FAR-Reaching Implications

FAR-Reaching Implications

In the GFC’s wake, the Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR) was established. This regime was implemented to complement existing legislation in place for the executives in charge of Australia’s Financial Service Providers, and expanded on the lists of accountable entities and persons subject to statutory and common law duties. Among these duties are care, diligence and risk management – focus areas that lacked rigour in the lead-up to the GFC. Additionally, the BEAR regime established variable remuneration requirements, and sanctions for non-compliance, further disincentivising harmful executive action and behaviour.

The Financial Service Royal Commission ushered in a renewed focus on the checks-and-balances in place for the custodians of Australia’s Financial Service Sector. This kind of scrutiny had led to the creation of BEAR. The results of this scrutiny were findings of an ineffective accountability-net and lackluster sanctions for non-compliance to BEAR, necessitating reforms. These reforms came into force with the creation of the Financial Accountability Regime (FAR) – an expanded legislative effort to correct the shortcomings of BEAR.

The implications of this expanded regime are tremendous for the Financial Services Sector:

  • Firstly, all APRA-regulated entities are now within the accountability-net, not simply Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs). Superannuation funds and Insurers are thus under increased scrutiny under this regime.
  • Secondly, subsidiaries and significant related entities are included within this broader net. Included here are related foreign entities with Australian operations. This presents a much broader accountability nexus that was previously less scrutinised.
  • Thirdly, both directors and senior executives are deemed to be “accountable persons” in terms of the regime if they satisfy either a ‘general principles test’ – management or control of a significant/substantial part of an ADI/groups operations – or hold a prescribed position (determined by the Minister). The Prescribed positions have expanded significantly in number and superannuation positions are noted to include those responsible for member administration, investments, financial advice and insurance offerings.
  • Fourthly, FAR requires that ‘reasonable steps’ need to be taken to ensure that they, and the organisations they represent, are adhering to the obligations imposed on them. This is enforced by the required accountability mapping and accountability statement requirements established by BEAR.
  • Lastly, FAR enforces variable remuneration withholding to further encourage FAR compliance, and establishes significantly greater sanctions for violations of the regime.

What does this all ultimately mean?

Well, we’re effectively looking at an accountability dispensation that, to date, casts the widest accountability net to the widest range of accountable persons, establishes the most incentives (and enacts the most disincentives) for compliance, and holds fiduciary standards to their highest standard. It remains unclear how effectively this will actually be implemented, but it is by far the best attempt at holding executives and other relevant parties to account for their actions in regard to their fiduciary duties.

By Jonathan Goldberg, IQ Group Consultant

Protecting the vulnerable – further improving members best interests

Protecting the vulnerable – further improving members best interests

The recently released Guidance Note for developing a vulnerable member policy, is designed to help super fund trustees develop their own policy for identifying vulnerable members and access assistance if they need it. It can be seen as less of a directive, and more of a series of helpful pointers.

The Guidance Note was issued by AIST, ASFA and FSC in July this year, following a year of preparation and consultation. Its aim is noble: no more will those that don’t speak ‘finance’ as their first language feel unable to enjoy the benefits of growing their super; or those that may not have the traditional identity documents to hand feel quite so helpless in the face of adversity; even those that are not yet equipped with the financial savvy of the battle-hardened, soon-to-be-retiree should not feel so daunted by the choices that lie before them. Help is at hand, or at least that is the premise.

The Guidance Note offers information on what assistance is available, how these services can help and things to be aware of when communicating with members, in whatever format.

So, what is a vulnerable member?

‘Vulnerability’ in this instance is referring to anything that may affect a member’s ability to interact with their super fund. The Guidance Note concentrates on the following:

  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity
  • age
  • disability
  • financial distress
  • family violence
  • low level literacy
  • non-English speaking backgrounds
  • mental health conditions
  • natural disaster
  • isolation
  • incarceration

Members can become vulnerable at any time, and this can be a permanent or a temporary state. But it is important to note that just because a member might fit into one of the categories, it does not mean they consider themselves vulnerable.

The complexity is around how to sensitively identify a vulnerable member, and then how to offer help in a considerate way and manage the interaction.

Why is help required?

If a member cannot communicate effectively or comfortably with their fund, it can lead to bad outcomes.  Maybe the member leaves the fund, maybe they end up with a smaller retirement pot, or maybe their insurance claim is declined.

What is the reasoning?

In developing a policy, trustees gain an understanding of what help they can and should offer, and how this can enhance their relationships with members. For example, offering publications in other languages, publicising access to relay or advocate facilities, ensuring that their websites are uncluttered and simple to use, and always using Plain English.

In essence, the Guidance Note has respect at its core; respect that members are individuals, and may at times like a little extra help when interacting with the fund. It even includes a ‘respect provision’ setting out just that:

“Members must always be treated with respect, and fund and insurance staff must always be respectful of a member’s or their representative’s personal circumstance.”

The Challenges

Funds will be setting out how to identify vulnerable members and putting training in place, whilst developing their policy and reviewing processes and systems to cater for the diversities that are uncovered.

In an ideal world, every member would be able to interact with their fund in a way that suits their individual circumstances, language, level of financial literacy and preferences. However, in the real world … that’s just not possible. The big challenge is for trustees to look deeper into their membership and show a level of flexibility to support those who need it, while staying within the confines of legislation – to include everyone whilst alienating no-one, and to do so without depleting members’ funds or staff resources and morale.

The Benefits

Trustees will gain a more thorough understanding of the make-up of their membership.  If harnessed correctly, this could help promote the services and assistances that would have the greatest natural take-up, which in turn may help whole sections of previously disengaged members find new value in their super fund and feel more empowered to make choices that will lay the foundations for a healthy retirement – financially at least.

It’s going to be long road; one that funds are just starting out on. But it will be an insightful journey and one that has the potential to really enhance the reputation of the super industry as a whole. The industry’s time of mythical money-hoarding is now long-distant. It is moving to a place of investing truly and soundly for every member’s future. Who knows, other industries may follow our lead and aim for this same level of equality that we all strive for?

IQ Group have the knowledge and expertise to ensure funds stay on track to deliver improved outcomes for members whilst implementing these changes along the way and we look forward to partnering with clients to support them on this journey.

By Michelle Ayling, Senior Consultant

WIS session overview: PAYING SUPER ON PARENTAL LEAVE

WIS session overview: PAYING SUPER ON PARENTAL LEAVE

Graduate Consultants, Courtney and Tana share their key insights from the third and final session at last week’s Women in Super event. This session was presented by Gemma Pinnell (Director of Strategic Engagement, ISA); Georgia Brumby (Director of Advocacy, ISA) and Steve Bracks (Chair, Cbus). Thank you to Women in Super for organising this event and for continuing to represent the voice of women in superannuation.

With more women joining the workforce every year, and more employers advocating for the importance of senior women in their organisation, why are females retiring with, on average, a third less savings than men?

Surprisingly, 68% of Australians believe that they are still getting paid superannuation whilst on parental leave, hence awareness is low. The inequality in superannuation outcomes means that, overall, females are worse off than males (mostly due to unpaid work whilst raising of children). The ISA’s 2021 report on ‘Paying super on parental leave’ shows that:

  • Older women are the fastest growing cohort for homeless in Australia.
  • Single women are most likely to live in poverty compared with males.
  • Women make up most pension payments.
  • Women older than 60 made up the biggest proportion of Job Seeker recipients before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • ISA analysis shows Australian mothers have missed out on 1.6 billion in payments, such as the Commonwealth Parental Leave Pay.

Additionally, other data shows that:

  • Taking 5 years off to look after children costs a woman (on average) $100,00 off their retirement savings.
  • If not changed, the super gap will still exist out to 2061 and beyond.

Changes required at all levels

Whilst these statistics are alarming, changes can be made at all levels, as follows:

Federal Government

  • Commonwealth Parental Leave Pay (CPLP) is the only parental leave available for the 1 in 2 Australians who work in the non-government sector, with over 99% of women taking up this scheme.  If the Commonwealth paid super on this scheme, a mother of two could be $14,000 better off at retirement.

State and Territory Governments

  • Enforce rules that ALL employees of the state are paid super on parental leave.

Private Employers

  • Taking it upon themselves to pay super on parental leave (putting pressure on governments to do so).
  • Women (with 2 children) on a median wage, receiving both the CPLP and employer funded parental leave, would be $26,500 better off at retirement.

Percentage of industries, that pay parental leave superannuation, needs to increase

The ISA analysis shows that:

  • Only 6.9% of enterprise agreements include a provision to pay superannuation on paid parental leave.  This means over 2.3 million employees do not receive it under their enterprise agreement.
  • If all employers were to pay super on their paid parental leave, around an additional 1.7 million women would benefit.

Advocacy required for awareness and policy changes

The following integrated advocacy strategy was proposed by ISA for advocating change at both Federal and State levels:

  1. Establish a credible policy evidence base
  2. Localise data
  3. Public relations in local media markets highlighting how many women have missed out
  4. Targeted government relations, including MP briefings
  5. Advertising campaign using real members to highlight the inequity
  6. Positive legislative change for members.

As the evidence shows, considerable improvement is required to improve gender equality for women in regards to their employment and superannuation benefits. Whilst both Federal and State/Territory Governments have an important role to play, employers have an opportunity to lead the way in this space – both in terms of paying super on parental leave but also advocating for gender equality generally.

Summary provided by Courtney Andrews and Tana Pasipanodya, Graduate Consultants

WIS session overview: WHO CARES?  A FAIR SHARE OF WORK AND CARE

WIS session overview: WHO CARES? A FAIR SHARE OF WORK AND CARE

Graduate Consultant, Tana, shares her key insights from the second session at last week’s Women in Super event. Here is her overview from the presentation by Julie Fox (National Assistant Secretary, SDA). Thank you to Women in Super for organising this event and for continuing to represent the voice of women in superannuation.

The outbreak of the highly infectious COVID-19 virus over the last two years has generated excessive lockdowns, school closures and irregular work activities, meaning female-dominated industries have suffered. There are 1.5 million people working in the retail industry in Australia. This accounts for over 10% of all working Australians and they are predominately women.

The SDA, in partnership with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, commissioned the first ever study into the ‘Challenges of work, family and care’ in the retail industry. The study received almost 6,500 employee participants, providing an insight into the daily lives of retail workers. It presented a pattern of female employees being swamped – grappling with irregular work, concerned their hours are negatively affecting their children’s’ lives and feeling punished for having care responsibilities and for relying on parents or neighbours to look after their children because of sudden shift changes.

Female workers are impacted by the following (key themes):

Financial distress

Insufficient hours and short shifts, resulting in a lack of uncertainty and control.

  • 55% of respondents live in a household with a post-tax income of less than $1,000 per week (32% of coupled parents and 80% of sole parents live in households with incomes under $1,000 per week).
  • 10% of parents do not have a regular work day.
  • 2 in 5 workers always work the same shifts each week.

Fear of repercussions and punishment

  • Cultural and systemic discrimination has impacted the careers and opportunities for women due to a lack of inadequate gender equality policies and procedures in organisations.

Access to opportunities

Access to opportunities has declined because of caring responsibilities as parental leave does not support those who need it.

  • Discrimination and return-to-work issues continue to fester within the retail industry as 14% of mothers took no form of paid of unpaid parental leave and a staggering 20% of mothers (and nearly half of all fathers) missed out of employer-funded parental leave.
  • Access and affordability of formal childcare is avoided, largely due to the cost (e.g. charging of fees in blocks as most childcares don’t accommodate non-standard hours).

Gender equality in Australia

This research has allowed for sound evidence that will help guide thinking for institutional investors as it goes into the heart of hard work and gender equality. It has played an integral role in understanding the current environment faced by women in Australia. Studies such as this allow for a voice beyond the boardroom.

Findings were also presented from the World Economic Forum’s latest ‘Global Gender Gap Report’. This shows that Australia has suffered a huge decline over the past decade and is currently ranked 50 out of 150, across gender equality indices.

[Source:  World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, page 103]

Working towards a solution

In order to resolve these issues, it is essential that, as a society, we recognise and value carers and that structures are created within industries to support those people who are caring for others. Care needs to be managed where workers are provided with stable, predictable and secure work to sustain a good quality of life. Furthermore, access to affordable childcare is important as it enhances participation and decreases barriers. Care needs to be recognised as a ‘critical social infrastructure’ and must be assigned a fair economic value.

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As a young woman in the superannuation industry this information was both inspiring and concerning to me. It was extremely confronting as it reaffirmed the importance of understanding my position as a woman in this world, and the positions of so many other women in Australia. Regardless of an individual’s socio-demographic background, it highlights that we all have something in common, that is … wanting a dignified career and a dignified retirement. I hope to one day see more financial literacy and educational opportunities for young women within the Australian community. It is clear to me that further work needs to be done in this area to give women a fair chance at a dignified retirement.

Summary provided by Tana Pasipanodya, Graduate Consultant

WIS session overview: WOMEN, WORK and ECONOMIC SECURITY: COVID-19 AND A GENDER EQUAL RECOVERY

WIS session overview: WOMEN, WORK and ECONOMIC SECURITY: COVID-19 AND A GENDER EQUAL RECOVERY

Graduate Consultant, Courtney, shares her key insights from the first session at last week’s Women in Super event. Here is her overview of the presentation by Professor Elizabeth Hill (Department of Political Economy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney) and Professor Rae Cooper (The Women, Work and Leadership Research Group, The University of Sydney Business School).  Thank you to Women in Super for organising this event and for continuing to represent the voice of women in superannuation.

While all Australian’s social lives, education, exercise, and work routines have been turned upside down due to COVID-19, there is a facet that has been hit the hardest. Not surprisingly, it is Australian women. Exacerbated by excessive lockdowns, home schooling, and everything else that comes with managing health, children, and well-being, it has been described as “a perfect storm” for Australian women. Whist all people have been impacted by COVID-19 in some way, it is important to note that the pandemic has exacerbated the pressing and concerning problem of gender inequality, where most women are proven to be ‘worse off’.

The main reasons why females, in particular, are struggling can be summarised as follows:

  • Structure of the Australian Economy: Australia has an 80% service sector economy which is highly feminised in specific industries. The three most female dominate careers are in education, health, and social service – which happen to contain the most important roles in a global pandemic!
  • Job growth: Women’s job prosperity grew 3% in 2019, compared to 1.6% for males pre-COVID-19. This means that organisations are hiring women more than men (women are valuable)!
  • Women’s participation in the labour market: Participation in the labor workforce is now at 60% for females. This is the highest in history.
  • Home responsibilities:  Underpaid, undervalued and overworked frontline female workforces are feeling the brunt of the pandemic and adding to the increased workload has been the pressure from home-schooling and child-care which has also grown for women.

To top this off, it has been suggested that in 2020-2021:

  • 1 in 10 women experienced domestic violence; and
  • 1 in 3 experienced abusive behavior.

So, what has the Government done?

The relief packages such as Job keeper, Job Seeker and Disaster payments have been deemed as successful, however most have ended. Additionally, it is important to note that more applications for these payments were from males not females when, surprisingly, more females lost their jobs.

The following ideas were suggested to tighten the gender gap:

A Gender Lens Response Recovery

  • look at helping women, not industries;
  • unlock women’s human capital;
  • support a low carbon economy; and
  • involve women in these decisions.

Good jobs and decent work

  • flexibility;
  • robust floor rights that include a living wage;
  • voice at work; and
  • working time security.

Fair Share Lucrative jobs

  • reduce gendered labour market segregations.

Investment in strong care infrastructure and workforce

  • close the gender pay gap.

As these are only a few suggestions that can help mitigate this striking problem, much more needs to be done. At present, Australian females are exhausted and discouraged with reduced savings and superannuation. The future may look bleak however it is never too late to change!

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From a personal perspective, this presentation gave me more depth of understanding and exaggerated the importance of saving early in my career, not only to better prepare for the possibility of motherhood but to have the stability to overcome the struggles that inevitably come with life. Knowing where my money is going, understanding my rights regarding employment and investing in super, property, shares etc. might be small tasks now but they produce huge rewards later. With financial security, women (like myself) are less likely to feel ‘stuck’ in unjust jobs and/or relationships. In saying that, it has also highlighted the importance of helping women who are struggling. Volunteering for a charity that supports females, is one way I can help all women, regardless of their age, background or circumstances, to feel more empowered and in control.

Summary provided by Courtney Andrews, Graduate Consultant

[Information provided is from the session presentation only.  Refer to the WIS website for further information in regards to this topic.]