Simon Hoyle (left) and John Maroney

With almost six years on the clock as chief executive of the SMSF Association, the 2023 National Conference marks John Maroney’s last as the association’s leader before he hands over to current deputy CEO Peter Burgess.

The association has faced multiple challenges during Maroney’s tenure, ranging from fending off unwelcome superannuation policy proposals to keeping a 3000-strong membership engaged and educated during a global pandemic.

Through it all, Maroney has led the association with a clear sense of purpose and as a strong advocate and thoughtful commentator on all issues relating to superannuation generally and self-managed super funds in particular. Maroney says the engagement of SMSF members with superannuation, and the sector’s capacity to innovate, are two characteristics that make it a particularly rewarding area to have been involved in.

“No one’s in the sector that didn’t actively decide they’re going to go and do that,” he told Professional Planner, relaxed while enjoying his final national conference.

“They might have had some encouragement, some promotion. But in the end, they said, Yep, I’m going to go and take control, I’m going to go and put my money in there. And I’m going to try to build a better more dignified retirement by actively participating either myself or [with] professional advisers.”

While some of the complexity of the superannuation system affects funds of all kinds, SMSFs have their own peculiar complexity, in part because each is tailored to the needs of a small, distinctive group of members (sometimes just one member), and because they are often advised by highly technically competent, creative and innovative professionals.

Maroney said SMSF innovation interests him because he has a fund of his own – in addition to an account with an industry fund – which he established on his return to Australia from Switzerland. He said he told his accountant his rationale for setting up an SMSF was “so I can stand up on the platform, talking to my 3000 members, and confidently feel that I’m part of the sector, and that I understand that because I’m actually out there doing it myself”.

“He said, ‘well, that’s strange. I’ve never had that as a goal before’,” Maroney said.

“It’s been great. It really has got me much more engaged with the issues the sector is dealing with. And it’s opened my eyes. I haven’t done anything too exotic. I’ve done a mixture of investment things. We’re just going through estate planning at the moment.”

The defining characteristics of SMSFs, and the fact that the sector is jointly regulated by the ATO and ASIC, means it is sometimes thought of as separate from the APRA-regulated section of the industry, although with 1.1 million members and asset of around $860 billion, SMSFs are clearly far from insignificant. But as the superannuation industry grapples with the wording of a proposed legislated objective for super, SMSFs are very much in the big picture and central to the discussion.

Maroney said he doubts that superannuation will ever be completely removed from the political cycle, even if the debate reaches a point where there’s an agreed and legislated objective.

“But I think it should reduce the opportunity for left field ideas to come in unless they fit within the objective,” he said.

He adds that the broad concepts included in the government’s draft objectives statement have long been supported by the SMSF sector.

“We’ve supported that for many years a ‘dignified’ retirement, we’ve supported ‘equitable’ and ‘sustainable’,” he said.