One on one with…Natasha Fenech

Natasha Fenech

Working across the spectrum of financial services for over 25 years has culminated in the role of SuperConcepts chief executive for Natasha Fenech. She tells Krystine Lumanta how she thinks SMSF administration and software will evolve and explains the importance of technology investment.

How did you come to be involved in the SMSF sector?

I started my career in the actuarial field, but I did get some feedback at the time where I was told I had too much personality for an actuary, so I needed to consider an alternative career. I decided to move into the management of businesses. For the last 10 years I’ve been focused on driving substantial growth in businesses by focusing on the customer agenda, but also driving disruption in the industry. AMP were attracted to that background and in 2014 asked me to head up what was at the time the AMP SMSF business, and more recently SuperConcepts. I’ve been in the role for almost two-and-a-half years.

As chief executive of SuperConcepts, and formerly AMP SMSF managing director, what education and experience have you had?

If you’re going to run a business, you need to have the right level of education because it delivers a higher level of competency. I’ve got a double degree – a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Mathematics with a double major in statistics and applied mathematics. I’ve also studied to be an actuary, so I’m an associate with the Institute of Actuaries and I also have a master’s in business administration through the Australian Graduate School of Management. I’ve done a few Financial Planning Association courses as well, so my education is quite broad. In terms of experience, when I started in the actuarial profession I was originally focused on superannuation and then life insurance. I decided to step out and went into management consulting for about three years and then moved into institutional banking, wealth management, general insurance and now I’m back in superannuation, so I’ve done a full circle. Currently I’m focused on professional development in terms of executive coaching. The financial services sector has gone through many different life cycles, certainly in the 25 years-plus that I’ve been in the industry. Every element of my previous roles has helped me in the role that I’m in today, both from my background education and experience.

What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

My focus is primarily setting the strategic direction for this group. I spend a lot of time meeting both current and prospective clients, whether that’s some of our direct trustees or financial planners or accountants. A big part of my role is also motivating the SuperConcepts team to deliver great quality service. Finally, I have to make sure that my shareholders are happy, so I manage those aspects of the relationship as well. We go by calendar year to align with the reporting structure, so in terms of strategic direction, we set it on a five-year agenda and then review it regularly. I sit down with my leadership team on a quarterly basis to discuss the strategic agenda.

What do you enjoy about your role and how do you feel it’s making a difference?
I feel so privileged because I believe I have one of the best roles. I’m dealing with some of the most capable minds in the industry. We have some of the leading experts from a technical perspective and some of the most innovative developers and practitioners in the SuperConcepts business. I’ve got a team that’s passionate about providing really good customer service. The second part is that my background has predominantly been in large corporates, so it’s been a lot of fun working in a small business environment because it’s agile and very dynamic. I’m fortunate on the basis that I’ve got large lenders of capital investment and that’s important because with the businesses that we have under SuperConcepts, they are founded under innovation. With the superMate platform and its previous iterations it was one of the first solutions in the marketplace. The superIQ business revolutionised the SMSF industry five years ago. We believe it’s our responsibility to drive that innovation, so having that capital investment is really helping us to ensure that we will continue.

What are the opportunities for advisers and accountants to improve their service offering within the SMSF industry?

It’s about getting the accountants and financial planners working together, especially in light of the new legislation that will come into effect on 1 July.

When we hear what trustees are saying, yes they need to continue to have advice around investments, but what they need more is strategic advice around their SMSF. Accountants may be more hesitant with the licensing, so there will be an increased number of partnerships with financial planners.

We’ve got a new model we call the A3 effect where we believe there’s a partnership between accountant, adviser and administrator, and if all three parties are playing well together, the trustee benefits. There’s evidence of this now and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth.

Where do you see administration services and accounting software in five years?

Technology continues to change how we interact and what we’ll see over the next five years is that becoming more prevalent. We’re already starting to see this with a lot of fintechs dominating niche segments of the market. I’d also expect an easier form of transaction through technology and much easier form of information flow. You see a lot of fintechs developing components to particular product classes or capabilities, but we haven’t seen anyone really put a holistic layer around it. That’s where the market will more likely move to. We’re also seeing more focus on real-time advice and also support in terms of accountants.

Are there still some areas of inefficiencies in SMSF software generally?

I see inefficiencies in terms of the quality of information and the barriers sometimes to that flow of information. I’ve had many conversations with industry players around creating standards around information flow so that you can create a much more efficient process, not just for us as administrators, but also in terms of the ease at which trustees and advisers can get information. At the moment, for example, if someone wants to have real-time information, they have to sign the data feed for every single account. That’s quite inefficient, so we have to find a way to make it much more simplistic for the client and a much more portable process for the client.

What are your thoughts on specialisation in the SMSF sector?

It’s really important that we have specialisation by both accountants and financial planners because we’re seeing more of a demand from our client base. We were one of the first participants to create a specialist SMSF course about three years ago, in conjunction with Adelaide University, and we’ve seen about 1000 advisers come through. We’ll continue to advocate for specialisation and we’ll continue to deliver and invest in providing education courses, as well as invest in research.

Is trustee education heading in the right direction or can more be done?
Education for direct trustees has probably been a little bit slower than for their advisers. At the moment if you were to do some research as a direct trustee, there’s lots information out there, but it’s not brought together in a succinct way. I do believe in ensuring trustees have education and all the tools possible prior to setting up. But you need to leave the choice up to the individual and if you educate them on education, I think they will elect to do it themselves and you end up with a better result. I think we can do much more as an industry. SuperConcepts will be launching an online education course for trustees that we will provide for free to clients and we hope it will support this process.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry, positive or negative?

When I began my career I started in superannuation administration as an administrator, part-time while I was doing my bachelor course. Back then, the processes were quite manual, with very little technology and information about superannuation. What I’ve seen is the quantum of change that technology has driven, both in terms of the level of information that’s available to the trustee and the level of technology that’s driving efficiencies and ensuring data is up-to-date and has a real-time aspect to deliver a daily administration capability. We’ve seen this enormous amount of change that has benefited both the trustee and their advisers, as they’re having very different conversations as a result.

If there was one thing you could change about the SMSF sector, what would it be?

It would be more investment in technology. This is where competition and the fintech players are doing a fantastic job. But we need to make it more efficient in terms of the flow of information, the speed at which we can get information to our client base, and the ease of trustees and their advisers being able to transact. I’d love to see more innovation and more investment in technology. If you think back to five to 10 years ago about how banking and share trading was done, we now transact on our phones via mobile apps. It would be great to bring it all together in a very simple form for clients. At the moment they have to go through multiple channels and that’s where it’s probably not as seamless as it can be.

What’s the key challenge facing the SMSF sector over the next 12 months?

We have a number of players coming in and disrupting our industry in the fintech space. While it creates innovation, it’s also a challenge for us. We’ve started to partner with a number of fintechs to leverage their capabilities. We’re continually trying to understand where technology and innovation is going and this is really important because it potentially will drive the servicing of unmet needs. SuperConcepts is well positioned in this space to really support where trustees and their advisers are moving towards. We want to drive the direction and future of the industry through delivering better solutions to those client bases.

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