Super for women? Retirement disruptors prepare for launch
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Super for women? Retirement disruptors prepare for launch

Christina Hobbs was in Baghdad when she decided it was time to become a startup founder and disrupt Australia's superannuation space.

"A lot of it was thinking about these huge problems around climate change, war and what we can do. And about investing in industries doing the right thing," Hobbs says.

Christina Hobbs is the chief executive of Verve Super.

Christina Hobbs is the chief executive of Verve Super.

The former Deloitte management consultant and United Nations financial inclusion expert will launch her women-focused superannuation fund, Verve Super, with co-founders Zoe Lamont and Alex Andrews on Monday.

The startup will aim to build "the financial power of women" by inviting them to join a super fund that will screen investments through a gender lens, including only investing in businesses with women on their boards and meeting specific ethical requirements across supply chains.

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The fund also plans to write to company chairmen that do not have women on their boards — and if they don't work to improve this, Verve is dropping them from possible future investments.

Hobbs' previous experience has seen her setting up emergency banking systems and women's financial security projects for the UN. From Iraq to Somalia, she says she's seen the importance of financial inclusion for women across the globe and says Australian super funds can definitely do better.

Founders to fix the retirement gap

Self-employed women in particular are an area of focus for Hobbs, who has built the startup out of Melbourne's female focused One Roof Women coworking space.

She says given Australian women retire with 47 per cent less retirement savings than men on average, the aim was to create a fund focused on financial education and respect.

"It's about making a fund that would have a conversation with them - and respect them."

Taking aim at larger financial institutions and their superficial engagement with female customers, Hobbs says building a superannuation startup is about much more than "putting letters in pink".

"We welcome women, non-binary people and men to join the fund. We’re very clear that what we’re doing is tailored to women, but I think we'll get a whole broad church of Australians."

Verve will kick off this week with $200,000 of startup capital, $100,000 of which has come from Hobbs' personal savings. The goal is to get $300 million in funds under management within four years.

The startup was born because of the "huge unmet need" for an education-focused fund, Hobbs says.

Self-employed Australians

Gigsuper co-founders Martin Batur (L) and Peter Stanhope.

Gigsuper co-founders Martin Batur (L) and Peter Stanhope. Credit:Pat Scala

She's not alone. Across Australia a number of niche retirement providers are preparing for kickoff, including GigSuper, which will be pitched at self-employed Australians.

Co-founder Peter Stanhope says the fund is looking to launch in February 2019 to capture the 1.7 million self-employed Aussies who have been ignored by traditional funds.

"Generally speaking, the way in which you grow a [traditional] super fund is very different to the way you need to service self-employed people," he says.

Having spoken to entrepreneurs across Australia, Stanhope says GigSuper has found two key reasons why this cohort is ignoring their super savings: they don't understand the system, and they feel they get paid too irregularly to have a traditional fund work for them.

"But they have a nagging feeling that they should be doing it," he says.

Super challenge clear

Both Hobbs and Stanhope say one thing is for sure in Australia's super system: we've known for a long time it doesn't work for everyone.

Since 2012, the Australian Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) body has found self-employed workers or those with career breaks finish with less super, Stanhope says.

"And the super industry has done nothing about it in that time."

Recent reviews of Australia's workplace landscape have found self-employed Australians do face a super gap, with the Future of Work senate committee inquiry recommending the government consider reform to reflect the number of "workers engaged in non-standard employment".

Earlier this year, ASFA research found self-employed men had around $143,000 in super compared with $283,000 with male salary earners at age 64.

Women who employed themselves were sitting at $83,000, compared with around $175,000 for those on salary.

For Verve Super, it's not a matter of waiting for the government to act — startups should be offering alternatives now.

"I think there's history, and a long history, of women losing their financial rights. This is gradually building them back," says Hobbs.

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Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.

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