A mood of forgiveness reigned at the SMSF Association conference yesterday as, for the first time, the association welcomed a sitting prime minister as a keynote speaker – if only virtually.

The reaction of the SMSF Association – and the rest of the super industry – to the surprises contained in last May’s budget were not mentioned as the conference basked in a video welcome delivered by Prime Minister Turnbull, to kick off this week’s proceedings.

In fact, bonhomie was the order of the day as Prime Minister Turnbull delighted the SMSF Association crowd by publicly identifying the SMSF system as a key pillar of the superannuation system, and the SMSF Association’s role as critical in achieving that outcome.

The prime minister recognised that professionals, small business owners and the self-employed find the flexibility and freedom that SMSFs offer to be increasingly attractive, and as such play a significant part in ensuring Australians are well placed to provide for their own retirement, said Andrea Slattery, outgoing chief executive of the SMSF Association.

“When the prime minister says he wants the superannuation system to retain its integrity, be sustainable and flexible, and generate strong benefits for every superannuant, then he is reinforcing what we have long articulated about what the system needs to deliver to ensure every Australian has a secure and dignified retirement,” she added.

Introducing the theme of the 2017 conference as “trust,” Slattery emphasised that the premise of superannuation relied on trust in the system and trust in the government to protect Australia’s primary savings vehicle, with stability of legislation and consistency of policy.

Because superannuation ultimately relied on its users’ trust in the system, Slattery said the SMSF Association supported the government’s push to enshrine the objectives of the super system in law, to help ensure that Australians enjoyed a “secure and dignified” retirement.

The Association would continue to focus on raising competencies, knowledge and standards so as to ensure that its members provided “truly professional advice and service,” which added value to their clients. Given this, she said, consumers could trust that the advice from SMSF Association members was both accurate and in their best interests, which would in turn improve the level of trust in the system.

That, she said, lay at the heart of the profession that SMSF Association advocacy had built in the 14 years since it was established.

The prime minister’s “public endorsement of our commitment to excellence in the superannuation system” was fitting recognition of all the work the Association had done over the years to lift professional standards, said Slattery.

And with the super system moving toward a drawdown focus – particularly in the SMSF sector – clients had “never been in greater need of your trusted advice,” Slattery exhorted her members and delegates.

The trust theme continued through the main external keynote, titled ‘Trust in uncertain times’, delivered by Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia. Costello said there was a “trust deficit” these days – which he said was “more dangerous and extreme than the budget deficit.”

Where Australians once trusted institutions – such as the government, the church, the media, the military, trade unions, banks and political parties – they now “trust the internet,” said Costello. He cited the 2017 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer as revealing a “global implosion of trust,” with the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs.

From World Vision’s perspective, said Costello, trust – as represented by its brand, and the expectation that money donated to it makes a difference – was all it had.

Conducting its operations ethically, with empathy, credibly and consistently, had given it that, he said. World Vision had an “ethical identity.”

With financial inequality growing in Australia, Costello told the SMSF Association members and delegates that they had a leadership role to play. While the growth of the SMSF sector and the assets it held showed that this audience was “doing something right,” he urged them to take more of a leadership role.

Costello quoted political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama’s contention that the “most pervasive characteristic to enhance the ability to compete is trust.” Put another way, he said, success depended on ethics.

And where Slattery had challenged her members to take control of their profession, and to be leaders, Costello gave his take on what that required.

In uncertain times, the key to success was not only to have determination, brains and energy – Costello said that “ethics and trust” needed to be part of that mix, too.

Join the discussion