CMSF 2017: An industry in interesting, if not extraordinary times

We are living in “interesting, if not extraordinary times”, according to one leader of the superannuation industry, AIST CEO Eva Scheerlinck.

This was the observation she made when opening the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds (CMSF) last week, where over 1,600 delegates descended on the Gold Coast for the annual conference. Honner was on the ground to hear first-hand the issues that are front of mind for Australia’s superannuation industry.

Ms Scheerlinck’s observation was in reference to recent examples of questionable conduct by a number of Australia’s major financial service corporations. She opined that confidence in the financial services sector has been eroded and that according to a recent global trust barometer, our level of trust is at crisis point.

This is based on more than geopolitical uncertainty; it is about social erosion at every level. Trust in the government, media, business and non-government organisations is at an all-time low.

She said this is why it’s important to point to the different approach of the “profit for members” sector and the differences which exist between funds which look to their members first and those whose first priority is driving returns to shareholders.

It was a powerful message followed up with a plenary session from The Hon. Michael Kirby on social inclusion.

The tone demonstrated a shift in mindset of the financial services industry. Things need to change in order to restore trust.

Throughout the conference, there was a strong focus on lifting the bar to restore trust – and this was apparent in sessions that ranged across the impact of the mandatory data breach reporting regime, cyber security, expanding social and digital member engagement, personalising marketing campaigns and incorporating a deeper understanding of data analytics.

The conference fostered a conversation that was deeper than we have seen in previous years.

On the last day of the conference, Helen Rowell, Deputy Chairman of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) gave a rousing speech encouraging Trustees and Boards to do more than was minimally required.

“That means that all trustees must move beyond a focus on just meeting minimum legislative requirements, to an approach that seeks to embed the principles of the prudential standards into their business practices, meeting the spirit and intent and not just the letter of the standards,” she said.

“Doing ‘just enough’ is not good enough to meet member and community expectations. And there is no room for complacency – all trustees need to review and enhance their operations and practices on an ongoing basis.”

She also encouraged Trustees and Boards to more readily consider merger opportunities or closure, if it was the right decision for members.

Her impassioned speech was met with a resounding round of applause.

There is no doubt that Australia’s superannuation industry is serious business, and with that power comes responsibility. The CMSF certainly lifted the bar this year. It will be interesting to see if the industry follows suit.

Who cares about fake news? You do!

Fake news is nothing new. Rumour and sensational news always has and always will attract readers – who doesn’t like a bit of gossip?

But in a digital world centred on sharing, and a 24-hour news cycle, the fake news phenomenon is an increasing concern for PR professionals and our clients. It’s fooling the most experienced publications and has even caused Facebook, Twitter and Google to review their algorithms.

Even today, the SMH and AFR have been accused of falsely reporting that Harvey Norman is being investigated by ASIC.

To understand the impact of fake news to society and the challenges for the media industry, Honner recently attended an event hosted by UTS and the ABC, Trust and truth in the digital age.

In a discussion that covered responsibility, free speech and the need for regulation, we took away some insights relevant to organisations operating in an era of fake news.

It’s all about the facts

News sites from CNN to the Wall Street Journal and the ABC have been accused of publishing fake news stories – and when the truth emerges, there is a lot of finger pointing. Sometimes a story is just too good to resist.

However, with most journalists encouraged to submit multiple stories a day, there is very little time for fact checking or source referencing. For PR professionals, a pitch that is supported by quality data, case studies or third-party verification is much more likely to garner journalist interest than one without. Journalists simply aren’t willing to risk putting their name against a story full of holes.

This is one of the many reasons we encourage clients to undertake and validate research, particularly through whitepapers or surveys.

Relationships are paramount

Strong journalist relationships are crucial in building trust. Journalists who have never heard of your company or spokespeople may be hesitant to take an interest in your story.

However, if you are a known source, your story or commentary is more likely to be trusted and picked up. It’s also likely you’ll become a trusted go-to source for industry commentary – an envious position for your competitors!

As part of our PR programs, we encourage clients to regularly participate in a media contact program that builds relationships with journalists.

Embrace channels outside traditional media

Media is just one part of the puzzle and reputations aren’t solely built or protected through mainstream coverage. Now, more than ever, organisations need to embrace fully-integrated communications programs which incorporate social, digital and content and engage their target audiences over time.

Fake news isn’t going away and while this presents many challenges, it should prompt the financial services industry to refine their media approach and explore alternative channels.

Want to know more about the changing media landscape? Read here about Honner’s visit to Fairfax Media last year or here for first-hand insights into the financial services trade media.

Australia’s financial services industry – bold or behind when it comes to gender equality?

Given the amount of air time and column inches the topic of gender equality in the workplace now receives – you’d think we would be a step closer in closing the pay gap by now, wouldn’t you? Sadly not.

The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186 – a scary and sobering statistic, I don’t think anyone is prepared to wait that long.

As International Women’s Day (IWD) approaches on 8 March, I thought it timely to check in on how Australia’s financial services industry is stacking up in the move towards gender parity. IWD2017’s theme, Be Bold for Change, calls on everyone to help forge a better working world and a more gender inclusive world. So, the question remains – just how bold or behind are we when it comes to gender equality?

According to OECD 2015 data, Australia had the 24th largest pay gap of the 34 OECD countries – Australia’s gender pay gap of 17.9 per cent is above the OECD average of 15.5 per cent.

While figures from the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) show there are technically more women than men employed in financial services (55 per cent versus 45 per cent), the more senior and managerial positions continue to be male-dominated.

Recent WGEA data the using figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics also highlighted the financial services industry as having one of the biggest gender pay gaps compared to other sectors, standing at 30.8 per cent.

Not all doom and gloom

Australia’s financial services industry clearly acknowledges the need for greater gender equality through the rise of initiatives such as the Women in Super forums and the Women in Financial Services Awards. Certainly, in the nine years I have been in Sydney there has also been a marked increase in the number of men attending and supporting these events, which I would say is another sign of cultural progress.

Similarly, recent data from Bloomberg shows gender equality in the financial services industry is slowly improving. The company’s Financial Services Gender Equality Index (BFGEI) found that women comprise 24.2 per cent of board roles. Additionally, Bloomberg’s analysis showed the percentage of female executives within financial services firms increased by 25.2 per cent during the 2014/15 fiscal year.

Of course, words are one thing, action is another. Here are some example steps that can be taken to help address gender equality:

    1. Undertake a pay gap analysis – WGEA has a number of toolkits available on its website to help with this process 
    2. Encourage senior women to act as mentors – With fewer women in executive positions, it’s important that women have the opportunity to learn from and interact with peers, as well as being an inspiration to others
    3. Allow and support flexible working arrangements for men and women – it’s not just about having the policy, but ensuring both men and women feel comfortable taking it up.
    4. Make the most of industry resources and support – The IWD website has a range of resources available

Gender equality isn’t such a challenge for Honner, where the majority of our workforce is female. However, we are proud to work with some of Australia’s leaders in gender equality. Over the past 20 years we have also supported a range of initiatives including Women in Super and 3TOM – the networking group for women in funds management.

As we celebrate IWD this year we look forward to supporting and driving greater gender equality in the financial services sector.

AltFi Australasia: online lenders a growth driver for the fintech sector

Australia is in the midst of an alternative lending growth spurt. Awareness among consumers is currently lower than other countries, but we are catching up, the market opportunity is huge and the number of players is growing rapidly.

This was the take-out from the AltFi Australasia conference that Honner attended on Monday 27 February, supporting our client OnDeck, the major sponsor.

In between managing interviews with OnDeck’s Australian CEO, Cameron Poolman and SVP International, Rob Young, the Honner team sat in on several interesting presentations.

The overarching theme was of an industry that is growing fast because it’s meeting the needs of both customers and investors. Customers love the ease and speed of dealing with fintech lenders, and are increasingly looking beyond the ‘slow no’ of a bank to access cost-effective funding.

Investors in the Peer-to-Peer lending space are responding positively to an emerging asset class that goes beyond traditional fixed income or debt products, delivering diversification and returns.

As part of the Global Fintech PR Network, Honner is closely connected to online lending and we are watching keenly as it grows. We are excited to help drive awareness of an innovative sector that is harnessing technology to create a better customer experience.