On most mornings, as the sun is rising, Edwina Maloney paddles out on her surf ski from Rose Bay into Sydney Harbour.

But sometimes Maloney does something “pretty exhilarating”. She paddles through Sydney Heads and into the vast Pacific Ocean.

“That really tests your boundaries,” she says. “At times, there’s a wild ocean and wild weather out there.”

In the open ocean, it’s important to harness the adrenalin, Maloney says, and adapt quickly to changing conditions. You also must keep an eye on your destination and find an “inner calmness”.

When she returns to shore, Maloney heads to her job as Group Executive for Platforms at AMP. There she is navigating the choppy waters of Australia’s complex investment and retirement market.

AMP’s platform, North, has built a dominant position in Australia’s retirement market.

North’s success has lessons for the wider super industry, which is grappling with how to deliver retirement income to the nation’s burgeoning cohort of retirees.

“I think the big goal is to get more people to have enough confidence to access their pension in a better way. That includes becoming educated about how to draw it down most efficiently.”

To engender that confidence, Maloney says the super industry will need to shift its focus from ‘product’ to ‘solutions’. But it must also ensure more Australians have access to comprehensive advice.

Edwina Maloney, Group Executive for Platforms at AMP

The winding road to financial services

Maloney grew up in Brisbane, the oldest of four kids, an upbringing she describes as “idyllic”. Her father was a corporate lawyer; her mother was a social worker. “My mother came from a family of journalists. So you can imagine some interesting debates around the dinner table between my rather right-wing Liberal father, and my slightly more left-leaning aunts and uncles.”

While Maloney did consider communications and journalism, she followed her father’s footsteps into law (he sadly died when Maloney was 16). “I like a good debate. I’m incredibly curious. I was always the annoying person in class and lectures, who used to ask all the questions.”

After graduating, she worked for Phillips Fox in Brisbane for several years but realised it wasn’t the path for her. It was too solitary and didn’t give Maloney the breadth of experience she was really wanting.

In early 2000, she joined consultancy firm Accenture and became part of a small team consulting to all the big wealth players in Australia. It was a time when the big banks had bought wealth firms and were trying to figure out how to grow the businesses.

She worked with MLC, BT, Macquarie and even AMP. “It was exciting and deeply energising for me.”

Maloney loved the dynamic, changing industry and she learned a lot about the value of advice. “I got my first look into the difference you can make in people’s lives with good solutions and good advice.”

Edwina Maloney, Group Executive for Platforms at AMP standing in the Sydney office

From funds management to building client retirement solutions

Platforms were just coming into their own. The Cerulli Partners Report back in 2000 said the number of platforms in Australia would fall from 20 to just 3 or 4. “Here we are 24 years on, and we’re still not there.”

But Maloney became frustrated with consulting.

Like law, she wasn’t given the opportunity to be accountable for the outcomes. So she jumped into funds management at Perpetual, which had a high-performance, flat and ‘no-ego’ culture.

Maloney moved from strategy roles into product and business development in the investments business. She worked alongside some of the high-profile investment leaders and managers at the time, including Emilio Gonzalez, John Sevior, and Matt Williams.

“In those organisations, you live and die on performance,” she says. But equally, she saw how important it was to build deep relationships and trust with customers in order to weather periods of underperformance.

Maloney is proud that during her time there she helped grow Perpetual from a domestic fund manager to an organisation that started exploring other capabilities that had broader market appeal. She led the business development efforts for a new global resources fund and helped raised money in Asia.

She then spent time at AMP Capital, including as the Head of Retail Solutions and Global Head of Product.

There, she helped launch and build retirement focused goals-based funds, including one of Australia’s first income-based funds. That fund, the AMP Income Generator Fund, has been particularly attractive to retirees and is still growing.

“That’s when I first started exploring the idea of retirement and how to build better solutions and products for clients.”

She had been doing some work with Scott Hartley, the then new Group Executive for AMP’s Australian wealth management business. He asked her to jump across to the parent company to lead AMP’s platforms business, North.

“I think the big goal is to get more people to have enough confidence to access their pension in a better way. That includes becoming educated about how to draw it down most efficiently.”

“I hadn’t contemplated a move into the wealth side of the AMP business until that time. I think what I saw then with both Alexis [AMP CEO, Alexis George] and Scott was fresh leadership. I also saw a focused drive on transforming AMP into both a simpler organisation and a more client-focused organisation.”

Maloney had worked closely with North at AMP Capital. She knew the team and knew it had the genesis of innovation. But it had been focused on its own aligned network of advisors from a distribution perspective. Maloney saw an opportunity to grow North’s reach into the wider advice market.

To achieve this, when she took the job Maloney focused on two main priorities.

Instilling greater confidence in retirement

The first was to continue to provide better and more innovative solutions for clients, solutions that would give them the confidence they needed to enjoy their retirement to the fullest.

AMP’s research has found that Australians aged 50 and over lack understanding about critical aspects of retirement finances. Three in four Australians 50 and over find the retirement system complex.

That means they are living more frugally than they need to. It’s a finding supported by the Federal Government’s Retirement Income Review.

“They [retirees] are fearful of cost-of-living pressures, and they’re fearful of aged care pressures and costs. So our big goal is to provide them with confidence and provide our advisors with the right solutions so that they can deliver better outcomes for their clients.”

The broader super industry faces a similar challenge. It has been very focused on accumulation, Maloney says, but it now needs to help members draw down their savings without that fear of running out.

AMP has had a head start. North is the largest pension platform in the market. “That’s a relatively unique position and I think also a big responsibility for us to lead the market, which we’re doing by designing really smart solutions to solve those problems,” Maloney says.

A year-and-a-half ago, AMP launched its award-winning MyNorth Lifetime suite of market-linked retirement income solutions. It won the ‘Pension Fund Design and Reform Award’ at the World Pension Summit last year and was just recognised by Chant West as the ‘Best Fund Lifetime Product’ at their 2024 Super Fund Awards.

Financial planners can use the MyNorth Lifetime solutions to give clients a guaranteed income in retirement. The solution is a hybrid between an account-based pension and a lifetime annuity. It provides complete investment control, income flexibility and longevity protection via an annual cash-bonus, while paying an income for life for the member.

Maloney says that already hundreds of advisers from over 70 licensees in Australia are using MyNorth Lifetime and their clients are receiving up to 50% more income in retirement.

While innovative solutions are important, Maloney says the real key to solving the retirement puzzle is for the super industry to shift from an attitude of, “I’m building a product for someone to solve a problem,” to “I’m looking at a broad range of solutions”.

The platform solutions include the innovative account structures, investments and calculators on North; better access to the Age Pension; assets outside super like the family home and access to great quality advice.

Maloney says it doesn’t matter what the member invests in underneath the MyNorth Lifetime solution. “They can invest in anything they want. We have built a new type of account structure that enables them to very efficiently draw down their money during retirement while having the confidence that their money doesn’t run out.”

Edwina Maloney, Group Executive for Platforms at AMP leaning on balustrade in Sydney office

Financial advice a key piece in solving the retirement challenge

To solve the retirement puzzle, however, also requires good financial advice, which is Maloney’s other focus. She says making advice more accessible to members is the biggest challenge the super industry faces.

Maloney says there is “a supply issue in the market”. “There aren’t enough financial planners. There are many things people are doing to address that, but that will take a while.”

One solution is to help advisors handle more clients, an obvious focus of North’s. “We have some of our advisors saying they have aspirations to go from around 110 clients per advisor to more than 200 clients per advisor, which is a noble ambition. If they can do that, that’s doubling the number of members who can access quality advice.”

“They [retirees] are fearful of cost-of-living pressures, and they’re fearful of aged care pressures and costs. So our big goal is to provide them with confidence and provide our advisors with the right solutions so that they can deliver better outcomes for their clients.”

There is a role for super funds to provide advice, Maloney says, but that won’t replace the need for comprehensive advice as members hit retirement.

“Most people will need that because they will have a spouse, they will have assets that sit outside of their super, including the family home, and so it’s very hard for a super fund to provide full comprehensive advice,” she says. “But I do think both are important and both have a place in the market to get more information and access to advice to more members. So I think they can coexist.”

Advice will be a hot topic at ASFA’s November Conference in Sydney. Maloney sits on the Conference Committee and is working on the advice session, which she says will focus on role of advice in retirement and whether hard defaulting members into retirement solutions is really in the best interests of members.

The modern day blending of work and life

Maloney is flat out at work, but also has a hectic home life. She has a 17-year-old, a 15-year-old and a nine-year-old. “They keep life very real. They make me laugh every day. And I spend a lot of my weekends on the sidelines of a rugby field or a netball court.”

Her surf ski paddling on Sydney Harbour gives her the perfect start to the day. “I see the sun come up, which is a pretty amazing feeling.”

When it comes to work-life balance, Maloney says they have become blended these days and “I don’t really see the distinction between them.”

Maloney is currently focused on her North role, helping it remain the leading platform for retirees in the market. “We’re already there, but I want to see more advisors using the platform for more clients so that they’re getting access to the great solutions we have.”

“I’m always striving for the next thing. There’s always another goal around the corner that I’ll be chasing.”