Garry WeavenWhile most of the media attention to date has been focused on the Parliamentary Joint Committee, with its fascinating revelations about the interaction between banks and Storm Financial, there are of course actually three major enquiries running concurrently – all of which have the potential to have a dramatic impact on the superannuation and financial services industry.

Ostensibly the parliamentary inquiry excludes consideration of superannuation; but in fact, its deliberations now seem likely to pre-empt that part of the Cooper (former deputy chair of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) review of super dealing with questions of financial planning and distribution, following the very pointed submission of ASIC – which squarely tabled the argument for banning commissions and imposing a fiduciary standard on all advisers, requiring them to act in the best interests of clients.

The third relevant inquiry is, of course, the Henry Tax Review, which has its roots in the Prime Minister’s 2020 Summit of May 2008. The Henry Review has the extremely ambitious task of trying to imagine what a tax system might look like if it were based on rational principles and on non- conflicting and up-to-date economic and social objectives. And then suggesting means by which we might approach such a system over time.

The role of superannuation and national savings and investment objectives can hardly escape being implicated in such a review.

The Cooper Review has divided its work into three components to be dealt with successively. The first phase is governance, with preliminary recommendations scheduled for December 2009. Operation and efficiency (which include the role of financial planning) are to follow early next year, which will presumably post-date the findings of the other two enquiries. Phase three will then deal with structure (including self-managed super funds).

Presumably the governance component will focus most heavily on how the super funds are governed, including issues such as how the representative trustee compares to the com- mercially managed funds, and how the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) regulates the system as a whole and monitors funds individually. This part of the review will therefore occur against a background provided by the recent release by APRA of fund performance data which shows, amongst other things, that looking at the 100 largest funds (having at least $1.1 billion in assets) for which five-year returns are available:

  • Of 31 industry funds, 27 are in the top 50.
  • There are no retail funds in the top 40 performing funds.
  • Out of 44 retail funds, 41 are in the bottom 50.
  • 47 of the top performing 50 funds are “not for profit” funds.

I can feel another storm brewing.

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