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Super head and 100 Women of Influence, Anne-Marie Corboy
21 November 2014
It’s a muggy, partly cloudy Sydney morning and Anne-Marie Corboy (above right with Westpac's Larke Riemer), the CEO of HESTA (the industry super fund) and Company Secretary to H.E.S.T. Australia Ltd since May 1998, has her day cut out. Up from Melbourne, she is here for meetings with the Sydney office and a little teleconferencing back to Melbourne.
Anne-Marie, who is also a Director of Industry Super Australia (ISA) Ltd, Australian Council for Superannuation Investors (ACSI) Ltd, and, something a little different, Netball Australia, recently took out the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence award in the Board/Management category.
HESTA’s management team is predominantly female and Anne-Marie had nearly every female manager at the dinner: “Many of them had never been to an event quite like this – the energy in the room was fantastic, and the diversity of the women and the awards, I remember commenting on that in my acceptance speech.”
By her own admission, Anne-Marie Corboy has held a long and keen interest in the superannuation system – more than 30 years of ensuring it’s adequate and equitable, and most importantly, that women fare well within it.
As Anne-Marie can tell you, firsthand, women haven’t always fared well.
“My first role was as a primary teacher in the Victorian education system. When I began teaching, super was offered to public sector workers but not all public sector workers. Women were often excluded from the schemes.
“For example, when a woman in the Victorian teaching system married, they lost their permanency and that meant they were ineligible to be in the state super scheme. I had a choice between the state super scheme or the Married Women’s Fund. The state fund when you left only gave you your contributions back. The Married Women’s Fund paid your contributions back to you with interest. She chose the state scheme which proved long term to be the best decision.
“I became involved in the education unions in Victoria and played a part in negotiating the three percent productivity improvements to the state’s public sector schemes which is what brought me to being involved with super,” she says, explaining her progression into the industry.
Anne-Marie’s early work revolved around changing the system to achieve greater equity for women: getting women to the stage where they could at least buy back their service. It’s been an ongoing role.
“Telling people they have to have a million dollars or face retiring into poverty just puts people off – they give up. It’s a major beef I have with media – its representation of the retirement landscape in this country. My mantra is, if we removed the top 10 percent of income earners and account balances from all the statistics and modelling we do, and talked about medians rather than averages, then you would get a real view of what Australians are facing in relation to retirement.
“The majority of our members at HESTA are medium to low income earners. Encouraging people by showing them strategies they can employ that will allow them to live reasonably - and not scaring them with unachievable numbers and poverty lines - makes much more sense.
“We have a really great system. It just needs a little tweaking to create adequacy and equity.”
One area where Anne-Marie believes there is work to be done is around the $450 a month threshold people must meet to be eligible for super.
Consider this: if you’re a nurse working shifts here and there at different hospitals where each hospital is a separate employer, it’s very likely you will receive no super, because you won’t have earned more than $450 from one single employer.
Sometimes, Anne-Marie explains, people just need to be aware of the problem to do something about it.
“When the low income super contribution goes, which the current federal government is retaining to 2017, people earning below $37,000 will be the only group in the community receiving no super tax concessions at all.
“There are [AMC1] 1000s of HESTA members and 3.6million Australians who sit in this income group and they will be adversely affected,” continues Anne-Marie.
For Anne-Marie there is no question that “it was so important and absolutely the right thing to get universal super up, but some of the implications of doing that and the way it was structured have since needed addressing.
“For example, not many women thought about things from an individual perspective back then [AMC2] and society certainly didn’t. Couple that with women’s career and work patterns, which are very different to men’s, and it’s easy to see why inadequacies and inequalities have happened,” she says.
“I’ve been in positions of influence, and consciously and sub-consciously I’ve been able to use those positions to make a difference. Sometimes, making a difference is as easy as raising the issue.”
Anne-Marie is quick to point out three things she feels have shaped her: “My parents encouraged me to believe I could do whatever I wanted. I was also part of the generation to benefit from free education, but the biggest influence on me was Sister Gabriel Jennings, one of the Mercy Sisters at the school I attended. She put me in difficult situations. I wasn’t a perfect student and she’d have me explain on behalf of the group why things were done. I had to take responsibility, be accountable. She made me a leader.
“When I came to HESTA we had $1.4billion and 15 staff. We now have about $30billion and 120 staff.
“I used to read every application, shortlist for the position, sit on interview panel, ring and offer the job – anything from receptionist through to CFO. That is how you build a culture. You find people who are the right fit. You get people on board who suit and understand the culture. When we reached about 80 employees I knew it was inefficient to be that involved anymore, but I had an Executive Manager ready to take over.
“HESTA’s culture is one of inclusion and consistency of experience. People feel secure in that. To be able to build a culture almost from scratch has been a great opportunity and it’s brought success – long term consistent returns for our members.”