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Featured Profile: Jane Kang

Prime mover

A determined spirit has underscored all that Jane Kang has achieved so far, and that spirit is lending itself well to Prime Super, its members and its investments. Andrew McKean writes.

Up until her late teens, Prime Super general manager of investments Jane Kang lived in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on Borneo affectionately known as the land of the hornbills.

Her native soil was a smorgasbord of culture, to the point you could speak three languages in one sentence without anyone batting an eye.

Even from the humblest of beginnings, Kang's parents told her if they couldn't give her anything else in life, they'd provide as much education as she wanted.

"It wasn't a surprise that I ended up in Australia because they wanted me to come and explore what's out there, rather than staying put," she says.

"They always saw value in bettering ourselves."

Not long after arriving in Australia, Kang enrolled in a bachelor of economics at Monash University.

While there were any number of opportunities for a tenacious and motivated talent like Kang, she never had any doubt about wanting a career in financial services.

"My dad was an accountant and my mum a schoolteacher, so there was always this emphasis on the value of money, the benefit of saving and education," she says.

"There was never a hesitancy in that I wanted to do economics with a major in accounting."

She sees it as the best of both worlds, knowing how the economy works and how accounting plays into the discipline of managing funds.

"It was a no brainer. I knew when I was growing up, that's where I was going. I wanted to be in the finance industry, but not at a top accounting firm; I was always more interested in investments and looking at money," she says.

Not long after completing her studies, Kang landed at one of the big four banks as a cadet. For 18 months she cycled through various sectors within the banking industry which she credits for solidifying her professional purpose.

Then, Kang moved on to managing treasury investments for the State Insurance Office in fixed interest and cash. From there, it was 30 years of smooth sailing in the superannuation industry.

First, she landed at UniSuper as a manager of internal portfolios and investment operations in 1996. Following a six-year tenure, Kang moved on to be director of fixed interest at Rest's funds management subsidiary. Shortly thereafter, Kang became manager of investment operations and eventually head of investment operations at Hostplus, where she spent more than a decade.

Finally, about a year after its merger with Health Industry Plan, Kang joined Prime Super to manage the fund's investments, while also developing and maintaining relationships with investment managers and consultants.

In fact, Kang hopes her distinguishing quality as a general manager is her affibility with all Prime's stakeholders, especially internally.

Kang warns not to laugh when she says that she gels well with her team.

"I believe that I work well with them and in doing so get a lot back from them as a partnership rather than a [you have to do things] my way or the highway approach," Kang says.

"I enjoy working with my team and the people around me. Some people wake up to go to work so that they can earn a living, but I wake up because I enjoy working with these people."

The enthusiasm Kang has for her team is obvious but what's lesser known are some of her extroadinary passions outside the realms of superannuation.

After tearing her anterior cruciate snow skiing in Mt Buller, Kang took up hiking as a hobby. Perhaps an unusual activity to undertake in the immediate aftermath of a major knee injury, Kang was nevertheless determined to push her physical boundaries.

Rather adventurously, Kang torpedoed straight into her first major hiking expedition, taking onthe Milford Track in the southern New Zealand fjords. Through torrential downpours and the works of natural impediments, she successfully finished the world-famous trail.

Hankering for more, Kang decided to further immerse herself in mountainous settings, and what better place to do that than the Himalayas.  Notoriously hard to enter, Kang took it upon herself to take the giant leap to the tiny land-locked country of Bhutan.

Calling it one of her favourite trips, Kang spent seven days in the secretive state and managed to make her way up to the Tiger Nest monestary - a 17th century monestary that hangs on a precarious cliff some 3000 metres above sea level.

This desire to take a little risk and do things differently is also reflected in her role at Prime Super.

"We do try to differentiate because we always say that there's no point in being similar to any other fund. For a boutique fund we have alternatives and we do direct investments, we don't do pooled," Kang explains.

"So, for our infrastructure or property [investments], we own them directly rather than going into a pooled fund. We can access investments that the big funds don't want to know about because they don't want to get out of bed for such a small investment, whereas we do, and we find value in those investments."

In the seven years Kang has been at the fund, it's seen an average return of 8.79%. According to Rainmaker Information, over three years to 31 December 2021, Prime Super's MySuper option ranks sixth overall on a risk-adjusted basis.

While its membership hasn't grown in her time, its funds under management has. When Kang joined the fund in 2015, it had $2.9 billion. Today, it has over $6.4 billion.

Prime Super is also recognised with AAA Quality Ratings from Rainmaker Information across its allocated pension offering Income Stream, personal offerings Personal (Health Division) and Personal (Prime Division), and workplace offerings Prime Super (Health Division), Prime Super (Prime Division) and Prime Super Education Division.

On her greatest accomplishments at Prime, Kang says a bolstering of processes and procedures she's helped introduce have made security and compliance matters watertight.

Outside the confines of the Prime Super offices however, there's always more to be done. Industry-wide, and perhaps not surprising given Kang's upbringing, the key thing she would like to see is improved member education.

"The market is getting more and more volatile and members do get worried. We need to ensure that members are looking at long term investments because they are often looking at the short term," Kang says.

"In a lot of ways you can't blame members for panicking about short-term volatility or short-term bad returns because along the way, on a regulatory basis a lot of things are looking at the short term rather than the long term. Yet, as we always say to our members, superannuation is a long-term retirement plan." fs