Superannuation is incredibly important to ensure you’re comfortable financially in retirement. But what if superannuation had another purpose?
What if superannuation was an avenue for you to create a better future for humanity?
What if superannuation was an avenue for you to create a better global environment in the future?
What if could easily divest your superannuation investments away from fossil fuels, guns or gambling and instead invest in renewables, micro-finance for women-run businesses and social housing?
Well you can!
In this Eco Chat episode I’m joined by co-founder and CEO of Verve Super, Christina Hobbs.
Christina is an experienced Board Director in the superannuation industry and a former Deloitte Management Consultant. Prior to founding Verve, Christina worked for over a decade as a humanitarian and financial inclusion expert for the United Nations. She is a former Board Director of the Global Women’s Project and a published author on gender equality.
Christina will explain what ESG superannuation funds are, how you can make the switch to an ethical fund and why she co-founded Verve Super, Australia’s first ethical superannuation fund tailored for women.
Disclaimer: Laura Trotta is not a financial planner. Any investment advice given by Laura Trotta (or by any other person through this Website) is based on that person’s opinion and their general experience, but not your specific case. A such, you should always seek independent financial advice for your particular circumstances before acting on information that is published or recommended on this Website.
Podcast: Play In New Window
PLEASE SHARE YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LEAD YOU TO FOUND VERGE SUPER
I think if somebody told me five years ago my next career move would be starting a superannuation fund, I would have thought they were crazy!
It’s been a winding journey to get here. I studied psychology and commerce at university and my first graduate job was a management accountant with one of the big four accounting firm. But I just sort of had this like moment of like, what am I doing with my life? Working really long hours just sort of felt like I was working to make big business even bigger and really kind of felt like there was a lack of meaning to it all.
And so I randomly started looking at other opportunities. I found this really interesting government funded program where for a year you go and work in a low-income country and the government would pay for your position. So I ended up leaving Sydney and working in Kathmandu with the UN. It turned out to be a 15 year career travelling all over the world.
I wanted to come back to Australia and think more systemically about issues like climate change. I started working with an organisation called 350.org. They were doing a lot of campaigning against banks and financial institutions that were investing in fossil fuels. There was no superannuation fund at that time that didn’t invest in fossil fuels. And through this journey, I met a couple of the guys that were starting Future Super, which was the first superannuation fund not to invest in fossil fuels and I ended up working with them for a little while and was on their Board.
At that time I started learning more about retirement issues facing women, a lot of my friends were coming to me with financial questions and I really felt like there was this gap around supporting women to build wealth.
When we founded Verve, there was no ethical super funds really taking gender into consideration, so that led to Verve being born.
HOW DOES VERVE SUPER DIFFER FROM OTHER SUPERANNUATION FUNDS
So it’s sort of an interesting space when you start talking about ethics and values, because there’s a lot of terminology that’s allowed to be thrown around. You’re seeing a lot funds now launching responsible products or socially aware products but what’s actually in those products is really interesting because it’s not regulated.
At Verve we are very transparent and we have quite rigorous ethical filters.
WHY DOES VERVE SUPER SERVICE THE SUPERANNUATION NEEDS OF WOMEN PRIMARILY? HOW DO THESE NEEDS TYPICALLY DIFFER THAN THOSE OF MEN?
Many financial institutions in Australia were built and designed mainly for male customers, and have an Executive Board made up of a majority of men.
At Verve, we thought what would it look like if we were building something for women?
So some of those differentiating factors are that we provide free learning courses, free financial webinars on everything from getting out of debt to buying a home. We have one-on-one features that our members can access, such as a free career coach or a free financial advisor if they need to. We really think holistically about how we can support women.
And then at the same time we then thought, okay, what would it mean to apply gender equality to invest in? So one of the things that we’ve recently done is recalibrated how we do our ethical investing so that we apply the same screens that we always have. But we also look at which companies in Australia are performing better on gender equality. So we used data from the work based gender equality agency and actually started selecting companies that perform the better on gender equality, which was the first time that had been done and really fascinatingly and I guess what we expected, and what our back end modeling showed, was that at those companies had performed better in the past.
Women are retiring with less super because of the gender pay gap and because they are taking time out of the workforce to care for children, and that care isn’t rewarded with superannuation.
There are two key approaches that we take, one is acknowledging that it’s not really the role of a super fund to solve these issues and that we actually need policy changes. So a lot about what we do is just advocating with our federal government to look at fair policies. And in that way, having a big membership really helps. We can say, look, we represent thousands of Australian women and actually some Australian men as well, who want to see these issues changed.
The other approach is asking ourselves what we can do as a superannuation fund. So for instance, we pause our fixed fee when members go on maternity leave and that’s only a small amount each year, it’s less than a hundred dollars. But what that allows us to do is that when our members contact us to tell us that they want that fixed fee for, because they’re going on leave, we actually offer to either contact their employers for them or support them to contact their employers, to ask their employers, to keep paying superannuation. And this has been something that’s been really powerful because what we’ve seen is that many, many companies, have sort of gone, oh, of course, like that’s a no brainer, like something they hadn’t thought about before. Many companies want women to come back into the workforce after they have children and they want to keep some kind of linkage.
We also offer free financial coaching and support, which is really about just saying, you know what, it’s not that women are worse at managing money and need extra advice. It’s that we have more complex lives to navigate.
Why do you believe that people should care about where their superannuation is invested?
From a CEO perspective, we are going to look at investments that are going to generate the best returns to you over time. A lot of people associate ethical investing or other ethical actions with higher costs. Be we argue that we thing its in the best interests of our members. We don’t invest in fossil fuels because we think that industry is on the decline and it will be hard to pick the best moment to pull out so its just best not to risk our members money.
Personally, I really look at it in terms of what difference it is going to make over time. I don’t want to look back in 20 or 30 years time, and tell my daughter ‘hey, we did understand that climate change was happening but in 2022, we still thought it would be find to be investing in fossil fuel companies, or companies responsible for cutting down fields of forests.’
I have a quote from Adam Grant that I would to share, that I think sums up these points perfectly
“Too many people spend their lives being dutiful descendants instead of good ancestors. The responsibility of each generation is not to please their predecessors. It’s to improve things for their offspring. It’s more important to make your children proud than your parents proud.”
That’s why people should care about where their super is invested. Where we are putting our money creates the world for tomorrow.
What ethical investment options are there typically in superannuation funds? How can an investor best choose the investment option that’s best for them?
There are a couple funds that are just purely ethical. And then there are others that have one ethical product in a suite of products. They kind of have their foot in both camps. At Verve we have just one option. We really wanted to keep it simple. And most of our members are in the same sort of investment phase of their life. They tend to be between the ages of 25 and 45. Later in the year we are bringing in two new products, one will be on the more conservative side and the other will be a higher growth option for people that are willing to take a bit of a risk.
WHAT CHECKS ARE IN PLACE TO ENSURE THAT SUPERANNUATION FUNDS ARE AS ETHICAL AS THEY CLAIM TO BE?
Uh, literally nothing.
Well I guess there are some because there is general consumer protections around advertising, but in terms of financial regulations, there’s nothing that that says how a super fund can be labelled. So for instance, there’s definitely funds out there that have green environmental words in their name, and they’re still investing in fossil fuels and they’re still investing in companies that are renowned for, let’s say deforestation. It’s really up to individuals to do that research themselves.
People often say to me, well, how do I know if this fund is ethical? And I think the answer to that is that when you are with an ethical fund, they are very proud about their stats and very proud of their values. They will be telling you all about it, and have a very clear stance about what they do and don’t invest in. For example, on our website homepage within one click, you can get a full list of all the companies we are invested in. I just say to people that typically ethical funds are spending lots of time and effort and thinking in terms of how they are investing and they will be very very eager to share that message with you.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 PIECES OF ADVICE FOR WOMEN LOOKING TO BUILD THEIR SUPERANNUATION INVESTMENT IN AN ETHICAL WAY?
My first piece of advice is to make sorting out your super a priority this weekend. It’s actually not that big a task to do. Once you’ve made a decision, it could only take 2 minutes to make the switch.
Secondly, if you are interesting in making an ethical decision, I think it can be a really interesting thing to do as a family. So you can sit down with your family and ask question like, what do we really care about and what are the deal breakers for us. It can lead to some very interesting discussions about ethics and values.
And the third piece of advice, and I think we have touched on this before, it’s really look at the performance of the superfund. There is so much focus on fees in the media, but not on performance. So learn to read and compare the performances between funds so you can pick one that is not only ethical but also performing well.
WHERE DO YOU SEE VERVE SUPER IN 10 YEARS TIME?
What I’m spending so much of my time on now is creating an ethical investment platform outside of superannuation. There hasn’t been a lot of ethical considerations in terms of the investment app platforms that are currently seeing a huge number of young people using. So, we are designing a platform to allow people to manage their wealth ethically.
We hope to launch mid 2022.
WHERE CAN WE LEARN MORE ABOUT VERVE SUPER AND FOLLOW YOU ONLINE?
Christina is a Co-Founder and the CEO of Verve Super, Australia’s first ethical superannuation fund tailored for women. She is an experienced Board Director in the superannuation industry and a former Deloitte Management Consultant. Prior to founding Verve, Christina worked for over a decade as a humanitarian and financial inclusion expert for the United Nations. She is a former Board Director of the Global Women’s Project and a published author on gender equality.
OVER TO YOU
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