Home' Superfunds : Superfunds April 2017 Contents Fear and loathing goes with the job of regulator, you just don’t
take it personally, the affable deputy chair of the Australian
Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Helen Rowell, explains.
Results, not popularity, are Rowell’s KPIs, and she has won industry-
wide respect as a tough but fair regulator, with a reputation for thought
leadership, canvassing issues and taking community and industry factors into
consideration before regulating. Integral to the implementation of Stronger
Super, including MySuper, Rowell led APRA’s efforts to write a complete new
set of prudential regulations for what is widely acknowledged as the biggest
reform to superannuation since the introduction of the Superannuation
Guarantee in 1992. This dedicated actuary welcomes feedback, but is
implacable in the face of the public criticism, industry posturing, board
recalcitrance and C-suite self-interest, wheeling and dealing she has
encountered during her 15 years at APRA.
One of two women to graduate from an intake of 40 actuarial students,
of whom barely half finished Macquarie University’s notoriously difficult
actuarial course in 1982, Rowell started out on her career with an AMP
scholarship. She went on to become an actuarial partner at employment
services firm Towers Perrin for 17 years, juggling the full-time role with
presidency of the Actuaries Institute of Australia in 2001–2002. Her growing
Institute involvement had led to “a real shift of focus and broadening”,
encouraging her to start a new career at APRA in 2002, while still president.
Challenged, rather than daunted by balance sheet complexity, Rowell is
well-placed to be second in command of the organisation that supervises
institutions holding almost $6 trillion in assets for Australian depositors,
policyholders and super fund members. In concert with APRA chairman
Wayne Byres, fellow APRA member Geoff Summerhayes and a staff of just
over 600, Rowell is an influential gatekeeper for an industry worth some
three-and-a-half times Australia’s gross domestic product. Her special area of
responsibility is superannuation.
By her own description “a glass half-full person”, Rowell’s report card for
the super industry acknowledges “plenty of good intent. The will to want to
do the right thing by members is a really good starting point and applies to
the vast bulk of the industry. However, some funds have made more progress
than others and there is still much to be done,” Rowell warns.
Insurance offered automatically through super is a particular area of
concern. With soaring premiums in recent years for often inadequate cover,
insurance in super is at a critical tipping point. “Past competition by insurers
to provide cover to trustees meant it was offered too cheaply with, in
hindsight, inappropriate product design. It wasn’t sustainable, leading to a
knee-jerk reaction. Now it is time to step back and set new objectives and
Rowell joined APRA shortly after the collapse of insurer HIH and one of her
early tasks was to lead the authority’s efforts, along with other government
agencies, to rescue from a dizzying fiscal cliff a medical indemnity funds crisis
precipitated by rapidly increasing claims costs.
“We put in place support schemes still [existing] today and I count it as a
significant achievement that I was able to play a role in putting that segment
of the industry back on a strong footing,” Rowell says.
Rowell has also played a leading global role, enshrining principles for
conglomerate supervision across the financial services industry, acting
as deputy chair of the international Joint Forum Committee of Banking,
Insurance and Pensions Regulators in 2011 and 2012. Closer to home, she
is proud of her initiatives to improve staff diversity and recognition at APRA.
“I hope to leave the organisation in a better place,” Rowell says, insisting
however she has much to do before contemplating retirement.
Unfinished business may include refinements to Rowell’s most “significant
milestone” at APRA in the implementation of Stronger Super’s new low-cost
default system MySuper. She says she is “reasonably happy, in an overall
sense” with MySuper’s implementation but “there’s room to improve the
legislative criteria and assessment of performance to ensure all MySuper
products are delivering quality, value-for-money outcomes for members”.
APRA is financed through levies paid by the financial services industry
it regulates, to the tune of $131 million last year. This does require some
Superfunds April 2017
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