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Chosing the right Australian Superannuation Funds.

Superannuation choice legislation will soon give more Australians a choice about who manages their superannuation. I hope this tale helps to make it clear why this is important.

Having recently changed my employment status I have had occasion to review my superannuation situation. I always knew that fees differed between super funds and this could impact on the final payout, but I didn't realise how large this factor was until I did my sums.

The bulk of my super is in an industry fund which provides services for employees in the education sector. Let's call them Super Fund A. They have above average returns and very low fees. On the few occasions I have had to deal with them the staff were courteous and efficient.

I have had some money in another fund, Super Fund B, for quite a number of years. I accumulated some funds in it while I was at a previous employer. The fees were high but I was locked into the fund because of high exit fees until I turned 55.

I decided to consolidate my funds in preparation for developing a comprehensive retirement plan. So I decided to roll my money over from Super Fund B into Super Fund A. I have done similar things in the past with minimal fuss. You just fill in a standard form and send it to the fund where you want the money to end up. They contact the other fund and it's all fixed in a couple of days. Well that's how it works in most cases.

But this didn't happen with my ex friends at Super Fund B. They received my request to roll over my money and decided to milk me one more time.

First step was to ignore the request for a few days. Then the General Manager Advisor and Customer Service, let's call him Chuck Berry, wrote a letter full of spurious and irrelevant information. I received it six days after the date on the letter even though I live in the same city. The letter says some forms are being prepared and will be sent in a few days, meantime I could consult my financial advisor.

I decided enough was enough and rang Customer Service. Where are the "forms"? Other companies don't have forms they just comply with the instructions of their clients, why can't Super Fund B?

This was a very enlightening experience. After speaking to several drones and drongos I demanded to speak to Chuck Berry, author of the letter so I could explain that it was my money, Super Fund B was being paid to manage it, not to obstruct my written instructions and, if necessary, to comment on his parentage.

I was told Chuck Berry was not available, but that everyone just sent out mail over his signature. Ah, I see, but does he really exist? I never found out.

I put on my best telephone shouting voice and demanded the "forms" be couriered. To my surprise they were sent. But they turned out to be a scrappy six page letter, again from Chuck Berry, full of the same nonsense but seeking no further information than what was on the original form they received from Super Fund A. It didn't contain any instructions on returning the "form."

So I put on my telephone shouting voice again and said I was coming into the office to hand deliver the "form" and to collect the cheque. I managed to convince one of Chuck Berry's offsiders to expect me at 3pm.

So when arrived at Super Fund B's office I asked for Chuck Berry's offsider, cooled my heels in reception and waited a few minutes. He didn't appear, but the office boy brought down another letter from Chuck Berry, and the cheque. They were not in the slightest interested in the "forms" thus confirming what I already knew - they were a meaningless prop, used to cover up inefficiencies.

I walked to the other end of the city and deposited the cheque in Super Fund A. What a relief! Although I had lost a couple of hundred dollars due to stock market changes over the two-week saga I had last disentangled myself from Chuck Berry and his crew.

I learnt a few lessons from my experience.

Higher fees doesn't give better service. Super Fund A costs me less than $3 per week in fees, Super Fund B, with a lower balance used to cost me about $10 per week.

Featherbedding and overstaffing leads to lower levels of service. The overblown bureaucracy at Super Fund B invents procedures and "forms" in an effort to convince management that it is performing a service. Inevitably a bureaucracy in this mode becomes a haven for people with little idea of service, but with a strong determination to stick to the rules and to cover up for colleagues and organisational malfunctions. The public and the company suffers as declining morale and shoddy practices replace cheerful efficiency.

A bit of determination goes a long way. If I had waited for the slow grinding of the wheels in Super Fund B I may have eventually got my money, after I had paid them a couple more weeks of "management fees" I feel I have had a moral victory in that I have partially thwarted the schemes of Super Fund B to deprive me of my rights.

I hope this little tale helps someone who is being done over by people who are being paid to help us.

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