The fabric of our great Australian society is built upon enabling choices, options and freedoms for all, yet there are some groups of people within our society who may be considered more vulnerable than others. While not an exhaustive list, this includes groups such as: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; people with disabilities; people living with mental health conditions; people experiencing domestic and family violence; older people; and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Our industry is well-aware of the different factors that can affect superannuation fund members’ needs. However, it remains a challenge for us to better support people who experience hardship or have unique personal situations.

The extraordinary events of the last year have also brought this topic into sharper focus, demonstrating that anyone in our communities can be disrupted or displaced. It is evident that that many situational factors are triggers for vulnerability, and this can vary over time. For example, recent studies suggest that cases of domestic and family violence have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with the severity of many cases increasing due to social isolation and financial difficulties. Additional support measures need to be considered for members who may be in these situations.

Now more than ever, our industry needs to focus on supporting the people that form the diverse fabric of our communities.

We can’t do better, until we know better

Australian life is uniquely diverse, and this diversity is integral to our national identity. We are home to the world’s oldest continuous living cultures, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities varying according to their geographic location, environment and resources – and each having their own unique cultural practices, languages, beliefs, knowledge systems and material cultures. At the same time, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2019 almost 30 per cent of Australia’s population were born overseas, with every single country from around the world represented in Australia’s population.

Varying cultures exist and culturally appropriate services need to be designed for the broader migrant population of Australia and the cultural nuances within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

We believe that by knowing more about these people, we can do more for them. This begins with listening to the challenges, experiences, and hopes for the future of different people from our communities so we can better understand their needs.

Adapting products and services

Better understanding the needs of members enables us to consider whether we need to adapt our policies, procedures, products and support to be more accessible and inclusive of these members. This process requires a deep understanding of the different profiles of each member and where their vulnerabilities lie, backed by senior leadership engagement and support for continuous customer improvement. Access to data can also help us identify trends in behaviour and will continue to be an effective enabler in connecting us to vulnerable members, both proactively and reactively.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the concepts of building wealth and enjoying retirement—a so-called ‘life after working life’—are perceived somewhat differently to what the superannuation industry has been designed for. Compounding that is the lower levels of life expectancy for First Nations Australians. There is an opportunity to break down concepts of superannuation to be more reflective of our diverse communities and to adapt our products and services so they might better reflect the different needs of these communities and the individuals within them.

The importance of communication and accessibility

A common challenge across vulnerable communities is the importance of being accessible and providing clear, simple and culturally aware communications. ABS data highlights that more than 300 separately identified languages were spoken in Australian homes in 2016 and 21 per cent of people in Australia spoke a language other than English at home. Language can be a major barrier for migrants from non-English speaking countries, and our industry can do more to support these communities to engage with concepts like superannuation and insurance.

Financial services are complex, and simplicity is critical. We need to sharpen our focus on financial literacy for vulnerable communities, because financial literacy can empower them to make positive and responsible choices that will ultimately affect the quality of their lives. We also need to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, so we need to partner with trusted community providers, such as translation services, who can facilitate access for these vulnerable communities.

Reflecting for future opportunities

By reflecting on our engagement approach for vulnerable customers, we can bridge the gap in our society and connect all Australians to a better future.

TAL will be reflecting on some important stories of the vulnerable in our community with industry leaders Michelle Bain (Suncorp Customer Advocate), Cindy Carpenter (Cast Professional Services Co-Founder and Managing Director and Chair, The Bread and Butter Project) and Rory Smeaton (Cbus Senior Indigenous Affairs and D&I Adviser) at the 2021 ASFA Conference.

TAL believes that our purpose goes beyond the products and services we provide. Through the 2021 ASFA Conference, TAL will also be supporting either The Bread & Butter Project, Batyr or NASCA with a $10,000 donation. The organisation will be selected by attendees of the 2021 ASFA Conference via a voting process.