The head of the SMSF Association has launched a Centre of Excellence to encourage and facilitate research into retirement.

Chief executive John Maroney explained that the primary focus of the centre would be to produce well-funded, balanced research that “contributed to policy dialogue and development”.

“The SMSF Association makes a lot of submissions to government,” Maroney said. “Often what we say is ‘look, this is what we think’. What we want to do is say, ‘This is what we think, and this is the evidence behind why we think that,’ which enables us to be more influential when talking to ministers and government departments.”

The value of evidence-based research was emphasised by professor Deborah Ralston, the former Australian Securities and Investments Commission digital finance advisory committee chair who will now take over from Andrew Gale as the new SMSF Association chair.

“Better data leads to better research and a more in-depth understanding of the industry,” Ralston said. “Good evidence-based policy is of benefit to all.”

Also speaking at the launch was Michael Rice, chief executive of financial consulting and research firm Rice Warner and 2017 Actuaries Institute Actuary of the Year. Rice made a personal and impassioned assessment of the current financial system and the need to overcome bureaucratic logjams.

“As someone who is approaching retirement, I can tell you we’re still a long way from getting stability in the system,” Rice said. “The journey has not been a smooth one. We’ve had annual changes pretty much since 1993 and it’s hard to see any period of stability ahead.

“More than three years ago, the financial system inquiry came out and had a recommendation,” he continued. “Yet three years later, the Senate is still debating this, which is appalling.”

The kind of data and empirical research the centre will produce, Rice said, will alleviate this inefficiency.

“One way to break the cycle of confusion is by using quality research to formulate policy,” he explained. “The research must be evidence based; we need to show good and bad, short-term and long-term impacts. We can then lay down the framework for what is possible.”

Maroney said the Centre of Excellence team would be made up largely of virtual researchers who won’t be under the employment of the SMSF Association. They will rely on a network of strategic partnerships to provide data and further resources.

“The Australian Taxation Office has provided us with their data on an ongoing basis, which is a very powerful resource,” he explained. “We can also survey our members, and we’ve got people like Michael Rice providing pro-bono resources as we go along.

“We’re also talking to firms like SuperConcepts and others about getting industry-wide data by amalgamating what they have, so we can put out united releases on behalf of the sector from all the major providers. So there is a lot of planning going on about how to get this single source of truth.”

The centre’s first project, now underway, is an analysis of ATO data tracking how funds have changed over the last 15 years.

“Most research we’ve seen so far isn’t really cross-sectional, it’s just a snapshot in time,” Maroney said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something solid out by the end of the year.”

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