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Why we need new laws on superannuation fund customer service 

Recent high-profile account problems have highlighted the need for tighter security and responsiveness when issues arise.

person looking at their superannuation account statement and about to call their super fund
Last updated: 02 July 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Complaints about account issues at super funds continue to rise
  • Super Consumers Australia says it's time for new laws to ensure funds look after Australians' super accounts properly

In the 2022–23 financial year, 63% of superannuation complaints to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) were about account issues.

A total of 4369 people complained about these problems, up from 3009 (a 45.2% increase) in the previous financial year.

Account issues on the rise

AFCA reports that these complaints cover a wide range of problems, including:

  • delays with rollovers and withdrawals
  • difficulty accessing online accounts or services
  • funds cancelling insurance
  • funds miscalculating fees
  • mistakes in following instructions around investment switches.

Last October, Stephen Jones, the Minister for Superannuation, told super funds to improve their customer service or face a crackdown to improve standards.

"I've spent the last year putting them on notice, but I won't spend the next year doing exactly the same thing," he said.

Jones' office did not respond to a request for an update on this issue. 

Super Consumers Australia policy manager Rebekah Sarkoezy says it's time for action.

"If super funds can't manage their members' accounts properly or communicate with them clearly, we need laws to help them do this. Australians deserve peace of mind that their fund is looking after their super accounts properly," says Sarkoezy.

Years of costly multiple accounts

In September 2023, the regulator, Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), sued AustralianSuper for failing to consolidate duplicate accounts.

ASIC alleges that for almost ten years, the fund, which has more than two million members, didn't have adequate procedures to find and merge multiple accounts where consolidation was in the member's best interests.

"AustralianSuper then continued to charge multiple sets of fees and insurance premiums to these members," ASIC said. The regulator calculated that the fund's actions impacted around 90,000 people, costing these members approximately $69 million.

Hundreds of thousands of members impacted by outages 

Another high-profile example of account problems hit the headlines in May 2024, when more than 600,000 UniSuper members were locked out of their accounts because of problems with the fund's private cloud account. For 10 days, members couldn't withdraw their money or switch their investments.

In early 2023, some members of AustralianSuper, Australia's largest super fund, reported that they'd been locked out of their accounts for two months. The outage happened when the fund upgraded its portal for the Member Direct option, which allows people to self-manage their super investments. Again, the problem meant members couldn't withdraw their money or change their investments. 

Members of AustralianSuper reported that they'd been locked out of their accounts for two months

Some members reported being disillusioned with the lack of information from the fund on the outage. On social media platform X, the fund apologised for the problem and said they "understand this may be frustrating".

AFCA seeing more direct complaints about super funds

In the financial year 2022–23, complaints to AFCA regarding superannuation were up 32% on the previous year.

AFCA also noted a rise in people contacting them directly rather than trying to resolve their complaint through the fund's internal dispute resolution process, suggesting people either aren't aware of or can't get a hold of their fund's complaints team.

AFCA told the website SuperReview that the rise in people coming straight to AFCA may show a "breakdown of trust" with super funds.

frustrated person looking at laptop screen

Members were disillusioned with the lack of information when their fund's website went down.

Peter's story: Ongoing account blunders

CHOICE reader Peter contacted us about a series of account problems at his super fund.

Peter had been happy with the service he received at his old fund, Energy Super, but he has had ongoing issues after it merged into Brighter Super. 

Peter says he sent details to Brighter Super about where he'd like his super to go after he passed away, but noticed months later that these details still hadn't been updated in his account. 

When he phoned to follow up, he was alarmed to discover during the call that three complete strangers were now listed as the beneficiaries who would get the money in his accumulation and pension accounts when he died. 

Understandably, Peter was spooked. He feared someone had hacked his account. 

He spent a sleepless weekend before his fund finally contacted him and said it had made an administrative error. 

"No call was received until Monday afternoon to say it was an administration error and that it had been corrected," Peter says.  "When I explained I had been worried all weekend, they assured me everything was fine. I asked for this to be escalated."

A few months later, there was another problem; Peter noticed his statement had disappeared from his fund's online portal.

Why should I have to go to an executive to get a reaction?

Peter, Brighter Super customer

"There were no statements, and I knew they wouldn't believe me, so I took screenshots," Peter explains. "Then, about an hour later, [the statements] just appeared back, and [the fund] denied all knowledge of that. I thought: 'How could that happen?'"

Then, when Peter logged a call about the missing statements, he noticed his name had been changed on his account – without his authority or approval. Once again, Brighter Super blamed an administration error and said it had been corrected. He asked that this issue be escalated along with the incorrect beneficiaries issue.

Two months later, when Peter hadn't heard anything about the account issues, he realised he knew one of the executives at Brighter Super. 

"I sent an email about the issues I had encountered, and I got back this horrified response, but I'm thinking: 'Why should I have to go to an executive to get a reaction?'"

In an email to Super Consumers Australia, Brighter Super apologised to Peter "for the errors that occurred". 

"We are disappointed by these incidents and want to clarify the situation," a fund spokesperson said.

The issues raised by Mr Barnett regarding the addition of beneficiaries and an extra middle name on his account were the result of an isolated processing error by a new team member. The staff member involved received feedback and coaching, and the matters were resolved swiftly, within three business days of receiving Mr Barnett’s complaints."

The fund spokesperson also said 
Brighter Super is working on a new online capability for members to add their beneficiary nominations, which they expect to go live later this year. 

Time to toughen the laws

Sarkoezy says funds have had enough time to sort out customer service issues, but the rising complaints and recent large-scale account problems show they haven't improved on this front. She points out that other financial services, such as banking and general insurance, have already introduced customer service codes.

"It's time for tough new laws to ensure funds are looking after accounts properly, responding quickly to complaints and communicating clearly with their members," she says.

"We often hear from members of the public about poor customer service from super funds and it's time to hold them accountable."

This content was produced by Super Consumers Australia which is an independent, nonprofit consumer organisation partnering with CHOICE to advance and protect the interests of people in the Australian superannuation system.

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.