Super overseers deserve their day in the sun

An awards ceremony was held late last week, with none of the usual fanfare or media attention. The nominees did not arrive in stretched limos and there was no red carpet for them. Unlike other awards nights, these nominees were not being recognised because of their popularity or sporting achievements, but because of how well they do their job. On May 31, the inaugural awards for the La Trobe Financial CIO and COO of the year for Australian fiduciary funds were announced.

An awards ceremony was held late last week, with none of the usual fanfare or media attention. The nominees did not arrive in stretched limos and there was no red carpet for them. Unlike other awards nights, these nominees were not being recognised because of their popularity or sporting achievements, but because of how well they do their job.

On May 31, the inaugural awards for the La Trobe Financial CIO and COO of the year for Australian fiduciary funds were announced.

This may not mean much to you but the awards recognised the efforts of the people who are in charge of the operations and the investing of the majority of Australian's superannuation.

The chief operations officer is the person with the responsibility for not only ensuring the day-to-day operations of a superannuation fund run as smoothly as possible, but also for looking to the future to ensure member's needs and requirements are met in years to come.

The chief investment officer has the responsibility of trying to maximise the investment returns for the money held in trust by superannuation funds on behalf of their members. This not only includes trying to pick the right investments but, more importantly, taking into consideration economic conditions and investment trends.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, could not attend the ceremony due to commitments in Canberra but in a pre-recorded video message acknowledge the importance of the people receiving the awards.

Shorten said: "I know our strong regulatory system provides a possible framework for the security of peoples retirement savings. However, it's the people managing the funds, such as the chief investment officers and chief operating officers and their staff, who have the day-to-day responsibility for members' interests."

The awards were established to both recognise the efforts and hard work of CIOs and COOs and to provide incentives for their continuing professional development. In addition to being recognised by their peers, the winners each received a cheque for $5000 to go towards further education.

At the start of the award process, chief executives of about 80 superannuation funds, multi-manager funds, and government and other insurance and treasury funds were contacted and asked for nominations. In addition, the judging panel reviewed performance statistics and other published information and identified prime candidates. The chief executives for these candidates were contacted and asked if they would nominate them.

The judging panel consisted of Greg Bright, an economics writer and publisher, Christopher Page from Rainmaker and Financial Standard, David Coogan from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Christina Liosis from Telstra Super, Greg O'Neill, the managing director of La Trobe Financial, and Jeff Bresnahan from SuperRatings. This provided a good cross-section of representatives from most aspects of the superannuation and investing industry.

The winner of COO of the year was Stephen Rowbottom of HOSTPLUS superannuation who, in addition to his operation officers duties, had three months as the acting chief executive of the fund last year. His award will help fund the masters in organisational leadership that he is now undertaking.

The winner of CIO of the year was Steve Merlicek from IOOF. Before joining IOOF, Merlicek had worked for many years with Telstra Super and rose to the position of CIO with responsibility for investing $12 billion of members' funds.

Both award winners acknowledged the important contribution of the teams they headed in them being nominated and receiving the awards. With most Australians' financial security in retirement depending on the quality of people in charge of their superannuation, these awards will be of increasing importance.

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