GLOBAL - Australian pensions officials attending a cooperation summit in the Netherlands this weekend are set to advise the Dutch on defined contribution (DC) systems as the country overhauls its Pensions Agreement.
Government officials, consultants, academics and representatives from a dozen Australian superannuation schemes - with more than AUD124bn (€91bn) in combined assets under management - arrived in the Netherlands earlier this week to attend the Superannuation and Pension Funds Summit on Dutch and Australian Cooperation and Alliance.
High-level figures from the respective pension systems are planning to increase collaboration and share expertise on a number of topics, as well as explore the possibility of co-investment projects and even the establishment of an international network of "top-tier" funds, although this is still in the exploratory phase.
Brad Holzberger, chief investment officer at the AUD30.7bn QSuper fund, said: "In terms of things to offer, the clear leadership in Australia is in the management of DC funds.
"We have little exposure to defined benefit plans anymore, but we have a central commitment to DC, and our fiduciary system is becoming very experienced at them.
"I would expect to see Australia lead the adaptation of lifecycle investing, for example, along with the use of longevity-type products."
Gabriel Szondy - independent director of CARE Super and the Military Superannuation Board, and Conference Chair for CIE Conferences - said: "Interestingly, the feedback from the Dutch has been that they are as vitally interested in what we are doing as we are in them because our DC system appears the way the future systems will evolve in developing Europe.
"They want to learn as much as possible. They are also keen on learning how we engage with and communicate with our members."
Jason Cotter, manager of portfolio services at the AUD32.6bn AustralianSuper fund, said: "We have existed in a choice of fund and defined contribution environment for many years and can help the Dutch funds prepare if some of the changes being discussed here occur."
All were very optimistic about the summit.
Holzberger said: "In terms of this conference, the main interest is forming networks for future cooperation with Dutch funds. The economies of scale work differently for us. Even Australia's very biggest are only medium-sized compared with large international funds.
"We at QSuper have not yet co-invested with any international funds, but we are open to it, and I see it as an inevitable part of our future operations."
He added: "Australian funds have long tended to take the initiative to look across the globe for investments, partners and ideas because we are such a small but open economy.
"Typical Australian funds have at least 50% of assets outside the country, which is probably a bit higher than most countries. We can also look to the US, Europe, the UK and Asia with a bit more objectivity. Being small, we can align with anyone without feeling out of place."
Cotter said AustralianSuper was looking to leave the summit with ideas that would lead to further discussions and, "most importantly, action".
"The summit presents an excellent opportunity to think about where our industry is headed in conjunction with like-minded peers," he said. "The conversations should be very interesting. At this stage, we are open-minded about the topics."
He added: "We already have strong informal relationships with many of the funds at the summit. What the summit offers is an opportunity to transform informal discussions into a more structured programme that will evolve over time.
"An advantage of cooperation is that you can share the ideas and experiences of the group to create outcomes that you would not achieve if you acted alone. Responsible investment or ESG is probably is an example of this."
The summit, organised by the Centre for Investment Education, began on 31 March and will wrap up on 2 April.