Regulator targets underperforming super funds

The n Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) intends to beef up standards to make super funds accountable for poor performance and justify their expenditure on marketing and advertising.

APRA deputy chair Helen Rowell said super fund members deserve confidence their fund is “delivering quality, value-for-money outcomes” as she released consultation papers outlining the proposed changes.

The move comes after the regulator wrote to super funds in August demanding meetings with funds failing to deliver “quality” outcomes for members.

In the August letter, APRA targeted funds who were poor performers based on a range of data, including returns, costs to members, insurance costs and the impacts on members of funds experiencing declines in member numbers.

APRA did not name the funds or say how many were in its sights.

The regulator is proposing a toughening of standards so there is an “outcomes” assessment that will apply to all investment options – “choice” investment options and the “MySuper” options, the options with more protections for those who do not choose a fund.

The Turnbull government has prepared a bill that requires funds to audit performance annually and to make the results public, but it applies to MySuper options only.

APRA proposes a regulatory change to ensure trustees have more robust processes in place concerning their expenditure, including on advertising and marketing, and how that supports better outcomes for members.

APRA believes there should be a clear purpose for the spending and trustees must show they have been able to deliver on that purpose.

A blanket advertising campaign that has not delivered a benefit in terms of more members or increased contributions would be unlikely to meet the value for money test.

The proposed standards come despite the royal commission into banking and other financial services entities, which includes super funds. The government wants to start the commission in February and run it for a year.

The royal commission will consider if super funds are using members’ savings for “any purpose that does not meet community standards and expectations, or is otherwise not in the best interests of members”.

Under another of APRA’s proposed changes, funds would be required to make it much easier for members to not only opt out of life insurance, but also to increase their cover.

Sometimes it is hard to members as they have to fill out forms, and the regulator want funds to make it straightforward and simple for them.

Submissions on APRA’s consultation papers are open until 29 March 2018.

The new and revised prudential measures are expected to be released by mid-2018, with a proposed commencement date of 1 January 2019.

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