Getting super across to all

Imagine standing in the middle of a remote community using the only public telephone, waiting to talk to a person in an office in a far-off city. Photo: Tanya LakeWhile many Australians find super challenging, for those living in rural and remote areas – and especially for indigenous Australians – the difficulties are magnified.

Imagine standing in the middle of a remote community using the only public telephone and you are on hold, waiting to talk to a person in an office in a far-off city whose everyday language you barely comprehend and whose jargon you absolutely do not understand, in the hope of discussing your super.

You don’t have your tax file number on hand, you’ve moved house a number of times in the 10 years since joining the fund, and don’t recall the address where you lived when you joined. It’s a recipe for disappointment, disengagement and disadvantage.

And financial exclusion is not limited to remote or country areas.

In urban Australia, where one-third of indigenous super members live, many don’t understand how to leave super to their descendants using the nomination process. People may want to leave super to descendants according to indigenous cultural protocols, and fund trustees may struggle to manage claims in a culturally appropriate way.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is taking a number of steps to address this disengagement. Recently in Melbourne, it held an industry-wide forum with 25 funds represented, which tried to break down some of the barriers Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders face when engaging with the super industry. Participants discussed the need to address problems by developing practical measures, including increasing the numbers of indigenous staff employed in the industry, gathering more detailed information on members and their needs, and considering strategies to deal with the documents and information needed.

The commission has also improved financial literacy tools to better meet indigenous people’s need: ASIC’s revised publication gives information on the fundamentals of super in a booklet written in plain English.

Recognising indigenous consumers as a particularly vulnerable part of society, in 2009 ASIC set up an outreach program. Each year, the team visits about 30 communities around Australia to promote financial literacy.

In 2009, ASIC also implemented a Reconciliation Action Plan. As part of that ASIC has hired its first indigenous cadet and sent ASIC staff on short-term secondments in areas including Redfern and the Kimberley .

Similar to the broader Australian workforce indigenous Australians need to engage with the system to make decisions about such things as life insurance, access to retirement funds and beneficiaries.

Helping people make these decisions needs an understanding of their needs and the barriers they face. With industry’s help, ASIC will be able to dismantle these barriers faster.

Robynne Quiggin is ASIC’s senior manager – indigenous outreach.

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