It’s all about the member: Auscoal’s Bruce Watson

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Profile by Penny Pryor

AUSCOAL chief executive officer Bruce Watson is passionate about his industry, passionate about his members and takes his commitment to provide them with an intimate experience very seriously.

Big marketing spends have never been part of the agenda, but he heads up a $7 billion fund that not only takes out awards for performance and fund of the year, but also one that has been in BRW’s top 50 best places to work for years running.

Watson has spent his lifetime in the coal industry, including 11 years at the coalface.

He has been in his current role for eight years, and prior to that was on the board of the fund for 14 years. He was the inaugural chairman of the fund post the merger of CoalSuper and QCOS in 2005.

Then as chief executive, he provided the fund with some much-needed stability after a period of high staff turnover following the merger.

“I was approached by a number of people and a number of board members said you ought to think about putting your hat in the ring for it. So I did,” he says. 

Watson was also the recipient of the Fund Executive Association Ltd (FEAL) fund executive of the year award in 2010 and was heading to Melbourne for an intensive week of training at the Melbourne Business School as part of the FEAL Master’s program when he spoke to IO&C.

For Watson customer service is a priority, but so is providing solutions that give fund members the best experience possible. The fund’s members are engaged, with about 23 to 24 per cent exercising member choice.

AUSCOAL has been offering a lifecycle aged-base default investment strategy for its members for the past eight years now, and when asked about the rest of the industry and their offerings in this space Watson says: “They’re starting to catch up now aren’t they.”

 “Were doing a review on our lifecycle aged-based default this year. We think another couple of factors, inputs would be helpful,” Watson explains.

“One of them is balance but overall balance, net wealth which includes outside of what we’ve got [in super].”

It’s obviously difficult for a super fund to monitor member’s external assets but AUSCOAL is working on a technology solution that may make that possible.

Like other funds have been doing, it will add some kind of mechanism to enable members more choice.

 “We have very little leakage to SMSFs, however we do believe that the world is moving forward, where the more engaged our members get, the more control they want,” Watson says.

 “We will no doubt join the rest in the short future about providing a platform that enables people to have a much greater degree of control both of super assets and non-super assets. I think we will go beyond that [just a super platform],” he says.

The merger with the WA-based Coal Industry Super Fund CISF has pretty much been decided, subject to the finalisation of due diligence and Watson is not adverse to further mergers.

“From our perspective we would prefer to be in the $10 billion to $15 billion space now than $7 billion. But if you ask me do we want to be $20 billion? The answer is no.”

“For us our focus is on customer intimacy and very strong relationships so from that perspective it is about smaller number of members and higher balances.”

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