Many funds in recent years have had a mantra of putting their members first, truly understanding what they want, and then delivering solutions to meet those needs.

But recent reviews and challenges facing the industry suggest that superannuation in Australia still has a way to go before it really becomes customer focused.

The Chair of ASFA’s 2019 Conference Committee, Andrew Boal sees the Conference, to be held in Melbourne from November 13 to 15, as an exciting opportunity to collectively move superannuation and retirement closer towards the ideal of being truly customer focused.

“Maybe it’s time for us at the Conference to sit back and really think about what our customers expect from us as an industry and how each individual fund can make a difference,” he says. “We want to put lots of new ideas on the table so that attendees can go away after the Conference and improve the outcomes for their customers.”

Boal, recently appointed as the new CEO of Rice Warner, sees a customer focus as key, not only to restoring trust in financial services and superannuation, but also to driving growth at his new firm Rice Warner. “If you put the customer first, you’re pretty hard pushed to go wrong,” he says.

If you put the customer first, you’re pretty hard pushed to go wrong.

Boal began understanding the needs of his customers early in life. He was born in Daylesford in country Victoria, then grew up in small towns around Ballarat. At his one-teacher primary school in Glen Park, which had less than 20 students, he quickly became a maths prodigy. In the first week of year two he finished the entire year’s book. So his teacher handed him the year three book to go on with.

By year four, he was helping the teacher with the younger students: Boal often taught years one to three while the teacher taught the older students. He quickly learnt to listen to the students—his customers—and adapt his teaching approach when they didn’t grasp concepts. “It helped me learn to listen and understand when someone was struggling with a concept, so I could then find a different way to help them understand,” he says.

His parents, who ran small potato farming operations, also instilled deep values. His father was the eldest of 13 and was forced to leave school during the “great depression” in the 1930’s to help look after his family. “Dad was very smart,” Boal says. “He wanted to be a doctor but never got the opportunity to finish his schooling. Mum and dad made a lot of sacrifices to give us all a good education. Knowing that, I never wanted to let them down. So when I got opportunities, I made sure I worked hard to make the most of it.”

In year six he moved with his family into Ballarat and Boal won a scholarship to Ballarat Clarendon College in year seven.

In year 10 his brother, a nuclear physicist who recently retired from the World Health Organisation in Vienna, suggested he would suit an actuarial career given his strength in maths. Boal announced to his school’s career counsellor that he wanted to become an actuary, and he was true to his word, completing a science degree with a double major in maths statistics at The University of Melbourne.

At University he played AFL for the University Blues and volleyball for the university team. But that focus on sports, as well as the fun of college ball season, saw him awarded a lowly F in one subject in the second semester of his second year.

Ironically, Boal believes that F helped him land his first job in January 1984 as an actuarial analyst at Palmer Trahair Owen & Whittle (PTOW, later becoming Towers Perrin). “The partner who interviewed me wanted someone who was not only bright and good at maths, but someone who had other interests,” Boal says.

Boal then began a series of moves which put him in contact with influential mentors who helped him develop his career philosophy and values. At PTOW, senior partner Chris White instilled in him the importance of integrity and respect.

It was at Sedgwick Noble Lowndes, now part of Mercer, where senior consultant Geoff Duncan helped him understand how to build relationships with clients, to listen to customers and understand how you can help them. “He wasn’t an actuary, but he was great at managing client relationships.”

Boal joined The Wyatt Company in 1991, where then managing director Andrew Dillon taught him the importance of doing excellent work. “He said to me at the time, ‘the client won’t remember how much they paid for your advice, but they will always remember its quality’,” Boal says.

Boal took those values of integrity, respect, excellence and listening to the customer into his leadership role when he became managing director of Watson Wyatt’s Australian business in 2004. After a global merger with Towers Perrin in 2010, he then became managing director for Towers Watson in Australia.

Looking back, Boal says he is particularly proud of his work around the Ansett airlines collapse in 2001. The airline foundered after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US. With financial markets also crashing, the financial position of its defined benefits super funds also suffered. Boal was appointed actuary for one of the funds and he successfully worked with the trustees to find a way to fairly distribute the assets of the fund between workers who had just lost their job. “It was a very complex situation, with not all workers losing their job at the same time. I am very proud of the way we handled that, to find a great solution in difficult circumstances,” he says.

During his 27 years at the various incarnations of what became Willis Towers Watson, Boal says he is also proud of the team that was built. “We managed to develop and retain a lot of very good staff that we had recruited over the decades. I am particularly proud of my role in helping to assemble a really good team of people and keeping them together for a long period of time, which I think is key to running a very successful consulting business.”

Boal left Willis Towers Watson in January this year. When considering his next step, he reflected on what he wanted to achieve in the remainder of his career. “I started to think about my own purpose.”

Throughout his career he had always been involved with superannuation and retirement. “Super and retirement have always been a core part of my career, especially as an actuary,” he says. “My purpose really has always been to try and help our clients to improve the financial outcomes of their members. Whether that be through financial controls, risk management, investing, insurance, product design, or communications and education.”

As part of that focus and purpose, Boal has sat on various committees at both ASFA and the Actuaries Institute, working on public policy to improve retirement outcomes.

From 2015 to recently, he sat on the ASFA board. Boal says that working with ASFA’s Independent Chair, Dr Michael Easson, was very instructive, “watching and learning how he chaired the meeting”. “That time on the board also demonstrated to me the wide variety of opinions in the industry, and the importance of listening to all the different stakeholders to understand what’s driving them,” he says.

After leaving Willis Towers Watson earlier this year, Boal considered becoming an independent consultant and board director. But, after speaking with Rice Warner CEO, Michael Rice, and a number of its board members, Boal decided to take on the CEO role at Rice Warner in early April.

He joins as the superannuation industry faces the results of a raft of reviews and impending changes. “We [Rice Warner] want to help our clients manage their way through that change and continue to focus on improving the outcomes for their members.”

But Boal is also focused on growing the business. “As I have already discovered, we already do great work at Rice Warner and the firm is highly respected in the industry. I am looking forward to growing the business so we can help even more clients using the vast industry data and knowledge we have to create meaningful insights for our clients,” he says.

Throughout his career Boal says he has managed to strike a good work life balance. “One key factor in being able to continue to work hard and have work life balance is to exercise and keep fit.”

After suffering a knee injury, Boal had to give away tennis, but he now hits the gym three to four times a week. He also remains an avid AFL fan, attending St Kilda games, though he has also adopted the Melbourne Storm as his NRL team.

Boal says leaders have an important role in helping staff achieve work life balance too. When he coached his son’s football and his daughter’s netball teams, he had to leave work early to get to training sessions. He initially didn’t tell people where he was going. “When I left the office early, people probably assumed I was going to a client meeting. If I was a woman, maybe they’d have assumed I was going to pick up the children or something.”

Boal realised the mistake and made sure he let colleagues know his whereabouts. “If you’re going to have work life balance as a key objective, leaders have to walk the talk and make it obvious so others feel they can do it too,” he says.

That ability to manage life and work successfully has meant Boal can take on yet another challenge: chairing ASFA’s 2019 Conference Committee.

In recent months Boal has been crafting five key conference themes: culture, customer, compliance, competition and change.

Boal says he began to think about what was going on in the whole financial services sector, but the super industry specifically. The first two Cs—culture and customer—emerged from the Royal Commission.

He says the superannuation industry has for years been trying to understand how to truly help customers with their retirement. The industry has lots of ideas, but “we need to make sure we really do put ourselves in the shoes of all the different types of members of the fund”, he says. “Not all members are the same in their outlook and needs. We need to make sure we do think about the different expectations of our end customers.”

We need to make sure we really do put ourselves in the shoes of all the different types of members of the fund.

“The culture and customer lens really jumped out at me,” he adds. And, as an actuary trained to find patterns, Boal noticed that all the major forces impacting the industry began with the letter C.

The next C was competition. The industry is facing a number of changes, including how employers choose default funds, and new laws to prevent “hawking” and “treating”. “All these things go to competition and what the industry will look like going forward,” Boal says. “Competition runs to the heart of a lot of those things.”

Compliance then followed. Boal notes that post-Hayne, both ASIC and APRA are re-energised and emboldened. “Compliance is going to be a huge issue as well,” he says. “It also includes the sole purpose test and conflicts of interest, including how funds can help members through the maze that is financial advice and at the same time comply with all the laws and regulations.”

The final C is change. Boal says all funds should regularly revisit their value proposition: how do they add value for their customers? “They have to have a very clear understanding of that,” he says. “In some cases, funds may decide that, through the member outcomes test being introduced, they no longer have a sustainable value proposition for members and will decide to merge with another fund.”

As a result, Boal says we are likely to see a lot more mergers happening. But there is also significant change in the investment world, including a greater focus on sustainability and climate change, as well as increased shareholder activism. “There is a whole lot of change happening in how we invest and in the landscape itself around mergers.”

Boal says the five Cs “really jumped out at me and cover off on most things happening in the industry at the moment.”

But if he could have conference attendees walk away with one key message it would be to focus on the customer. “How do you add value for your customer?”

From that, he wants funds to look at their own culture to make sure all staff inside the business have that frame of mind. “It also means that when you look at things around advice and helping members, they understand what community expectations are and comply with not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law.”

Boal says that putting the customer first and really understanding them is obviously one of the core values he adopted early in his career, and the value harks back to his early days as a preternatural maths teacher as a young student in rural Victoria. “Like any business, superannuation should really be focused around its customers, understanding their needs, and working out how we help them,” he says.

Photography by Lisa Saad.