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Travelling to remote communities to listen to residents’ needs is behind QSuper making changes to help connect more people with superannuation – no matter your postcode.
A plastic container of red dust from the APY Lands, the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara region tucked in the remote northwest corner of South Australia, sits on the desk of QSuper’s Head of Technical Advice, Lyn Melcer.
It is to remind Lyn how the APY Land’s far distant and harsh terrain can shape life for the community’s 3,000 people.
It also reminds her that connecting people with their superannuation is far from a one-size-fits-all process.
“It is about understanding the needs of members and that little practical changes can make a difference,” Lyn said.
“It is not about creating a different category of membership or different rules or procedures, but meeting members, listening to their stories and understanding their needs, and finding practical ways to overcome obstacles which prevent members from accessing and engaging with their superannuation.”
QSuper has been building a greater awareness of the issues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people, particularly those living in remote communities, can experience in accessing and understanding their super.
This understanding has led to the introduction of practical initiatives such as redesigning letters, forms and documents to remove jargon and technical terms, adopting more flexibility in formal identification requirements, helping to merge multiple accounts for an individual, and assisting with paperwork to help reunite members with their lost super, entitlements and death benefits for families.
After their parents died, a woman in a remote community raised her much-younger brother as her son. To all in the community, he was her son and the brother to her children. Yet, for the purposes of a superannuation industry binding death benefit nomination, as an adult, he would not have been an eligible dependent.
Lyn travelled to the APY Lands earlier this year, visiting two communities with ASIC’S1 Indigenous Outreach Program. The Indigenous Outreach Program provides support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who want to know more about money matters. The program also works with industry and consumer advocates to increase the financial knowledge of and improve the services provided to Indigenous Australians.
APY Lands was the second trip Lyn has taken with the program. Her first was to Lockhart River on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula. Lockhart River is more than 2,500km from Brisbane and more than 800km from Cairns, far north Queensland’s largest city. The Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire spreads across 354,000 hectares of country, including pristine beaches and internationally significant rainforest areas.2 It is, by any definition, remote.
Lyn travelled to Lockhart River in 2014. QSuper’s focus on lost accounts in far north Queensland following that trip has resulted in more than $2.8 million of lost super being reunited with members, over 200 multiple accounts being merged and more than $2.3 million in deceased estates being finalized. Lyn mentioned these initiatives at the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in August 2018.
“The trip to Lockhart River showed me that some of our industry-wide policies and procedures, although designed with the intention of treating all members equally, don't necessarily have that outcome as not all members start on an equal footing,” Lyn said.
She said the trips gave her greater understanding of the importance of removing, or at least minimising, barriers.
Everyone has an identity and ways to prove who they are, but they do not necessarily have the formal identification documentation that the superannuation industry uses and expects
Community members can have kinship and family relationships that extend beyond the definitions of eligible dependents permitted by superannuation industry rules
There can be anomalies and discrepancies in dates of birth, their names can be spelled different ways when provided to superannuation funds, often by different employers, creating multiple accounts
To be able to lodge a claim for Total and Permanent Disability, a person needs at least two medical practitioners (often requiring one to be a specialist), yet the Flying Doctor was often the treating physician
The lack of access to technology including mobile phones, computers and colour photocopiers means downloading or printing of paperwork or accessing online services is very difficult, if not impossible
There is often no Justice of the Peace available to certify documentation in the manner superannuation industry rules require.
A woman living in a remote community whose uncle had passed away needed a death certificate to lodge a superannuation death benefit claim. However she faced significant obstacles to obtain this: firstly, she had to travel around 800km to get the death certificate from the nearest city. She was also told that as she was the deceased man's niece, she couldn't obtain a copy of the death certificate unless it was authorised by his super fund. Finally, she was told his death had not actually been registered as, although he died in a hospital, he was buried in a traditional ceremony.
Lyn said increased awareness and implementing practical solutions were key to supporting all members engaging with their super, particularly those from remote communities.
A raft of practical initiatives as well as stronger relationships with community members was helping make a difference, she said.
Some of those practical initiatives have been included in QSuper’s Reconciliation Action Plan, launched in May this year, to help increase the financial wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
With statistics showing that the super balances of Indigenous Australians at retirement were currently 27% behind non-Indigenous Australians,4 QSuper is committed to improving the financial wellbeing of people of ATSI heritage.
Among activities to help Indigenous Australians connect with and grow their super, QSuper again participated this year in the very popular and effective Big Super Day Out with the First Nations Foundation, held in Brisbane, Cairns and Cape York.
In June 2018, we launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which demonstrates our dedication to advancing reconciliation in Australia.
Our RAP focuses on improving financial literacy, promoting cultural awareness, and increasing access to superannuation services and potential benefits. We will deliver practical actions that can help build stronger relationships with, and enhance respect for, our First Australians.
1 Australian Securities and Investment Commission, June 2018, Indigenous Outreach trip to the APY Lands podcast, accessed 3 September 2018 at https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/life-events-and-you/indigenous/indigenous-outreach-program
2 Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council, 2014, Shire profile, accessed 3 September 2018 at lockhart.qld.gov.au
3 Australian Government, AUSTRAC, accessed 3 September 2018 at http://www.austrac.gov.au/aboriginal-andor-torres-strait-islander-people
4 First nations Foundation, December 2016, Indigenous Super Summit report, accessed 3 September 2018 at http://www.aist.asn.au/media/921956/2016_indigenoussupersummit_report_web.pdf
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