How important is the performance of a super fund?

How important is the performance of a super fund?

It’s fairly common for Aussies in the workforce to neglect thinking about their retirement funds until the later stages of their career. But doing so could potentially cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time you retire. 

If you are one of the many Australians who has kept their superannuation fund from their first casual job, there’s a good chance that upon subsequent employment you’ve either:

  1. kept the same fund out of convenience, or;
  2. opened an additional super fund(s) – likely another default fund – also out of convenience.

Maybe you’ve since seen how easy it is to consolidate your accumulated funds using your myGov account and are feeling a sense of achievement from doing so, with the knowledge that you’ll no longer be paying all of those unnecessary fees.

While this is an excellent first step, and means you aren’t one of the 4.4 million people across the country who are holding 6 million super accounts, there’s still a number of other things to consider.

Despite too often being disregarded, one of the most important factors of your super fund is the investment return that it makes, known as its performance. Even a slight variation in performance has the potential to significantly impact your super balance over the life of your career. It could essentially mean the difference between retiring with a sense of financial insecurity and retiring comfortably.

How do I compare super fund performance?

As recommended by MoneySmart, it’s a good idea to compare the investment performance of different funds over a period of at least five years.

RateCity’s superannuation rate table allows you to compare performance figures of different super funds by listing their annualised rolling returns over the past five years.

When doing your research, it’s important to ensure you’re comparing apples with apples in order to make a fair comparison. This means comparing super funds of the same type, as well as the same risk profile.

The reason this is so important is because there can be many factors that determine fee variations between different fund types.

For example, funds that are considered to have a higher risk profile may charge higher fees than more conservative funds, as it can cost more to have money invested in higher growth assets. Similarly, ethical funds can have higher fees, as it can be an additional cost to screen ethical companies.

However, lower fees and strong performance don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Case study

Danielle lands her first full time job at age 25. When she receives her onboarding forms, she uses the opportunity to assess her superannuation options. It’s particularly important to her that she chooses an ethical super fund that prioritises environmental sustainability.

After a thorough comparison focused on investment options, Danielle narrows down her search to two suitable funds. She has heard a lot of talk about fees and how they can really add up over time, but notes that both funds have the same annual fees.

Danielle has been doing her due diligence, and understands that to make a comprehensive comparison she should consider not only the investment options and fees charged, but also the funds’ performance.

Ultimately, Danielle discovers that one of the two funds has performance figures from the past five years that are 1 percentage point higher than the other, so she makes the educated decision to join that fund.

Age  25 years  25 years 
Income   $60,000  $60,000
 Super contribution  9.5% of salary 9.5% of salary
 Investment return  5% 5%
 Fees  1.5% of balance 1.5% of balance
 Super balance at age 65  $221,776 $268,664

Source: RateCity.com.au, MoneySmart Superannuation Calculator. Notes: Assumes a starting super balance of $0. Assumes no changes to income during working life for the sake of calculation.

Note that past performance is not always a reliable indicator of future outcomes.

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Learn more about superannuation

What is a superannuation fund?

A superannuation fund is an institution that is legally allowed to hold and invest your superannuation. There are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia. They come in five different types:

  • Retail funds
  • Industry funds
  • Public sector funds
  • Corporate funds
  • Self-managed super funds

Retail funds are usually run by banks or investment companies.

Industry funds were originally designed for workers from a particular industry, but are now open to anyone.

Public sector funds were originally designed for people working for federal or state government departments. Most are still reserved for government employees.

Corporate funds are arranged by employers for their employees.

Self-managed super funds are private superannuation funds that allow people to directly invest their money.

How do I choose the right superannuation fund?

Different superannuation funds charge different fees, offer different insurances, offer different investment options and have different performance histories.

So you need to ask yourself these four questions when comparing superannuation funds:

  • How many fees would I have to pay and what would they cost?
  • What insurances are available and how much would they cost?
  • What investment options does it offer? How would they match my risk profile and financial needs?
  • How have these investment options performed historically?

What fees do superannuation funds charge?

Superannuation funds can charge a range of fees, including:

  • Activity-based fees – for specific, irregular services, such as splitting an account after a divorce
  • Administration fees – to cover the cost of managing your account
  • Advice fees – for personal investment advice
  • Buy/sell spread fees – when you make contributions, switches and withdrawals
  • Exit fees – when you close your account
  • Investment fees – to cover the cost of managing your investments
  • Switching fees – when you choose a new investment option within the same fund

How many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.

What are ethical investment superannuation funds?

Ethical investment funds limit themselves to making ‘ethical’ investments (which each fund defines according to its own principles). For example, ethical funds might avoid investing in companies or industries that are linked to human suffering or environmental damage.

How long after divorce can you claim superannuation?

You or your partner could be forced to surrender part of your superannuation if you divorce, just like with other assets.

You can file a claim for division of property – including superannuation – as soon as you divorce. However, the claim has to be filed within one year of the divorce.

Your superannuation could be affected even if you’re in a de facto relationship – that is, living together as a couple without being officially married.

In that case, the claim has to be filed within two years of the date of separation.

Either way, the first thing to consider is whether you’re a member of a standard, APRA-regulated superannuation fund or if you’re a member of a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), because different rules apply.

Standard superannuation funds

If your relationship breaks down, your superannuation savings might be divided by court order or by agreement.

The rules of the superannuation fund will dictate whether this transfer happens immediately, or in the future when the person who has to make the transfer is allowed to access the rest of their superannuation (i.e. at or near retirement).

Click here for more information.

SMSFs

If your relationship breaks down, you must continue to observe the trust deed of your SMSF.

So if you and your partner are both members of the same SMSF, neither party is allowed to use the fund to inflict ‘punishment’ – such as by excluding the other party from the decision-making process or refusing their request to roll their money into another superannuation fund.

This no-punishment rule applies even if the two parties are involved in legal proceedings.

Click here for more information.

Financial consequences

Superannuation funds often charge a fee for splitting accounts after a relationship breakdown.

Splitting superannuation can also impact the size of your total super balance and how your super is taxed.

Click here for more information.

How do you open a superannuation account?

Opening a superannuation account is simple. When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You might want to provide your tax file number as well – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

How do I change my superannuation fund?

Changing superannuation funds is a common and straightforward process. You can do it through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your new fund. You’ll also have to provide proof of identity.

How do you create a superannuation account?

Before you create a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How do you set up superannuation?

Before you set up a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

What happens to my insurance cover if I change superannuation funds?

Some superannuation funds will allow you to transfer your insurance cover, without interruption, if you switch. However, others won’t. So it’s important you check before changing funds.

What superannuation details do I give to my employer?

When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You should also provide your tax file number – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

What is the difference between accumulation and defined benefit funds?

A majority of Australians are in accumulation funds. These funds grow according to the amount of money invested and the return on that money.

A minority of Australians are in defined benefit funds – many of which are now closed to new members. These funds give payouts according to specific rules, such as how long the worker has been with their employer and their final salary before they retired.

What is MySuper?

MySuper accounts are basic, low-fee accounts. If you don’t nominate a superannuation fund, your employer must choose one for you that offers a MySuper account.

MySuper accounts offer two investment options:

  1. Single diversified investment strategy

Your fund assigns you a risk strategy and investment profile, which remain unchanged throughout your working life.

  1. Lifecycle investment strategy

Your fund assigns you an investment strategy based on your age, and then changes it as you get older. Younger workers are given strategies that emphasise growth assets