Super funds face royal commission scrutiny
The $2.6 trillion superannuation industry will be taken to task by a royal commission over whether funds act in the best interests of Australians when managing their retirement savings.
Australia's largest super funds including AustralianSuper, National Australia Bank's superannuation trustee and AMP head a long list of players called before a two-week financial services royal commission hearing that begins in Melbourne on Monday.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has already warned the industry it faces "a trust deficit" and must fix conduct that leads to unacceptably poor member outcomes in super, such as poor financial advice and treatment of consumers, and address conflicts of interest.
ASIC chairman James Shipton last month said there has been too much focus in many parts of the sector on exploiting opportunities to make money from Australians instead of focusing on the responsibilities that come from being the custodians of other people's money.
The royal commission will focus on how regulated super funds fulfil their duties to members, including their structural and governance arrangements, selling practices and the relationship between super fund trustees and financial advisers.
Key issues will be failures by trustees to fulfil their legal obligations to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the fund, exercise care, skill and diligence in managing the fund and effectively implement an investment strategy.
The University of Sydney Business School Professor Susan Thorp said the most likely problems related to the basic activities of a super fund, the first of which was to collect contributions and manage accounts for people.
"If it's the case that the administration and communication is ineffective and doesn't operate in the best interests of members - it could be excessively expensive or complicated - that's an area that the royal commission might focus on," she told AAP.
Prof Thorp said super funds also have to put in place an investment strategy that looks after members' contributions prudently and effectively, but there will be cases where that has not been done well or has proven to be excessively expensive.
She said the royal commission was likely to uncover complaints about the way in-house financial advice has been provided by super funds.
The regulators themselves - ASIC and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority - will also be scrutinised.
It is not clear if the hearing will cover complaints about the insurance provided through superannuation.
The Productivity Commission in May said the super system had become "an unlucky lottery" for many Australian workers, with structural flaws of unintended multiple accounts and entrenched underperformers harming a significant number of members.
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