ASX200 earnings per share to rise in 2014
August 29, 2013
Gatekeepers’ role vital to health of SMSF sector
September 5, 2013

The Back Shed – Q&A with Graeme Colley

Greg Bright

This edition of The Back Shed interviews Graeme Colley, Director of Education and Professional Standards, SPAA. Self-confessed superannuation enthusiast who likes to cook, run, make things from glass and spend time with extended family to relax.

How did you land in finance?
I really landed in superannuation rather than finance when it was not the fashionable thing to do. That was at the Australian Taxation Office in the late 1970s along with my flared pants and long hair. I ended up in Canberra, got involved in policy work on superannuation and luckily with the introduction of the 3% award superannuation made a career from there. Since that time I was lucky enough to set up the Insurance and Superannuation Commission for its northern region and move back to Sydney. I suppose the finance side of things occurred from the time I started at ING where I was involved on the technical side of providing assistance to financial planners on superannuation, social security and aged care.

How has this industry challenged or surprised you throughout your career?
The main challenge in the superannuation industry has been the never ending change and the pace of that change for as long as I can remember. It certainly has my attention and makes the topic totally consuming. I suppose the surprise is that superannuation is now an institution in the Australian community and is an integral part of it just like Medicare. The other surprise is that when I first became interested in superannuation I could not see it as a career but as you know things change.

What role do you see SPAA playing in the evolution of the SMSF industry?
SPAA’s role to date has been to revolutionise SMSFs from a cottage industry which sat on the edges of the superannuation. It is now a significant player both from the size of the investments SMSFs control and the importance of SMSF advice. I hesitate to think what may have happened to small superannuation funds if organisations such as SPAA were not about. Going forward it seems to me that the concept of SMSFs will continue and be applied to superannuation accounts where the investments are controlled and managed by the members. Any move in that direction must be supplemented by an improvement in educating people to understand investments and investing.

What are the big issues playing on your mind?
The big issues playing on my mind are many and varied I suppose. One is whether superannuation will provide a long term savings plan for people to have an adequate retirement income and how we get there. It will be interesting for us to look back in 30 or 40 years to see whether that goal was achieved. Another is where we will be as a community with the integration of the many cultures we are introducing to Australia. Hopefully this will increase the richness and create a more vibrant group but retain those things that are essentially part of our culture.

You’re obviously committed to your work. Where does Graeme, Director Technical & Professional Standards, SPAA and the person begin and end (i.e. work/life balance)?
This all melds into one and the superannuation side of it sometimes seems to be all consuming. I suppose relaxing with family and friends allows me to put work to the side. But conversations will inevitably mention the ‘s’ word as many of my friends have retired or are in the process of it.
One thing that I have enjoyed for many years is lecturing at universities on superannuation. The reason is that superannuation and my interest in it has given me a rewarding career and I see lecturing as contributing something back to the industry. Of course, there’s nothing more rewarding than a student contacting you many years after they have graduated with a thank-you for providing a spark of interest for a successful financial planning or career in superannuation.

So what do you do in down time that doesn’t involve SPAA, finance or investments?
Downtime for me is the extended family, running, cooking, the garden and making things from glass. While some of these are considered a bit ‘nerdy’ from time to time they really get your mind off thinking about superannuation and the work you are doing. Not that it’s happened to me but, I’m sure there’s nothing worse than burning the soufflé just because you were thinking of the interpretation of some technical point of the law.