Anne Fuchs, acting Chief of Retirement at Australian Retirement Trust (ART) is on a mission to democratise financial advice. And that includes the “audacious” goal of using technology to provide every single member of ART with access to quality advice before retirement. By Ben Power.
At age 16, most of Anne Fuchs’s friends had posters of pop stars like Marky Mark on their walls. But Fuchs had a somewhat different idol starring on her wall: the father of Australian superannuation, Paul Keating.
“I loved superannuation even from a young age,” she says. “I am so inspired by the purpose of super and the ‘why’ behind super and the social justice element of it and that it’s good for society.”
She had imbibed the importance of making society better at her Sisters of Mercy school, All Hallows, in Brisbane. “The nuns were really strong social justice, feminist warriors,” she says. “Education has the power to change lives and ultimately, advice is no different – we know that members who are advised achieve far better retirement outcomes. The ultimate win-win for society and our members.”
Now, as the Chief of Retirement (acting) at one of Australia’s largest industry funds, Australian Retirement Trust (ART), Fuchs has developed a missionary zeal in her quest to democratise financial advice and move it from the preserve of the affluent and rich, to the masses.
“Education has the power to change lives and ultimately, advice is no different – we know that members who are advised achieve far better retirement outcomes. The ultimate win-win for society and our members.”
Despite her early love for super, it took time for Fuchs to enter the industry. She studied history and politics at university. Then “failed terribly” trying to become a famous actress overseas.
After moving to Sydney in the late 1990s, she landed a position at Bankers Trust in the graduate program, starting in the contact centre. There she gained her first exposure to financial advice. “I was a pig in mud. I absolutely loved it. That era of BT was a marvellous training ground to learn the funds management, superannuation and advice industries.”
After BT, Fuchs held a number of positions in business development and practice management across different retail funds.
In 2008, she left to start her own firm, Pinnacle Practice, a consultant to financial services firms. Then she had a brief stint at the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) as the Chief Commercial Officer.
But it was only when she joined Sunsuper, as Head of Advice and Retirement at the start of 2015, that Fuchs felt she had found her home. “I realised I should have gotten into the profit-to-member sector much earlier than I did. As soon as I got to Sunsuper I was like, ‘I’ve found my purpose. I’ve found my tribe. I found my people’.”
Fuchs oversaw Sunsuper’s advice proposition, with a heavy focus on the retirement journey.
Historically, financial advice at industry funds had been “a bit of an afterthought”. “So, I got busy elevating the status and importance of advice in the sector, creating a positive working relationship between financial advisers and what is now Australian Retirement Trust,” she says.
“This has been a huge step forward from the ‘them and us’ environment that used to exist between some funds and advisers.”
In 2022, Sunsuper merged with QSuper to form an industry super giant, Australian Retirement Trust (ART), with $260 billion under management and 2.3 million members.
Fuchs became ART’s Head of Advice and Guidance and is now Chief of Retirement (Acting). Fuchs has a clear goal for ART: “That every member receives some form of advice before they retire. And that advice is through the channel of their choice and it’s as easy and as affordable as possible.”
“So, I got busy elevating the status and importance of advice in the sector, creating a positive working relationship between financial advisers and what is now Australian Retirement Trust,”
ART currently offers intra-fund advice through an ‘open architecture’ advice model, which includes phone-based advisers and digital advice for its government division, which will be extended to public offer members.
ART also partners with over 4,600 independent financial advisers, who provide comprehensive advice services to members. Fuchs is particularly proud of this achievement. Back in 2015, there were only 100 external advisers who worked with the fund.
Like all profit-for-member funds, Sunsuper had a long-term trend of rollouts of pre-retiree members to retail funds. Under Fuchs’s vision and leadership this channel is now a strong growth channel with $2.6 billion of inflows last financial year.
Across all channels, ART is currently providing around 180,000 of its members with advice.
During Covid, Sunsuper saw a lot of blue-collar men in regional Queensland who were over 50 switching into cash and locking in their losses at the worst possible time. “That’s another big aspirational part of what we are building – to make sure that members are making really good decisions and not financially hurting themselves,” she says.
Fuchs says that members are worried about whether they can afford to retire and are also concerned about the economic climate. “They’re worried about a big geopolitical shock and the impact that might have on the sequencing of when they retire.”
“This is why education and guidance are so important. A lot of it can be solved through a conversation where they’re just wanting information.”
“That every member receives some form of advice before they retire. And that advice is through the channel of their choice and it’s as easy and as affordable as possible.”
Regulation has challenged super funds in the advice offering space. This is set to change in the wake of the Quality of Advice Review (QAR), with the Federal Government set to make legislative changes that give super funds more flexibility around providing advice to help more members and secure the right income stream for them in retirement as part of the Retirement Income Covenant (RIC).
ART has jointly lobbied for the change, and Fuchs is hopeful that changes will be announced early next calendar year.
The changes will mean advice is something that ordinary Australians can get “as opposed to it just really being the purview of the more sophisticated and the more affluent.”
Fuchs says a major benefit would be not having advisers spending “endless hours writing an advice document that nobody reads or understands”.
“They could spend that time far more productively by advising more members and doing very thorough, professional file notes confirming why it’s in the member’s best interest, not dissimilar to how a legal or medical professional would do after they’ve had a consultation.”
ART believes the tranches “need to be changed slightly” to ensure clarity of sole purpose test. That includes ensuring advice that can be collectively charged is clear and simplifying deduction of advice fees for members with their own external adviser.
Fuchs would also like to see intra-fund advice extended to include Centrelink as a key income pillar and to also consider the member’s household circumstances.
Given the sheer scale of the fund, how will ART reach its audacious goal of offering advice to all its members before retirement?
ART is currently working on its end-to-end digital solution – or self-serve ‘app’ – where members get simple advice on issues such as whether they have enough insurance or the right investment options. (Fuchs notes that not everyone needs comprehensive advice.)
The looming retirement challenge has highlighted the importance of advice.
In July, ASIC and APRA found super funds were failing to meet their obligations under the Retirement Income Covenant. “They made it very clear the sector needs to lift their game enormously,” Fuchs says.
How can the industry lift its game?
When it comes to retirement, Fuchs says she talks about the ‘holy trinity’: a market-leading product, exceptional investment performance, and advice. “The three go together. If one’s missing, you’re not getting the optimal outcome.”
The creation of ART has created a strong foundation for the holy trinity.
QSuper was an award-winning innovator in retirement products; Sunsuper has an award-winning, market-leading advice proposition. Its investment performance is also strong based on Morningstar and Lonsec investment ratings. Putting them together “supercharges it”, Fuchs says.
Despite its big ambitions across advice and retirement, ART is still focused on bedding down the merger, or “renovating the kitchen and the bathroom” as Fuchs describes it.
“We’re still working on the basics of just bringing these two big, self-administered funds together over the next year,” she says. “But the base, what we’ve brought to table in the first place, was already market leading. So we just now need to extend it across the whole fund.”
Photography by Jeremy Veitch
Fuchs has a busy life. She has a 17-year-old boy and two girls, aged 15 and 13. She manages with a supportive husband and relaxes on walks with her German shorthaired pointer, Larry.
“Does anyone really know work-life balance? I’m not sure when you’ve got teenagers. I don’t blame work for any stresses I might have. I blame that more on teenagers and karma.”
Fuchs says her father would be smiling from heaven. “I was a challenging teenager and had an opinion on everything.”
One of her ‘hobbies’ is sitting on the board of Teachers Union Health and Union Health, a health fund for union members across Australia.
TUH/Union Health was just named by Roy Morgan the best private health insurer in Australia. Fuchs is incredibly proud of the fund and its ability to deliver market-leading, commercial outcomes for members whilst staying true to the union values of the organisation that is over 50 years old.
For now, Fuchs is firmly focused on her advice mission at ART.
“I am so inspired by the purpose of super and the ‘why’ behind super and the social justice element of it and that it’s good for society.”
When she finishes her current acting role in December, Fuchs will start a newly created role as Executive General Manager Advice, Guidance and Education.
The role elevates the advice function to the executive level. She will look to develop her leadership bench to support ART in achieving its vision and ambition.
“It’s all well and good to talk about the ambition, but we’ve got to execute on it.”
So, what does career success ultimately look like for Fuchs?
“We are seeing more and more Australian’s retire with the largest sum of money they have ever seen. We have a committed team, an exciting future and are focused on helping our members retire well with confidence.
“Success means being able to continue to lead transformation that delivers better societal outcomes for our communities.”
Fuchs believes there is no more exciting place to do that over the next decade than in superannuation, retirement and advice. And she is confident her father’s grin just got larger.