It’s a truism that the Internet and advances in technology have connected things as never before, and that these connections have enormous real-world implications. For the most part, this increasing interconnectedness has resulted in better, quicker and more efficient customer services, and it’s difficult to imagine a world without it.
SuperStream is something that has increased the interconnectedness of the superannuation system – and funds, employers and above all members have been the beneficiaries of faster transactions, fewer roadblocks, streamlined administration, and greater consistency and transparency.
There has been significant investment in SuperStream by super funds, employers, payroll providers, software developers, administrators, gateways and clearing houses, and – courtesy of the levy on APRA super funds – by the Australian Taxation Office. This investment is starting to pay off, and the year-on-year benefits can be measured in the billions of dollars.
Increasing reliance on ATO services
The ATO has been the primary driver of the implementation of SuperStream, consulting with stakeholders, preparing the timetable, and developing a wide range of enabling services. A panoply of acronyms – FVS, EPF, SuperTICK, EmployerTICK and SuperMatch – identify these enabling services that variously allow member, super fund and employer details to be obtained, checked and validated. These services are increasingly vital to the efficient operation of the superannuation system, and are increasingly built into superannuation fund processes.
It is paramount that the connection to these services is ‘always on’, because without them now the superannuation transactional network either stops, slows down or is potentially compromised. Some super funds may have alternatives sometimes and to some extent but these alternatives will progressively cease to exist as fund systems further develop and integrate, and SuperStream continues its onward march.
ATO system outages impact superannuation transactions
This is what happened with the ATO online services system outages in December 2016 and February 2017 as a result in a failure in their storage hardware (and not the result of a security attack). The outage affected all ATO systems including superannuation enabling services. In the first outage, there was a substantial loss of capability for up to eleven days.No superannuation information was compromised and client records remained secure and intact. Nonetheless, the outages sheeted home the increasing dependencies of the superannuation on the ATO.
A PwC review and an internal ATO inquiry is looking into causes, impacts and consequences of the outages.It is clear that they need to potentially look at this from a whole-of-system perspective, and move toward a possible risk management framework that covers funds, intermediaries and regulators.
I don’t know what the reviews will find but it is very difficult to step back from an increasingly integrated system.The ATO has played and continues to play a critical role in the technological evolution of superannuation, and has been innovative and forward-thinking.
Meeting the challenges of an integrated system
ATO enabling services in particular have helped strengthen the spine of integrity of the system.They and other services still in development will help them to collaborate with the industry to address issues as disparate as unpaid super, lost super and the unnecessary duplication of accounts.It is important the Government recognise and fund the ATO to undertake these vital activities, while also guarding against the downside risk highlighted by the outages.
IQ Group has been a participant throughout the SuperStream journey from the very beginning until the present day, and we remain committed to our goal to continue to play a role in helping funds map the way forward, meet their SuperStream obligations, leverage these changes to deliver efficiencies – and solve problems.We are working closely with funds to mitigate disruption and deal with disruption outcomes, as well as continuing to work with the industry and the ATO on day-to-day industry matters.
Executive Superannuation Policy Advisor, VIC