The CSIRO-Monash Superannuation Research Cluster is a collaboration between Australia’s CSIRO and four universities: Monash University; University of Western Australia; Griffith University; and the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

Aimed at addressing the two key themes of ‘Superannuation and the economy’, and ‘Australians over 60’, the $9m Superannuation Research Cluster Program has been built around a $3m Flagship Cluster Fund grant from CSIRO, and $3m in in-kind research contributions from the university partners led by Monash University. A further $3m in funding has been provided by leading industry stakeholders and research partners ANZ, BT, Cbus, Colonial First State, Challenger, Mercer, AMP Capital and Vanguard Investments.

Other key stakeholders and supporters of the program have been major industry bodies and government departments: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS); Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST); Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA); Australian Taxation Office (ATO); Federal Treasury; Financial Services Council (FSC); Productive Ageing Centre, National Seniors Australia; Productivity Commission; and Professor Hazel Bateman of UNSW.

The academic research program has been developed for Monash University and led by Deborah Ralston, a Professor of Finance at Monash University and former Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Financial Studies.

Over the past three years, the CSIRO-Monash Superannuation Research Cluster Program has generated a large body of research that will potentially deliver significant long-term benefits to  retirees, the superannuation industry, policy makers and the Australian economy as a whole.

This high-impact research provides an independent evidence base to inform policy and promote innovation within the superannuation system, which is likely to have a major influence on economic activity and the lives of most Australians in the years ahead.

A distinctive feature of the Cluster has been its focus on combining the knowledge and expertise of key stakeholders within industry and regulatory bodies with that of outstanding researchers working as part of a multidisciplinary, international team that has access to critical industry and regulatory data previously unavailable to researchers.

The research program has been specifically designed to maximise the impact of outcomes, particularly retirement outcomes from the perspective of fund members and retirees. In order to achieve this, it has been critical to foster industry consultation, to embed researchers with industry participants, and to develop knowledge transfer and dissemination programs, structured in parallel with the research program.

Governance

The Cluster has engaged on an ongoing basis with a stakeholder group including supporters, government agencies and industry peak bodies who have assisted in providing data, guidance and feedback to researchers, and in disseminating outcomes. The governance structure of the Cluster has ensured that the research agenda is well informed and that researchers have access to expertise, insights and data, where possible, from the stakeholders, policy makers and industry representative bodies. These parties form a Stakeholder Advisory Group.

This Group informs the research program and it: meets quarterly; advises the Cluster Management Board on the research program; monitors and reviews progress of research programs; advises on funding, deliverables and impact of research activities; and provides input on the need to add/modify or cease activities in the light of progress and/or research outcomes.

To drive real, beneficial change within the industry, each investor is required to: make senior staff available to serve as members and sit on the board; have senior, technically capable staff attend meetings and workshops; discuss and review results; provide data and other assistance to researchers as necessary; and provide office accommodation for embedded researchers where required. As the following figure demonstrates, the creation of high-impact research is an iterative process, requiring ongoing communication and dissemination across all stakeholders.

Translating knowledge to practical application for stakeholders

This iterative process of knowledge generation and translation to practical outcomes begins with understanding stakeholder needs. Regular meetings and an annual conference of researchers and stakeholders and researchers are held to share information and seek feedback on the research.

Scope of the research program

This ambitious research program utilises methodologies such as macroeconomic modelling, stochastic simulation and behavioural finance.

Priority has also been given to accessing databases including: APRA statistics; confidential de-identified data from sources such as the Department of Human Services, the ATO, the Financial Services Council, Mercer, super funds and other regulatory and industry bodies.

The organisational model for the Superannuation Research Cluster has worked well under Deborah Ralston’s leadership. It shows how a cluster can work to bring expertise together and create a wide body of impactful research. The challenge ahead is for industry participants and academics to continue to work together and for government and industry to harness the insights gained from this significant research program.