Predictions for another year in the spotlight

If history is any guide, it is unlikely superannuation will slip under the radar in 2014.

On 5 April 2013, the then superannuation minister Bill Shorten gave the industry a much-needed shot of stability with an announcement that effectively ended much of the media speculation that had been swirling around the industry. In particular, there had been intense speculation around the industry’s tax status.

Then, in the run-up to the September 2013 federal election, both major political parties committed to not “adversely” changing the superannuation system for the life of the next parliament. The industry’s collective sigh of relief was audible.

So, does this mean superannuation will slip under the radar in 2014? I doubt it.

If any phrase will seem apt to sum up 2014, it will be 'the year of the inquiry'. For superannuation, this could easily translate into the year of living dangerously.

To begin with, we will have the financial system inquiry to be chaired by the former chairman of the Future Fund, David Murray. Murray and his merry band will review the efficiency of the financial system and how capital and people’s savings can be more productively used throughout the economy.

Its aim is to create closer links between the financial system and the real economy, and with SMSFs an integral part of that system, representing around one third of retirement savings of $1.7 trillion, our sector can expect to come under scrutiny.

What has to be remembered here is that when the Wallis inquiry handed down its report in 1997, the banks dominated the financial services sector. With the compulsory superannuantion system just five years old and with only $261 billion in funds under management, super was like a minnow.

Seventeen years later, superannuation represents a $1.7 trillion pool of savings. A minnow no longer, it will insist its voice be heard. The shadow boxing between the banks and the superannuation industry has begun, with the yet-to-be-finalised terms of reference to be the inquiry’s equivalent of Queensberry rules.

Then there will be the review of the taxation system, leading to a white paper. It is unlikely superannuation will be overlooked, so the industry will be clinging to those three pre-election words – “no adverse changes”.

Add to the inquiry list a look at income streams to examine the payment of superannuation and social security benefits. This will be interesting from the point of view of the longevity of members of superannuation funds and how to address issues surrounding it.

And there’s always the superannuation highlight of the year: the federal Budget in May, which has the potential to change the superannuation architecture.

More specifically for our sector, SuperStream comes online for SMSFs with the electronic transfer of most employer contributions required from 1 July 2014 and then rollovers from 1 July 2015.

That’s what we know is in the pipeline; if history is any guide, expect there to be more.

From SPAA’s perspective, we would like to see some adjustment to the contribution caps so they are more aligned with the adequacy of income in retirement and how people save for their retirement.

It would also be timely to have a review of limited recourse borrowing arrangements as recommended by Cooper in 2010 to give us some hard data around this issue and help end the speculation around real estate investments by superannuation funds.

A quiet year in 2014? I suspect those words of former Prime Minister Paul Keating might prove very apt for the industry: “downhill, one ski, no poles.”

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