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ISA, AIST to join forces for a fresh start

Two of Australia's leading superannuation bodies will soon be no more. In their place will be a new, merged entity intended to be a "powerful advocate" for the superannuation system and the funds that comprise it.

The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and Industry Super Australia (ISA) are close to finalising a merger that will create an all new organisation under a different name. The merger comes as the substantially consolidated superannuation industry is under more pressure from regulators and the government to reduce cost to members and marketing expenditure.

“The profit to member super funds that ISA and AIST represent have agreed to create a new organisation to be a strong and unified voice for their millions of members,” the AIST said in a statement. “The new entity will build on the impressive legacies of achievements of both AIST and ISA and combine the knowledge, expertise, and capabilities of those organisations to be a powerful advocate for super fund members on all systemic matters relevant to super and retirement.”

“As balances grow and more members reach retirement age, the long-term interests of members are best served by a compelling voice that is focused on protecting and growing their savings. The boards of AIST and ISA and their funds continue to work towards creating this new entity.”

Both organisations are confident enough about the merger to announce that it’s almost done and are currently working together on a constitution, but it’s still unclear what the merged entity will be called. And while it’s hoped that it will be possible to bring the “best of both organisations together for a fresh kickoff”, they’re still an awkward fit. Observers have described the merger as a fairly dramatic process with plenty of disagreement.

While ISA conducts some research activities, it’s better known as the hardpoint from which the industry fund collective media campaign was launched. It’s no stranger to starting political scraps with advertisements attacking retail funds, the government and big banks, and it’s expected that the ISA branding will be retained for the collective media campaign.

AIST has used a softer voice in Canberra, and is publicly more focused on conferences and education.
Some funds that had dropped their ISA membership but retained AIST faced the prospect of being brought back into the fold through the merger.

The AIST has its origins as an educational and research organisation spawned as an offshoot of the Conference of Major Super Funds (CMSF), itself the brainchild of Garry Weaven and the late Mavis Robertson, in 1994. CMSF was a commercial success and largely funded the AIST’s activities, but times have changed.

In its annual report for 2022 the AIST flagged that revenue from conferences and education had come in lower than expected, with the group reporting an operational deficit of $1.1 million for the year and flagging the potential merger with ISA, with which it shared “a long and proud history of advocating for positive change that benefits members”. An earlier proposed merger with the Association of Super Funds of Australia – long considered by the industry to be an obvious move – fell through because of the ancient blood feud between retail and industry funds.

ISA was established in 2006 to manage collective programs on behalf of nine industry funds.  In 2022-23, its total revenue was around $23 million with the “vast majority” of that allocated to the joint marketing campaign.

Lachlan Maddock

  • Lachlan is editor of Investor Strategy News and has extensive experience covering institutional investment.

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