new fund, it went into a high-growth option.

Two years later the member complained about what he regarded as the misallocation of his account. He had suffered a loss as a result and was seeking compensation.

The tribunal looked at whether the information provided would have led the member to expect that his account balance would be invested in the same or equivalent investment option, as in the former fund, and what the trustee's obligation was to ensure that.

It decided, on the information provided, that the member would reasonably have been led to believe his investment would be replicated in the second fund and that it would therefore be in Australian shares.

The member argued he had no reason to check the asset allocation as he was advised he had been transferred to the replicated investment option set out in presentations in his "welcome letter" from the new fund. Initial investment returns for his investment appeared consistent with his understanding.

The tribunal found that on the basis of the information in his welcome letter, the option he had been transferred into was designed to replicate his previous investment option, so he could reasonably have expected to be placed in the same or equivalent investment option as in the former fund.

Rejected by the tribunal was the trustee's submission that the member should have realised after receiving the welcome letter that his benefit had not been invested in the Australian shares option and he should have taken action to switch to that option.

The tribunal found that the fund member had acted reasonably at all times and directed the trustee to return him to the financial position he would otherwise have been in.

Speaking at a recent super industry seminar, the tribunal's acting chairwoman, Jocelyn Furlan, warned fund trustees they needed also to watch that when they change life and total and permanent disability insurers that the conditions provided by the new insurer do not disadvantage members. Some insurers accepting the fund's business exclude "not-at-work" members from cover. This can include members who are on maternity leave, other leave, or sick leave at the time of transfer.

She says such exclusion clauses must be disclosed to all members. "If non- disclosure is found, the tribunal will go after the trustee, even if the insurer won't pay," she told the seminar.

The same goes for any endorsements to existing policies which downgrade cover (to make it cheaper). Such changes must be notified to all members.

Fund members should keep all their documents of old and new funds when changing funds, welcome letters, communications about any changes to fund conditions, fees and insurance cover, just in case they are needed by the tribunal later. The tribunal relies on documentation.

All documents should be read carefully, even though they may be dense and dreary.


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