Grown woman with PhD wants to be allowed to pick her own super fund

Dr Rhiannon Pilkington is the first to admit she is no superannuation expert. But the 29-year-old public health academic believes that is not a reason she, like roughly 2 million other Australians, should not have the right to choose her own fund.

On accepting her first full-time university teaching role in 2010, she was upset to discover that under the relevant enterprise agreement, her compulsory employer contributions had to be paid into a UniSuper account.

Public health academic Dr Rhiannon Pilkington wants the right to nominate the super fund her employer contributions are ...
Public health academic Dr Rhiannon Pilkington wants the right to nominate the super fund her employer contributions are paid into.  Photo: Daniel Kalisz

"I was shocked. I thought laws that let everyone choose their own super fund had been introduced years ago," she said.

After advice from  an adviser in the Aon group  Dr Pilkington had rolled all her super into one Aon account, which she would prefer her super get paid into.

SMSF Association chief Andrea Slattery says the proposed super reforms need to be looked at as a package.
SMSF Association chief Andrea Slattery says the proposed super reforms need to be looked at as a package. Photo: David Mariuz

Most workers have had the ability to nominate what fund they want their employer to pay their compulsory super contributions for more than a decade, but about 2 million people are employed under enterprise agreements that take away that right.

Following a recommendation of the 2014 financial system inquiry, led by former Commonwealth Bank boss David Murray, Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer said in December that the government planned to remove all exemptions from the 2005 "Choice of superannuation fund" legislation.

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Default arrangements

Under the change individuals who do not want the responsibility of choosing their own fund would still be covered by the existing default arrangements.

The push to extend the choice of fund to everyone has been opposed by all the major players in the industry fund lobby, and championed by Financial Services Council that represents bank-owned and other retail super funds. 

On Thursday, lobby group for service providers to the self-managed super sector, the SMSF Association, weighed in, backing the government's push to extend choice of fund to all.

"This will help reduce the amount of fees and insurance premiums deducted from an individual's superannuation, boosting their retirement income over the long term," SMSFA chief executive Andrea Slattery said.

Ms Slattery said the reform made for a more "level playing field" between industry funds, retail funds, and the SMSF advisory sector as they competed to acquire and retain members. 

Dr Pilkington takes advantage of "portability" rules that allow her to switch her balance out of her default-industry fund into her chosen retail fund once a year, but would rather be able to just nominate her preferred fund from the start.

"In fact I haven't gotten around to it on the 'to-do' list yet this year."

She had a total of roughly $30,000 in super and was "not sure" which of her two accounts had delivered a better return.

UniSuper's balanced growth option ranked as the fourth-best performing fund in the category over the past 10 years and fifth in 2015, with a gross annual return of 7.6 per cent against the median of 5.8 per cent. 

Without viewing Dr Pilkington's individual statements it is impossible for Fairfax Media to make an accurate comparison between the performance of her UniSuper account with her Aon account, which has customised investment options. 

As a general comparison, Aon's actively managed balanced growth option returned 4.3 per cent net over the 12 months to December 2015. 

Dr Pilkington said comparative returns were not the main focus of her decision. 

"My decision is more based on good service, and I should have the right to chose my own fund for whatever reason I want."

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