Before we start, can you tell me what exactly ASP Services is, and what you do?
ASP Services, or ASFA Superannuation Practitioners Services, is a member-based organisation with eleven members. Our aim is to improve efficiency in Australia’s superannuation ecosystem, by bringing competitors together to collaborate where competition doesn’t make sense like implementing data standards and regulatory change. And this was ASP Services’ role in the early release of super implementation.
In the highly-interconnected superannuation ecosystem, without collaboration, there can be no efficiency. ASP Services is sector-agnostic, and we do not concern ourselves with either policy or regulation, our role is to address the ‘how’ of regulation – how do we implement regulatory change with maximum efficiency and for the betterment of superannuation members. With this in mind, we also talk to senior leaders in banks, superannuation funds, insurers, administration houses, software providers and regulators, in addition to our eleven members.
ASP started in earnest with the introduction of SuperStream. Once the whole super industry was required to comply with specific data standards, it became clear that collaboration was essential to get the best outcomes for investors and superannuation members.
Can you talk me through how ASP Services, as an implementation ‘how’ based facilitator, handled COVID-19 early release of super initiative?
It was certainly challenging. The industry had a total of 18 days from the Government announcement to the first application. Thankfully, our members are responsible for processing nearly 90 per cent of all early release of super transactions, so we had the right people in the room when it came to working out how we would do it.
We met with the ATO—as co collaborator—as soon as we could, to talk through the process; the pain points in particular, to agree on our common understanding of the law (at this point there was none!) and what it would mean for implementation.
Early access is a great example of why collaboration is so important. The interdependency of the different stakeholders (some of which are competitors as well as the ATO with whom we have developed a great partnership) means that without trust between them, success would be impossible. We have worked hard over the years to build that trust—so the fact that we had existing forums in place, and a culture of collaboration—meant that we could lean on each other to find solutions that are practical, efficient and for the betterment of superannuation members.
We were happy with our success to date: $17 billion paid out to 2.4 million Australians in an average of 3.3 days. An amazing achievement by all accounts.
The ATO has enjoyed a highly productive working relationship with ASP over many years. Once policy is set, design and implementation of change to administer an efficient and effective super operating system is critical as it supports thousands of transactions a day just between funds and the ATO alone – hundreds of millions each year. ASP’s demonstrated commitment to collaboration and productive engagement has made it a trusted partner for the ATO and in the industry.
Larissa Evans, Assistant Commissioner, Superannuation and Employer Obligations, Australian Taxation Office
What’s ASP Services’ relationship with ASFA?
ASP Services is part of ASFA like ASFA Learning and ASFA Conference. ASP Services members are all members of ASFA. Initially we were a separate organisation, but in 2015 we transferred into ASFA as a natural home, given our role is to improve efficiency for superannuants by collaborating closely with funds, administrators, software providers and regulators. The ASP Services Committee oversees this value add service for practitioners. The Committee has executive representatives from ASP Services Members and is chaired by Damian Hill.
Why exactly is ASP Services the best kept secret in town?
We’re not a secret on purpose. There is room for more self administered funds to join ASP Services. However, given our focus is efficiency in the ever-changing superannuation ecosystem through collaboration, it is not about promoting ourselves; but rather about getting the right people and organisations to the table to maximise efficiency and success, we aren’t well known outside of super circles.
Having said that, we may only have eleven members, but they are responsible for processing more than 50 per cent of all superannuation contributions in the system, more than 80 per cent of rollovers and nearly 90 per cent of all early release super payments.
What would you say is the underlying principle which guides ASP Services?
Collaboration, definitely. I’m from the Netherlands, and the Dutch culture I grew up with was all about collaboration between bodies with frequently conflicting aims: the government, unions and employers. The understanding was it may not be palatable to the individual, but compromise was necessary and the only way to get a reasonable outcome for everyone.
What are some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge, the pandemic really highlighted this, is the uncertainty around regulatory change and the pace of change. We often have little notice of change, and are then required to implement very quickly. This introduces risks and cost and may not always deliver the most optimal solutions. This is another reason we are so pleased to be part of AFSA – it allows us to access the best and most experienced players in superannuation.
Do you ever struggle to get competitors to collaborate?
We really don’t, and our members have been working together for 10 years now. I attribute this to our focus on the ‘how’. We don’t talk about the ‘why’ or the ‘what’. These are issues best left to the different sectors and funds, which will all be impacted differently and have different views of what is reasonable and what isn’t. Luckily our members see firsthand the benefits of collaboration – they are responsible for the vast majority of transactions in the system, so they understand what would happen if the major players didn’t work together.
What does the future hold for ASP Services?
Our focus is on the areas where collaboration would further help the industry and superannuation members and where competition does not make sense – and I’m thinking specifically of fraud and cybercrime. At the moment, there is no obvious, structured way of doing this, but a coordinated approach would benefit the industry, and I know it’s something the Gateway Network Governance Body (GNGB) is looking at a great deal at the moment. ASFA is a co-sponsor of the GNGB and I am the ASFA nominated director. In the August issue of Superfunds Jan McClelland, the Chair of the GNGB, will be profiled talking about this and other issues on their radar.
You have a new role on the horizon – can you tell us about this?
I have been lucky enough to be appointed Ambassador for the Startupbootcamp (SBC) Fintech 2020 Program. SBC looks to identify, implement and scale-up the best financial technology ideas from around the world.
I am convinced that the only way for Australia to truly advance, prosper and play a role on the global stage, is through innovation. SBC has promoted some very successful new technologies overseas, and I hope to be able to draw on my experience in superannuation to assist the SBC Team in identifying up to ten start-ups, which we hope to bring rapidly to scale. We have one of the best retirement systems in the world, but I’ve seen firsthand the importance of fintech in European countries, and we are a long way behind those at the forefront.
What’s the biggest tech-driven change you’ve seen in your 30-year career?
I think the biggest change I’ve seen is the increase in interconnectedness and inter-operability in the system. Everyone is connected to everyone else now – it’s no longer about you as an organisation or me as an individual member, it’s about all of us in the broader ecosystem. Open Banking and Open X is next! It’s a scary concept, but there are also some real opportunities for increased efficiency and reach – and to significantly improve the member experience.
What do you see as the biggest disruption to the super industry now?
Government policy and regulatory change is without doubt the biggest disruptive force. The pace of change is increasing, so our ability to respond quickly and efficiently must increase also.
We’ve already seen significant changes to the super landscape: fund mergers, changes to operating models and a robust discussion around whether in-sourcing or out-sourcing of functions, like administration and investment, will give the best outcome. Now, due to COVID-19, more change is coming through and probably sooner than expected. I anticipate we’ll see new models, and new ownership and this will bring, in equal share, new opportunities and challenges for both the industry and regulators.
The good news is that I expect to see some fantastic, innovative ideas as part of the SBC 2020 Fintech program, which we hope will be key to addressing the challenges which rapid change, and COVID-19 continue to present.
If ASP Services is the best kept secret in super, then the Gateway Network Governance Body, of which you are a board member, must be the second best?
That’s right, just as ASP Services is responsible for improving efficiency through collaboration, the GNGB’s aim is to ensure the integrity and security of 100s of millions of transactions in the superannuation ecosystem. I like to think of the GNGB as the engine in the car – no one travelling in the car really needs to understand exactly how the engine operates, they just want it to drive. It’s the same for the GNGB, superannuants don’t need to understand exactly how their transactions are processed and protected, but they certainly want to have trust that they are. It’s a big responsibility earning that trust.
As I mentioned earlier, the Chair of GNGB, Jan McClelland is interviewed for the August edition of Superfunds – and she will give some details of how connectivity and security is ensured.
What they have in common is a strong focus on getting the best for their end members. Australian superannuation members ultimately pay for the implementation and any inefficiencies. Through the shared work of ASP Services, the end members have saved countless dollars and reduced risk at the same time.
Damian Hill, Chair of the ASP Services Committee