After the super fund merger party

24 October 2022
| By Industry |
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The superannuation sector is going through a golden era of fund mergers. But negotiating and executing a superannuation fund merger is challenging, exciting, stressful and rewarding.

It calls for a laser-like focus on the benefits to fund members, careful negotiation with stakeholders and a keen eye for detail to ensure that members’ interests are not only protected but enhanced.

Once the merger is completed and the party poppers have been binned the real work starts. As the old adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – or in the case of mergers, in the execution.

If the merger is between a large and a small fund, often the ways of working, systems and processes of the larger fund are adopted. This is not unexpected nor wrong but there may be a better approach. 

Things are more complicated when a merger is between funds of about equal size, sophistication and complexity – a mergers of equals.

In these mergers, trustees must make decisions about every component of the value chain to decide which elements will be adopted, discarded or changed to ensure that the merged fund is more than simply the sum of the parts of the previous funds.

This requires working through key questions including: Which administration, risk and compliance systems should prevail? Which processes best support the new fund? Which people are needed to take the merged fund into the future? What will the product and service suite look like? What is the strategy and vision for the future? All must be considered carefully and meticulously worked through.

The objective of any merger of superannuation funds should not simply be to scale up for scale’s sake, or to be a vessel to sum the funds under management and number of members. This is the 1 + 1 = 2 outcome. Scale matters, but only if it helps you play the ball forward and will deliver a better outcome than the two merging funds could achieve singularly.

The business case supporting a merger of superannuation funds is often couched in terms of tangible and intangible benefits that will flow to members. Trustees will rightly seek assurance and evidence that benefits will accrue, such as enhanced members’ retirement outcomes, reduced costs (in real terms and relative to a non-merger scenario), enhanced future services and product development, and expanded investment opportunities.

So if the will, the skill, and the intent is in place, shouldn’t it be relatively straightforward to achieve the benefits set out in the business case?

The answer is it is neither simple nor easy. Transforming a business while continuing business as usual adds to the difficulty.

So how can we ensure a merger is successful? In my view, the top five factors that can have a big influence in merger success are:

  • A clear vision, strategy, culture and purpose. No surprises here. These should be genuine, relatable, ambitious and understandable. Articulate each endlessly and role-model expected behaviours every day. To harness the passion of an organisation, people need to believe in the light on the hill and their leaders. An unrelenting focus on culture and purpose is the fuel that drives the engine.
  • Think long-term but deliver to the short-term. Be clear about what must be done, why and by when, and how each part contributes to the whole. Getting everyone on the same page is essential. We’ve all seen projects that have multi-year timeframes where the scope changes and the project ebbs and flows. The longer the timeframe, the greater the risk of disappointment. Break up programs to a series of shorter-term, aligned deliverables and get early wins.
  • Articulate what success looks like. Then line up every decision, priority and action to achieve it. If a task or initiative does not directly align to the end game or is merely nice to have – stop it in its tracks, quickly. There is a time and place for second and third priorities, and you can go back to them later.
  • Surround yourself with the best people and resources. Empower and equip them to get on with the task and support them with practical and fit-for-purpose governance that exists solely to deliver the right outcomes in the right way. Deliver and measure outcomes, not effort, celebrate innovation and successes, and learn from mistakes.
  • When it gets difficult (and it will), get more determined. Challenge yourself and the naysayers who put forward barriers rather than solutions – but do it respectfully and transparently. Culture and expectations grow from every word and every action. Never forget the job at hand and the responsibility to the members who rely on you to fund their retirement.

These top five are not a point-in-time undertaking nor a project. They transcend individual, technical pieces of work and instead, and relate to a way of doing things – every day of every week.

Michael Pennisi is a Brisbane-based Principal at Nous Group. He was previously the CEO of the QSuper Group.

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