For almost three years now employers have been obliged to make default superannuation contributions to an authorised MySuper product, as part of the Stronger Super reforms announced by the Australian Government in 2011. We take a look at the effectiveness of the MySuper Dashboard introduced as part of the reforms and examine some of the measures reported.
Funds are required to publish a product dashboard showing the fees and returns for their MySuper products. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) have specified a standard set of data that is required to be published, which, in theory, makes it easier to compare MySuper funds across the industry. Here, we take a look at some of the data that is available, the different ways it is presented, and a comparison across sample funds. It should be noted that this is not intended as financial advice, but rather a comment on the effectiveness of the reforms with respect to the comparison of products in particular (you should of course consult you qualified financial advisor and consider your own personal circumstances when making a choice of fund).
According to SuperGuide, there are 120 MySuper funds on offer in the Australian marketplace. To select our sample for this exercise, we simply searched for the term “MySuper Dashboard” via Google and selected all funds displayed on the first page of results. This is in no way and exhaustive list, nor is it reflective of biggest or best performing funds but the method was chosen as an example of how people go about researching products these days. The search results provide a good cross-section of funds, returning funds from 4 retail providers (AMP, BT, Colonial and IOOF) and 5 industry funds (AustralianSuper, CareSuper, HostPlus, MediaSuper and UniSuper). All funds are public offers, except for the UniSuper fund, which is only open to those in the University or Tertiary education sector and their spouses. The size of the funds, measured by assets under management, range from A$70bn of (AustralianSuper MySuper) to A$1.1bn (BT Super for Life). Two of the funds also have Lifestage options, meaning they are investment options that are limited to people that fall into a specified age bracket.
What is on the Dashboard?
APRA specifies the details of 5 separate measures that should be displayed on the dashboard, being:
- Return target
- Returns for previous financial years
- A comparison between the return target and the returns for previous financial years
- Level of investment risk, and
- A statement of fees and other costs.
The measures should be calculated based on a ‘representative’ member with a $50,000 super balance.
The Return Target is the percentage return the fund is targeting over a ten year period, net of fees and taxes. Importantly, it is the target above CPI (or inflation). Our sample set of funds have targets ranging from 3.3% (BT) to 5.1% (UniSuper), meaning super balances should increase between 4.1% to 6.9% every 10 years, assuming this decade’s average inflation of 1.8% continues and ignoring ongoing contributions. At first glance, the return target (with the level of investment risk expanded below) would seem to be a good measure for indicating the expected future returns across funds. However, there is no guarantee that the return targets will not be changed over time. That said, they do represent an indication of current intent.
The returns from previous financial years are shown net of any fees and taxes, meaning they are effectively the returns to the member once any costs have been removed. What is not clear is that for this measure, CPI is not taken into account, making it a little tricky to compare actual returns versus the target return. APRA stipulates that a comparison is made via a graph showing the moving average return target and the 10 year average return, where the data is available. In simple terms, the graph should show rough alignment between returns and targets, helping to keep the claimed return targets in check.
One of the biggest challenges, however, in comparing products is the length of time that the product has been in existence. Some funds that existed prior to the January 2014 deadline were already MySuper ‘compliant’, and therefore have a history of investment performance that extends over 10 years or more. In our sample set, all of the Industry funds have at least 10 years of history, so are able to provide a 10 year average return figure and target vs actual comparison graphs over that period. The Retail funds in our comparison have been available for a much shorter period of time and are only able to report between 2 and 5 years of history. One fund in our sample (IOOF) even called out that 10 years of data will not be available until 2025, and as a result did not publish a graph. That makes comparing long term returns difficult. Furthermore, the dashboard does not require 1 year, 2 year, 3 year and 5 year average returns to be reported, which in our opinion would make it easier to compare products with a shorter history. The average returns over varying time periods can be calculated from the annual returns provided, which we have done in our comparison table below. It would be better if these figures were pre-calculated and reported on the dashboard.
The level of investment risk is an indication of the number of years a negative return is expected over a 20 year period. Here is a table explaining the different levels:
All of the sample options within our sample funds have either a Medium to High or High Investment Risk, meaning roughly a negative return should be expected somewhere between every 3 to 7 years.
The statement of fees and cost is a calculation of the total fees a representative member (with $50,000 balance) should expect to pay each year under current terms. While these numbers are interesting, and perhaps serve as a comparative indication of the cost of administering funds across providers, the actual return figures are already net of these costs, so perhaps form the better comparison.
Comparing our sample set
The MySuper dashboard represents a good first step in the transparent comparison of superannuation funds across the market place. Consultation is currently underway for the extension the dashboard to include other, ‘choice’ (or non-default, non-MySuper options) which would provide much more open comparison across the industry. However, we suggest that the current dashboard should be extended to include average net returns across differing time periods (e.g. 1 year, 3 year, 5 year and 10 year). Also, we believe all dashboards should contain a clear note highlighting the need to consider insurance arrangements when comparing products, something that is too often ignored. Unfortunately, transparent comparison of insurance arrangements are a long way off!
Where to go for more information?
The detailed product dashboards are available for each of the funds specified:
Care Super: https://www.caresuper.com.au/content/mysuper-dashboard
The Australian Government has more information on comparison of superannuation funds: