Industry butt heads over super guarantee

Superannuation industry professionals are going head to head over Australia's super guarantee system, yet all agree it's time for an upheaval.

In a submission to the Treasury's Retirement Income Review Panel, the Actuaries Institute called for universal superannuation guarantee (SG) coverage for all Australian workers, including the self-employed and contractors.

Superannuation legal advisory firm QMV disagreed, arguing Australians would benefit if they were able to "opt out" of the SG system.

QMV Legal partner, Jonathan Steffanoni, said opting out would force Australians to be more involved in building their retirement savings.

"Many Australians assume that government calculated minimum level of savings must be enough," he said.

"Giving individuals the ability to opt out can promote greater interest and involvement, which can also result in personally aligned decisions around the right level of contributions from savings for retirement."

However, the Actuaries Institute argues voluntary contributions are usually not enough.

"History shows that voluntary saving decisions made by households are generally inadequate," it said.

Self-employed workers who are not included in the SG system may voluntarily contribute, however, the Institute argues they are more likely to reinvest in their business.

"It is likely that new business owners choose to reinvest in their businesses rather than voluntarily direct cashflow to their superannuation," it said.

"Given that a significant percentage of small businesses fail, many self-employed who plan to use the success of their business as their retirement plan may end up making no retirement savings whilst self-employed."

The Institute also identified the shortcomings in the nation's current retirement policies, and pointed to shortfalls in financial literacy as a key cause of concern.

"Accumulation based superannuation puts inflation, investment, longevity, expense and other risks into the individual's hands," it said.

Despite this, Steffanoni believes the compulsory nature of the SG system has shifted the attention of Australia's super funds from what is truly important; assisting members with their retirement goals.

"Australian superannuation funds [are focused] on policy debates about the appropriate 'minimum' level of SG, rather than focusing on assisting members in setting an appropriate level of contributions based on their living expenses, projected future income, and goals for retirement," he said.

The Actuaries Institute has also warned the evolving employment landscape in Australia, driven by the "gig economy", could put many Australians at risk of falling outside of the retirement system.

It argues the gig economy will see everyday Aussies retiring with much less.

"The gig economy... creates a new set of problems with respect to the superannuation guarantee (SG) system," the Actuaries Institute said.

"It provides people with different types of jobs than full-time positions. They may provide flexibility, etc. but may not always provide sufficient total income for their needs, let alone any savings for retirement.

The Institute argues the country's taxpayers will be forced to carry the added costs.

"As a growing part of the workforce, if the gig economy workers do not participate in the SG system, the percentage of the population covered by compulsory superannuation will reduce," it warned.

"This means that taxpayers will need to support the lower paid or gig workers who will fall back onto the age pension system to a greater degree than otherwise."

The Institute also believes many Australians are at risk of not having adequate savings to provide for their retirement.

"There is a real risk that the age pension, plus an individual's superannuation savings combined, may not be sufficient to provide an adequate retirement income due to a combination of factors."

These include low contributions, insufficient investment returns and lengthened lifespans as key factors for insufficient retirement savings.

The Institute has called for "deeper longitudinal research" to assist the government and private sector in understanding whether Australians have sufficient funds to drawdown on during their retirement.

"There is little evidence on the adequacy of retirement income in Australia because of a lack of good quality data," it said.

"Australians tend to underspend in retirement for fear they will outlive their money. Some retirees are net savers. But a lack of data means it is difficult to know if retirees have an adequate level of income."

Read more: Actuaries InstituteAge PensionTreasuryRetirement Income ReviewQMV LegalJonathan Steffanoni
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