This fund chief executive has shared why the superannuation industry needs to better service female members and how Verve Super implements an ethical investment approach.
Christina Hobbs is CEO of Verve Super, a sub-plan of Future Super, which was set up in 2018 to help women meet their financial goals and close the gap in women’s retirement savings.
Beginning with $100,000 in starter funds, it has now grown to more than $270 million in funds under management (FUM) with over 6,700 members.
Earlier this month, Hobbs was named Chief Executive Officer of the Year at the Women in Finance Awards on 10 November, hosted by Super Review’s parent company Momentum Media.
Asked why Verve was set up, she said: “One of the key things women were noticing is that they weren’t being well served by their financial institutions around the time of pre-royal commission,” she told Super Review.
“[Women] weren’t really trusting the ethics of the organisations that they were doing financial services with. Research at that time also showed financial services was the least trusted industry by women in Australia.”
Verve Super was born in response, with the wider goal of providing a more tailored superannuation service to women alongside financial education.
A key policy the fund introduced is its Baby Bump program, where Verve asks members to contact them when they go on maternity leave to pause their annual fixed administration fees for 12 months.
“We also ask if they would like to advocate to their employer to pay them super while they’re on leave or if they would like us to do that for them,” Hobbs said.
Paying super on paid parental leave (PPL) has been a recurring topic of discussion in the superannuation sector. In September, the government stopped short of offering a date or time frame when pressed to elaborate on when it intends to pay the superannuation guarantee on PPL.
An ethical investment approach
According to Hobbs, their membership is not the only area where the fund has a gender focus. It also implements a strong gender lens when investing in asset classes such as alternatives, Australian equities, and impact investments.
The fund utilises its own Verve Gender Equality Investment Index, which utilises data collected by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).
It can then positively or negatively screen based on how ASX-listed companies perform on key gender equity metrics. These include gender pay parity, the number of women in leadership, anti-sexual harassment policies, commitment to inclusivity, and flexible work practices.
She described: “We look at things like what are the policies around flexible workplaces in these companies? What about their pay policies? What are their women in leadership policies? We’re actually investing in companies based on how they perform [on] gender equality as well.”
Moreover, Verve’s alternative investments seek to make a positive environmental impact, such as through renewable energy firms and companies committed to the decarbonisation transition.
It screens out companies that are involved in the mining or extraction of fossil fuels that cause harm to communities, operate nuclear energy plants, and manufacture harmful chemicals such as arsenic while investing in those that are climate or sustainability leaders.
To improve social outcomes, the fund also invests in the Synergis Fund, which transforms disability housing in Australia to support individuals on the NDIS to live independently at home or in specialist disability accommodation.
Verve’s investing app
In July, the super fund launched a new investment app called Verve Money with three ethically curated portfolios tailored around the needs and desires of women investors. At the time of the launch, Hobbs described the app’s launch as the “logical next step.”
An ASX Investor survey earlier this year found women were lagging behind when it comes to investing to build long-term wealth.
Women make up just 42 per cent of people in Australia investing outside of super and a primary place of residence like an owner-occupier property. Female investors also have smaller portfolios on average ($413,000) compared to the average male investor ($667,000).
Hobbs explained: “Historically women haven’t been invited into conversations about investing, it hasn’t felt like a space for us and when you look at the products in market, they don’t meet the needs of many women looking to invest for the first time.”
Offering fixed income, balanced, and high growth portfolios, Verve Money has approximately 25,000 community members and $270 million in investments. Some 20 per cent of every Verve Money portfolio invests in climate solutions.
“Virtually every day women were asking us when they could invest with Verve outside of super, so we knew there was huge demand,” she said. “The idea behind [the app] is how do we more holistically support women to build wealth through to retirement, including outside of their superannuation as well.”
Structuring the app around members’ goals was a key component, with women being more driven to build wealth in order to achieve broader life ambitions. Users with longer-term goals can use high growth portfolios, while individuals focused on the short term can invest in more cash-based options.
“Making the products accessible and suitable for people that just want to get started slowly with smaller amounts and build that up over time was crucial,” Hobbs continued.