Full steam ahead

Bendzulla's chief executive officer Tracy Williams speaks to Katarina Taurian about the business' plans to “turbo charge” its growth strategy following the Challenger acquisition

How is the Challenger acquisition progressing and what does it mean for you as a business?

It’s actually going really well, it’s really exciting. Even prior to the acquisition the two businesses were really quite aligned strategically anyway. We’ve been… trying to get the message out that retirement is different [from accumulation] and the longevity risk that retirees are facing. It’s been quite interesting that Challenger has been singing from exactly the same song sheet. From a strategic alliance point of view, that has actually worked really well.

From our point of view, it provides us access to capital and resources to basically turbo charge our growth strategy really, which was on the cards prior to acquisition but with the capital in Challenger, we’ll be able to do what we were already planning to do more quickly.

So what we’re looking [at] and have been planning for a while is to start to really position our business. At the moment, we’re pretty much all about actuarial certificates. So even prior to the acquisition, we were looking at ways of essentially expanding our offerings to our clients. So over the course of the next six to 12 months you’ll see us starting to reposition ourselves into essentially SMSF retirement specialists.

We see that and we consider there’s an opportunity for us, but also an opportunity for our clients. So [with] the superannuation industry generally and SMSFs as well, it’s all been about accumulation generally. Now, the baby boomers are starting to get to retirement and [their needs are] different. The focus is different, and the opportunities and the risks are different as well.

So that’s where we’ll be positioning ourselves going forward. But it’s still very much about the actuarial certificate side of things and that service offering is absolutely not going anywhere.

You have several actuaries on board. What difference does that make to Bendzulla as a business?

It provides us with the resources in house to assist the accountants and the advisers and administrators who are ordering actuarial certificates to essentially troubleshoot [if] there’s any questions or any issues [or] differences in understanding as to how the actuarial certificate process works.

We’ve essentially got a really robust group of people behind us who can assist our clients and also help us [with] technical blogs and webinars; we’re very well resourced to be able to do that.

I think that there’s a perception that the actuarial certificate process is completely automated and there is no doubt that there’s a level of automation there. We wouldn’t be able to do the quick turnaround that we do and all that if there wasn’t, but there’s still a significant amount of human touch in our process. The way that we facilitate that is we have a significant number of people compared to some of our competitors in relation to processing those certificates.

What is your client base comprised of? Is it mostly accountants?

I think the Challenger acquisition opens more doors for us; there’s no doubt that we both operate intermediated models. Our general client base tends to be more accountants, then administrators, then advisers.

Having said that, a lot of accountants now are in that adviser space as well, so it’s sometimes difficult to know which hat they’ve got on. And Challenger, their model is very much operating through their intermediaries, being advisers.

At the moment, it’s definitely more the accountants by a long way… they’re our bread and butter and we’re very keen to continue and strengthen those relationships. But the relationship with Challenger does hopefully open more doors in relation to us providing our actuarial certificate service into the adviser market more than we actually do.

Is Bendzulla still operating under your own name and as your own business?

Absolutely. We’re very much anyway strategically aligned with Challenger’s position in that retirement market anyway, and I think that if you look at some of our activity say 12 to 18 months prior to the acquisition, we’re very much out there in relation to the longevity risks and looking at… solutions and products in that space.

So for us, to coin a phrase, it’s pretty much business as usual, with heaps of upside in relation to provision of capital to expand our service offering and reposition into a broader SMSF retirement specialist.

I think that the other obvious question that people are asking is: Are Bendzulla going to be selling annuities post-Challenger? The answer to that is no. It’s not in anyone’s interest to break the business that we have and that’s what Challenger do. Challenger sells annuities.

We provide actuarial certificates and, essentially, [we’re] moving into the provision of solutions and products to assist our clients assist their clients with the challenges of retirement. We’re not into financial products in terms of annuities. I think that’s something that seems to be the obvious question that people are asking and it’s just not on the radar at all.

Are there any developments Bendzulla would like to see in the SMSF sector, regulatory or otherwise?

People either underestimate or don’t have enough money in super to be able to sustain a decent retirement. Obviously an increase in contribution caps will help that. That’s not going to be the silver bullet, for instance, but anything that can potentially increase people’s ability to save for their retirement from our point of view has to be a good thing.

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