Joanna Davison… ‘FEAL has maintained a level of credibility’
Joanna Davison, the new chief executive of the Fund Executives Association Ltd has a lot of experience at senior levels in funds management, both in Australia and her native UK. But perhaps it’s her unusual qualification for a career in the city which may stand her in better stead to serve the FEAL membership. She spoke with Greg Bright.
While it is often said that big super funds tend to be morphing into more diversified financial services businesses, not dissimilar to the evolution and subsequent devolution of the old mutual life offices, FEAL has maintained a level of credibility which assists in the continued professionalism among super fund management and staff, according to Joanna Davison.
She had a lot of involvement with the organization prior to her permanent appointment to the CEO role in February. Her previous employers, Russell Investments and Colonial First State Global Asset Management, were sponsors of FEAL events at her behest, so she was a natural choice to act as CEO from last year after her predecessor, Michael Baldwin, resigned to pursue a career in the Arts.
Her qualification for a career as a funds management executive, however, is unusual. Davison attended Cambridge University to study theology and comparative religions, including the study of the New Testament in Greek. But the pointy end of capitalism beckoned and she decided, on graduation, to get a start in stockbroking in London, followed by a move into funds management at Prudential. She came to Australia in 1988 and got a job at what is now AMP Capital.
She says: “FEAL can make a difference helping people to become leaders. If we get it right there should be more money for people in retirement and that’s why we’re here.
“Funds are getting broader in terms of the range of services they are offering. They are now providers of income streams and advice. They are also becoming fund managers, through investment insourcing.
“The really good thing about not-for-profit funds is their culture which allows a focus on the member. Retaining that culture [in the face of these broader services] is important, but it’s doable.”
At her first job in Australia, at AMP, Davison got to work with some of the most respected names in funds management, including Tom Cottam, Leigh Hall, Ray Greenshields and Merv Peacock. When she returned from maternity leave she was offered a new role at AMP in London, but, wanting to remain in Australia she moved to MLC, heading up the implemented consulting business and then, in 2004, to Russell Investments to head up sales under Steve Roberts.
“We won a lot of business at Russell,” Davison says, “and it was during that time I got to know FEAL through our sponsorship… I saw FEAL as an opportunity to interact with the serious end of the market. Sponsoring the National Conference was good positioning. What surprised me was how much more to [FEAL] there was than just the briefings and conference. The education and, later, the mentoring initiative are incredibly important.”
After moving to Colonial First State GAM in 2009, Davison continued the FEAL sponsorship, and involvement in the FEAL program committee.
FEAL’s education program is the most comprehensive and well-established in the industry, involving a joint venture with the Melbourne Business School. A total of 13 people have now qualified after the six-year program involving studying through two modules per year. This is a masters-level course tailored towards superannuation, through such modules as the ins and outs of mergers and acquisitions.
One of the reasons for FEAL’s successful collaboration with the other industry associations, perhaps, is that it has always avoided becoming a lobby group on government policy. Prior to its annual members-only Executive Forum, for instance, it holds a pre-discussion group focusing on implementation of the seemingly never-ending regulatory issues facing fund executives. This year, this will include Helen Rowell, of APRA, John Brogden of the FSC and Andrea Slattery of SPAA.
The only annual FEAL event which is open for the whole industry to attend is the National Conference. Davison believes this is another reason for the association’s success and differentiation from the other industry bodies. Members will usually agree to a Chatham House Rule of keeping what has been said among themselves, allowing more free and easy discussions. National Conference will be held in Sydney this year, in August, at the Hilton Hotel, with Russell sponsoring.
An initiative last year, which started before Davison joined the executive ranks at FEAL, is a ‘HR Forum’ for about 35 HR specialists within the bigger super funds. Davison says this will become an annual event because there is, otherwise, very little opportunity for HR people of super funds to discuss their issues and interact with others about them. As funds grow and their staffing numbers continue to increase, HR will become a more important issue.
This also relates back to the culture of not-for-profit funds going forward – a culture of member focus in the face of demands for more and more commercial services from members in a competitive environment.
FEAL has also dabbled in research and Davison believes this is an area which it could expand. In conjunction with Customer Service Benchmarking it has allowed 25 funds so far to sign up to a research project which enables them to receive a ‘Net Promoter Score’ to get individual feedback on their customer service’.
“We could probably facilitate other research with relevant parties,” Davison says. “And we could possibly commission research on our own.”
Inevitably, running an industry association requires some sales work and commercial nouse to keep the bank balance ticking over. While Davison has a lot of this experience from her previous career positions, her only other non-FEAL position these days is as a trustee and investment committee member of the NSW Local Government Superannuation Fund. She is not an independent here, but rather the representative of the Local Government’s defacto union, DEPA. In an unusual move, DEPA decided on a funds management professional as its rep following the retirement from the super industry last year of Ian Robertson, who had also been a former chair of AIST during his long involvement with super.