Dee McGrath was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, and lived in Gladstone during her early years. “I usually say, ‘I’m a Queensland girl’.”
But despite her solid Queensland roots, her small-businesses-owning parents moved up and down the East Coast of Australia. They eventually settled in Melbourne when McGrath was around seven.
The family regularly discussed business at the dinner table. Her mother was a pioneering entrepreneurial woman, and an “ideas person”. “You don’t realise until later in life that some of those things sunk in,” McGrath says. “When I sat around the dinner table with my parents, I learnt about how to solve problems. I learnt to think about the art of the possible.”
Photography by Lisa Saad
McGrath is now Chief Executive Officer of Retirement and Superannuation Solutions at share registry and superannuation financial services organisation, Link Group.
She is focused on the ‘art of the possible’. It is using technology to empower super funds to deliver personalised outcomes for members and help them execute seamless mergers.
Link services has ten million members. That means it is helping over half of working Australians and a growing number of the working population in the UK and NZ move towards a better retirement. “That’s not something my team or I take lightly – we realise this is a privilege,” she says.
Starting a career in financial services
McGrath began her career in hotel management. That gave her a crash course in every aspect of a business, from client focus, to finance, accounts, marketing, and general management.
When she was 32 and married with two children, tragedy struck and her husband passed away. She moved back to Melbourne from Queensland to be closer to family support.
McGrath fell into a contract role at NAB, the start of her career in financial services. She headed up NAB’s credit card business at a young age. “There was probably a level of intensity that made some moments challenging. One of the benefits of getting older is that you have learnt to take a deep breath along the way.”
She spent seven years at NAB, then moved into technology with HP. There she turned around a troubled client relationship and made it a relationship HP held up as an exemplar.
McGrath says in all her roles she has fixed or completely transformed businesses or challenges. A key mantra has been that “my team and I are the champions of our clients”.
After HP, she returned to financial services with a consulting role at Macquarie Bank, and then at Visa. She returned to big tech in a role at IBM, running their Asia Pacific financial services business, then their consulting business in Australia and New Zealand.
Developing three main goals at Link Group
After 15 years working for large global tech companies, Link Group intrigued her because it was an Australian listed company with a great entrepreneurial spirit and history. She joined Link Group in May 2019 to head up their superannuation and pension business.
The retirement and superannuation division of Link Group has 30+ clients globally across three geographies, with 2,800 people.
McGrath says the role made full use of her transformation skills and when she arrived, she developed three goals.
The first was to provide a clear roadmap to being a “tech-enabled highly digital business” to better service Link Group’s clients. The second was to think deeply about how Link Group works with clients to solve challenges. And the third was to grow the business, which had previously expanded primarily through acquisitions. McGrath notes that Link Group opened the doors to its business in the UK in January 2020, which was tough timing given COVID-19, but is now “kicking goals”.
Under McGrath’s stewardship, Link Group has been making a huge investment in digitising its operations. It is building out strategic client solutions, including transition to retirement, data capability and artificial intelligence (AI).
When McGrath looks across the superannuation industry, she notes that it’s only 30 years old. “It’s actually quite young. I think sometimes we forget that this industry is the fourth-largest pension pool globally. It has been an incredibly successful system that provides good outcomes for people in retirement. We shouldn’t forget that it’s not broken and in many ways is a leading example for other countries.”
But the current period, she adds, is the biggest period of systemic change. That includes regulatory reforms such as Your Future, Your Super, and ongoing focus on efficiency and productivity, which is driving funds to consolidate. “We will probably see the size of the funds in the mergers start to increase. And that’ll come through both regulatory oversight and the need for those funds to be sustainable.”
“…I think sometimes we forget that this industry is the fourth-largest pension pool globally. It has been an incredibly successful system that provides good outcomes for people in retirement. We shouldn’t forget that it’s not broken and in many ways is a leading example for other countries.”
Making the merger process simpler
Link Group has now performed 120 transitions and mergers, including nine since November last year. McGrath says the company is continuously looking at how to make the process more efficient and reduce complexity and risk. It particularly wants funds to be able to seamlessly integrate data.
McGrath says regulators could make the merger process easier. “The product equivalency tests, and the obligations on members’ financial best interest are areas that regulators could provide a more flexible framework when a merger occurs.”
McGrath says a major change is industry funds moving out of their “swim lanes” and competing. “That means more consumer capability is required with better insights and personalisation.”
Link Group is making sure it has the right technology, services, and people to service those needs. That includes investing in its retirement solution so funds can provide guided assistance, from retirement planning through to transition to retirement, then managing pensions in retirement.
McGrath says that Link Group is also actively investing in a data hub to help provide insights and models to drive retention and next best interactions between the fund and its members. Along with a significant investment in security and fraud to ensure members are protected, McGrath is confident that this all adds up to a superior experience for the member.
Simplicity the key to a superior member experience
When it comes to enhancing member experience, McGrath is focused on simplicity. The first thing she did after joining Link Group was to bring in human-centred design and customer experience (CX) capability.
She calls it “designing from the outside in”. Many technologies are built first, then shipped to users. But “outside-in” design means starting with what you want the service experience to be, then designing and building the technology. Link Group has worked with clients to design curated experiences which include a now leading-edge Member Portal. It provides updates and notifications when a claim is made or a payment requested so the member knows where their request is at.
While Link Group has focused on creating scalable services, it also allows funds to tailor for their own members. “I think that is pretty cool,” McGrath says. “You want the benefit of scale, but you also want the funds to be able to say, ‘this is how I want to service our members and differentiate in that way’.” So along with investing in core systems and scalability, Link Group has invested in the likes of straight-through-processing and using data and AI for personalisation.
“You want the benefit of scale, but you also want the funds to be able to say, ‘this is how I want to service our members and differentiate in that way’.”
Creative outlets, giving back and the next ASFA Conference
McGrath’s children are now 24 and 27 and she notes they are ’empty nesters’ now. Although she doesn’t profess to have nailed the work-life balance she says,“ I guess I’m very lucky. I love the work that I do. There really is some benefit in that. I joke and say, “I’m a girl for war and not peace”.”
In her downtime, McGrath loves to renovate houses as a creative outlet. Her biggest project was in Sydney where she renovated a semi in North Bondi. She kept the two front rooms to retain the heritage of the art deco home and turned it into a “wonderful” three-bedroom, three-bathroom family home.
She also makes sure she gets to regular exercise and recharges her batteries. Though her husband did send her a link to a study saying you need at least seven hours sleep each night, “I’m not necessarily nailing that every night.”
Link Group has been a longstanding sponsor and partner of ASFA for many years. “We get so much benefit out of the industry coming together and putting in solutions that work across the industry.”
She says a good example is the early release of super program during the pandemic. “We had to come together and design something that the system wasn’t designed for, and implement it in record time, and make sure that we got money in people’s hands when they most needed it. And I’m really, really proud that we delivered.”
“We had to come together and design something that the system wasn’t designed for, and implement it in record time, and make sure that we got money in people’s hands when they most needed it. And I’m really, really proud that we delivered.”
McGrath is already looking forward to the next ASFA Conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 21-23 February next year. She lauds the Conference as a great opportunity for the industry to come together and to hear thought leaders on topics that are most relevant to the industry.
McGrath also highlights ASFA’s industry groups and forums which allow the industry to work through specific challenges, which result in a more efficient system. She also notes the policy and advocacy work that ASFA undertakes is critical to ensure a collective view is heard at all levels of government. “The work it continues to undertake to collaborate and share and strengthen the industry from a security standpoint is a great example of why industry bodies are so important.”
Like everyone, McGrath wants to retire well. “However, I’m not ready to kick back yet and have a way to go until retirement,” she says. “I’m committed to leading high-performing businesses and teams, contributing to different businesses through board roles, and to giving back through community.”
For the moment she is firmly focused on her role at Link Group. “I will know I have succeeded in this role when we have completed the digital shift, have increasingly satisfied clients, and happy people servicing members, as well as generating continued, strong growth as a business.”