When someone converts their super fund balance into a pension, their needs change quite significantly. For a start, their investment strategy needs to consider liquidity and capital preservation as well as growth, so they need their fund to offer appropriate investment options. These may be different from, or additional to, those available to super members.
The services that pension members require from their fund change, too. They need help to manage their money and make it last as long as possible, while still drawing the income they need. They may also need help in understanding the interaction between their super and the Age Pension. Estate planning can be a major issue for many pension members, and they need to be aware of the options available to them so they can plan accordingly.
Choosing a good pension fund is important, but without help the average person has no reliable means of comparing one fund with another. That is the purpose of our pension fund ratings. By applying our knowledge and experience of pension funds, we compare them in a way that is both fair and rigorous.
The result is a set of ratings that encapsulate our view about the quality of each fund we rate. We express those ratings in terms of Apples, reflecting our ‘apples with apples’ approach. Funds earn a rating ranging from 5 Apples, our highest grade, to 1 Apple, our lowest.
Highest Quality Fund
High Quality Fund
Fair Quality Fund
Low Quality Fund
Lowest Quality Fund
Our ratings are based on information that is either publicly available or is provided directly to us by the funds themselves. Where necessary, we modify that information to ensure fair comparisons. We give each fund the opportunity to review the information we use for its accuracy.
When we rate pension funds, we apply a methodology that was first developed in 1997 and has been continuously refined ever since. We focus on four main criteria: investments, member services, fees and organisational strengths.
We determine a score for each of the main criteria and then weight these to provide an overall rating for the fund.
In the following sections we look at each of the main criteria in turn, starting with the most important, and explain the sub-criteria we assess.
Investments are obviously important and account for 45% of our overall rating for pension members. When we rate a fund's investments, we do not focus on past returns. Rather, we focus on assessing the quality of the fund's investment governance, its in-house investment team, its external asset consultant (particularly for research), and the structure of its investment portfolios. If it does these things well, it is likely to have strong, long-term performance.
Most funds offer a range of investment options to choose from, but we concentrate our research mostly on the multi-manager options because that is where most members are invested. The chart below shows what we take into account. It is worth noting that past performance only accounts for 15% of the total score for investments (which equates to 6.75% of our overall fund evaluation).
While investments carry the highest weighting in our ratings process, we believe member services are also vitally important for pension members. For that reason they account for 30% of our overall weighting.
The best funds offer services that help their pension members to (i) understand the options they have in retirement and (ii) arrange their super to give them the income they require, while providing some capital growth to make it last as long as possible. Retirees need to be able to model different scenarios to see the effect on their pension balance of different investment choices and drawdown strategies. They also need to be able to take into account any Age Pension they may be entitled to, either now or in the future.
Members need help in various forms to meet all of these needs. The main aspects that we focus on when rating a fund on member services are education (public website and secure website), communication materials (member statements, campaigns and newsletters), and financial advice services. The chart shows those sub-criteria and the weightings we assign to them.
The fees that a member pays – either directly from their account or indirectly through their investments – have a bearing on how much income they end up with and how long their money lasts. However, a low fee fund is not necessarily the best. A fund may be cheap because its investments use a lot of passive management, or it may cut costs by providing little in the way of member services.
When we assess a fund on fees, we look not only at the costs that the member pays, directly or indirectly, but also on how clearly and completely the fund discloses those costs, as shown below.
Australian super funds are highly regulated and they are not geared, so the chance of failure is quite remote. Nevertheless, it is important to know that the organisation behind the fund has the capacity to sustain and improve it now and into the future.
When we assess a fund on organisation, we look at who owns or controls it, the strength of its management team and its strategy for the future, as shown in the chart below.