Superannuation television ads in the spotlight

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Business

Another skirmish has flared in the decade of hostilities between industry funds and retail funds; once again over the ”Compare the Pair” ad campaign.

Out of the blue, a question about the industry funds’ TV advertisements bobbed up in a parliamentary joint committee hearing on March 28.

“Do you have any intention to go back and revisit this current ad campaign given those concerns that have been raised?” asked Senator David Fawcett from South Australia.

“Yes,” responded Greg Tanzer, a commissioner for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Senator Fawcett: “Are you able to talk any further or is that ..”

Mr Tanzer: “No, we are looking at the campaign in the context of the complaints that have been made including the issues that you mentioned – whether it provides a fair representation or conveys a misleading impression.”

Now who could these complainants possibly be? Concerned members of the public jealously guarding our truth-in-advertising laws?

London to a brick it is the retail fund lobby – already at loggerheads with their industry counterparts over the Future of Financial Advice amendments.

Never mind that the corporate regulator has better things to do than investigate an ad campaign which, if misleading at all, must be far less misleading than most, but it has taken the unusual step of confirming publicly that it is investigating. A warning shot has been fired.

There was a kerfuffle over the previous ”Compare the Pair” campaign a few years ago and the industry fund lobby was forced to append a disclaimer to its ads.

The sensitivity for the retail funds is that the ads – you know the ones, where two people of roughly the same age, job and super entitlement are featured and the one in the industry fund ends up with 20 per cent or 30 per cent more savings for retirement – show the heavy impact of fees on super fund performance.

In 2006 when the industry funds were forced to pull their ads then insert a disclaimer, the complaints had been about using projected figures. The present campaign uses past performance figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority but is still the subject of complaint.

Fee comparisons have also appeared in the advertising of retail funds such as BT, ANZ and ING. They are fair game. A debate about fees is absolutely in the public interest.

In light of the submission by former ASIC lawyer James Wheeldon last week, which shone a light on the interactions between the corporate regulator and the financial services lobby, expending taxpayer resources on such a pesky complaint is not a good look.

Nor is investigating the prank by 16-year-old schoolgirl, Kudra Falla-Ricketts. After all, Kudra’s fake Metgasco press release was issued on the morning of April 1. Surely it is the fault of the press for being duped.

In the meantime, the regulator deserves plaudits for its action last week over Mariner Corporation. It has brought a civil suit against chief executive Darren Olney-Fraser and fellow directors over Mariner’s takeover bid for Austock Group in 2012 for breach of fiduciary duty.

Notwithstanding Mariner’s market cap of $3 million – and the inconvenient fact that it didn’t have any cash – Olney-Fraser had gallantly declared a $10 million offer for Austock.

Greg Paramor’s Folkestone was already in discussions with Bill Bessemer, the Austock boss, when Olney-Fraser burst on the scene with his gallant offer.

Austock rejected Mariner’s offer, saying it was in breach of the Insurance Acquisitions and Takeovers Act, the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act, the Pooled Development Funds Act and the Corporations Act.

Action has also been taken in the Perth Magistrates Court against Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting for failing to lodge its financing statements.

The Crown alleges Hancock Prospecting and two related companies, Hancock Minerals and Hope Downs Iron Ore, failed to lodge annual financial reports within the mandated four-month period between 2008 and 2012.

The failure to lodge accounts either at all or on time is not confined to Hancock. Other large companies, including multinationals with Australian government contracts, are serial offenders.

Not only will regulatory action on this front ensure compliance but it also presents a potential revenue stream.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


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