But increasing diversity is just one pillar of its strategy for Unisuper as the $3.4 trillion industry goes through a period of immense change.
In what has been described as the biggest period of reform since superannuation was made mandatory in 1992, the federal government introduced sweeping new laws last year, including an annual performance test and stapling mechanism. This is where an existing super account is linked, or “stapled”, to an individual employee so that they follow them when they change jobs. It aims to reduce account fees, avoiding the opening of new super accounts each time an employee starts a new job.
The stapling is particularly transformative for Unisuper, which has long been defined by the default system where university workers were automatically signed in and could not change until outsiders were allowed in. “It was a private club for college employees and wasn’t that a good thing?” says a former Unisuper executive.
Now new laws mean Unisuper is open to the public. The members can leave, but Chun says the outings have been negligible. The once inward-looking fund has its brand splashed on billboards in Melbourne and Sydney and Chun has opened its diary to the media.
Chun is keen to advance his leadership priorities, which include a strategy to strengthen the organization’s financial advisory network, refine its retirement income solutions, increase financial contributions to academic research, and become the top investor sustainability of the country.
Unisuper has been the target of a fierce campaign by the National Tertiary Education Union, where leading scientists and scholars signed petitions calling on the fund to divest from fossil fuel companies.
Nearly $14 billion of Unisuper’s funds are voluntarily invested in its sustainable investing option, and Chun plans to become a leader in climate risk and transition.
Chun took on the new post as Melbourne and Sydney grappled with lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 while the vaccination rollout was finalized. Like many people around the world, Chun began working in this role remotely and met many of the fund’s owners, vice-chancellors of major universities, via Zoom.
The university sector has been one of the hardest hit financially throughout the pandemic. The federal government has refused to provide universities with wage subsidies, leading to mass layoffs, and border closures have caused international student enrollment to plummet.
Chun will not be fired at the level of government support for the sector during the pandemic but stressed the “resilience” of universities. He said the lockdowns had also created benefits, such as faster adoption of online learning. “They have brilliant minds, they have great innovators. They will continue to evolve and innovate,” he says. “So I’m very optimistic about the outlook for the university sector. And from my conversations with some of the vice-chancellors, they are too.
“For us at Unisuper, China is really important. They are our biggest trading partner… They contribute significantly to economic growth and global GDP”
Peter Chun, CEO of UniSuper
Rising tensions between Australia and China have also created headwinds for universities, putting pressure on a large cohort contributing a major share of tuition fees – Chinese students. Chun dodged questions about Australia’s relationship with China, but said the country remained a key partner.
“For us at Unisuper, China is really important. They are our biggest business partner. They will become the largest economy in the world. They contribute significantly to economic growth and global GDP.
Chun’s appointment was well received in the industry. With a background working in retail and industry super funds, Chun has been described as being very sensitive to the business dynamics of superannuation at a time of fierce competition.
Chun lives in Sydney despite most of the fund’s staff being in Melbourne, but he commutes weekly and his backers believe he is the right person to take UniSuper “to the next level”.
Although Chun acknowledges the challenges ahead, he is motivated and feels an emotional connection to the role. His family came to Australia to take advantage of what he describes as world-class higher education and were helped by a Hong Kong government incentive that allowed teachers access to their pensions if they migrated.
“My father still receives a defined benefit check from the Hong Kong government to this day,” he says. “It really highlights that what we’re doing is making a big difference.”
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