Women's Superannuation: What our members say

New statistics, and long-time members, on women's superannuation.

Summary: Women's superannuation remains a hotly contested topic. Eureka Report called on about two dozen women from our database to discuss super and their investment journeys, in light of new data showing women's super balances are making strides. 

Key take-out: New figures reveal women's super balances have increased quite dramatically in recent years, but it's not the leaps and bounds many are hoping for. Members could learn from fellow Eureka Report members who research for their super funds beyond recommendations, trust their own judgments and consistently track their balances — an active strategy that offers protection even outside a bull market. 

 

New research by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) showing that women are getting more of the super pie isn't a surprise to women who have always been on top of their family finances. 

Eureka Report has spoken with industry leaders on the topic of women and superannuation, including Senator Jenny McAllister about the structural issues at play and Paul Clitheroe on the importance of starting early. Super's relevance to the economy is largely missing from school curriculums, Women in Super executive officer Sandra Buckley reminds, which feeds into what Financial Services Council chief executive Sally Loane had to say based on her own experiences. 

Finally, we're seeing women's super make progress — in the funds department and the policy room. While it's not the leaps and bounds many hope for, the new analysis released from ASFA reveals balances are well up from two years ago. 

Average super balances in 2015-16 were $111,853 for men and $68,499 for women. In 2013-14, equivalent figures were $98,535 for men and $54,916 for women. 

In percentage terms, women held 38.7 per cent of total super account balances in 2015-16. Compare this to 23 per cent in 1994, two years after employer-paid super became compulsory. 

We called on about two dozen women from the InvestSMART database to share their experiences with super and, as expected from an educated subscriber base, they were more in tune with their investments than most other research suggests. Resoundingly, these women were in control of their super funds, which largely comprised of shares, with only a couple admitting they weren't exactly looped into the family financial situation. 

Seems like some of the super success to date has been a lot about luck — members buying into Australia's biggest IPOs in the 90s, holding property in their fund throughout the most recent bull market. But distinguished, ongoing success boils down to a more active approach.

Research beyond recommendations

‘Buy, hold and sell' recommendations were largely ignored by interviewees trading shares through their SMSFs. The capital gains tax implications prevented some from selling in short timeframes.

“I've always managed my money in terms of tax,” says member Rhonda Idczak, who after a career in publishing is now Treasurer at Dress for Success Mornington Peninsula.

“I started holding stocks in my super fund in 2004 and invest based on personal preferences, not broker recommendations. I only lost 5 per cent during the GFC [where other funds lost between 30-40 per cent] and I think that boiled down to the due diligence I undertake every week.

“Every Friday I'll update my spreadsheet, which includes pie charts of a standard balanced fund and growth fund and all my personal holdings. I try to keep my SMSF share portfolio in-between balanced and growth.

“If we have a crash, I wouldn't lose sleep over it. I know I have control over my situation. I also don't dividend reinvest any of my shares because I like to make my own decisions.”

Trust your judgment 

Most of the women we spoke to are self-directed investors. At 77, a member from Dural, NSW is running three family super funds, two in pension phase, the other in accumulation, under the umbrella of a trustee company. She's never had compulsory super paid by an employer.

Her husband was the breadwinner but she has always been the gatekeeper of their future funds, working as an accountant and later an artist.

“My husband worked for a big multinational and was being paid super, quite generous back in the 80s, contributions of around 10 per cent,” the member recalls.

“He's an engineer though, and not really switched on in an investment sense, so there's no need to double up on research and reading. He handles the technology, I handle the investing. We come at things from a different perspective. I'm not an outlier among my friends. It's more often the women who will say ‘how about we do this'  when it comes to our super, but typically in the media it's portrayed as the man making all the decisions.”

Track your balance

Sue Campbell from Melbourne (pictured right) is no stranger to financial services. She's worked in the industry for more than 25 years on corporate deals, transactional banking and risk management, with her clients including Australia's major banks and the State Government. 

“Fund managers, brokers and advisers are mainly male — it always surprises me. Women are naturals at money management,” says Campbell.

“The moment I started earning a salary is the moment I started share investing. My career in banking keeps me aware of what's going on in that specific sector of the market, but I haven't really gained an investor advantage there. Shares and super are hobbies on the side.”

Campbell shares an SMSF with her husband, and was “lucky to get in on the ground floor” about 25 years ago. They've made a habit of putting in the maximum allowable contributions on a regular basis. 

She says it's important for members to remember super is their money, even if someone else ends up minding it.

“If you're not tracking it, and making sure your balance goes into your account, then how do you know anyone else is looking after your super? Super needs to become more visible; only then will people become more interested as they have greater control, or at least the feeling of greater control.”

The clear view

Like many of the women we spoke to, Campbell needs her investments to be in clear view. What this meant was different for everyone though. Some thought property was the safer bet, while many others had a habit of researching consumer stocks — companies they could ‘see' for their SMSF.

Women putting consumer stocks in their super shopping trolley may read by the book — but it's these kinds of stereotypes our subjects are set on breaking down. 

"A woman in a man's world" was the headline of a newspaper article written about one of our members in the early 70s when she was working as an agricultural advisory officer. She did not approve. 

It's probably time we all alter our perception about women's superannuation. Yes, we are still earning less, our balances are lower, and there's a slew of structural issues. We're well within our rights to argue it's ‘not so super for women'. 

But here's a simple reminder, from one of the women behind the ‘Make Super Fair' campaign launched earlier this year; it was women who were recruited in droves to work in the super industry in the early 90s. They weren't the system architects, but the “cheap labour right for the job” of looking after the newly introduced super scheme. Her view? At just 3 per cent of salary back then, super wasn't set up to become significant in the scheme of things. Women could do the job ‘just fine'.

Many women are clearly doing a fine job of looking after their balances and those of their families. It's equally important to bring attention to these best practice examples — as well as the many issues regarding women's superannuation — to show the way forward. 

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