Tussle over transparency

The federal government and financial regulators want super funds and managed funds to disclose their portfolio holdings.

The federal government and financial regulators want super funds and managed funds to disclose their portfolio holdings.

The funds support transparency but are working on a way of disclosing their holdings that they say will be meaningful to fund members.

They are in negotiations with the government and regulators to finalise a protocol for disclosure in time for the start date of July 1 next year.

Meanwhile, fund members have been kept wondering how their super is invested. It is not an esoteric point. Would mandatory disclosure of investment holdings have stopped people from investing in Trio Capital and Astarra, for example?

Would the fraudulent super funds have attracted investors had those investors known that Astarra had more than $100 million invested through a company in the British Virgin Islands?

Could full disclosure by managed funds have increased the scrutiny of mortgage funds - funds that were frozen during the global financial crisis, with capital losses to retiree investors?

Some of the mortgage funds that failed were later found to have extensive related-party dealings. They were raising money from investors and lending it to property developers through corporate entities related to the mortgage fund or to the mortgage fund's directors.

Disclosure among most super funds and fund managers is very limited - usually to the 10 biggest holdings.

Listing investments and the portfolio weightings for super funds will mean the listing of hundreds of investments, but they will help fund members and researchers assess risks.

Some funds argue it is expensive and the listing of hundreds of investments would be meaningless to fund members. But Morningstar Australia's chief executive, Anthony Serhan, who has been pushing for full disclosure, says it is a matter of principle that super-fund members and investors in managed funds know how their money is invested.

"We are talking about a huge amount of money in retirement savings and a system of forced savings, and for those who manage retirement savings, there are expectations that they are transparent about the sort of securities they hold," he says.

He says the costs would be minimal if disclosure was introduced gradually.

Some fund managers argue that disclosure of their portfolio holdings would allow investors to buy the shares the funds own and rob them of their intellectual property.

Serhan rejects that argument.

He also points out that Australia is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't require fund managers to disclose their holdings.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is understood to favour a maximum 90-day delay in disclosing portfolio holdings for managed and super funds.

Such a delay would help protect intellectual property and give super funds - especially those with money in unlisted and more complex investments - time to accurately report on their holdings.

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