A fossil fuel free superannuation fund that has built an 11,000 strong membership in just four years and now manages more than $300 million worth of investments is a finalist in the ACT Telstra Business Awards, to be announced on 12 July.
Nominated in the new Social Change Maker category, Future Super was Australia’s first 100 per cent fossil fuel free super fund and is the brainchild of social activist Simon Sheikh of GetUp! fame and ethical investment veteran Adam Verwey, who got together after unsuccessful 2013 election runs for the ACT Greens wanted to do something that would make a difference beyond the political process.
Identifying that Australian superannuation funds held more than $2 trillion, they realised that ‘something’ could be a super fund that would drive the clean energy transition through people taking action rather than having to wait for the politicians.
Mr Verwey, who spent a decade at former Canberra-based Australian Ethical Investment, said that within two months of the fund opening in 2014 it had 1,000 members.
He said that at the time there was a huge number of people wanting to move out of fossil fuels who could choose a bank or take other ‘green’ options but when it came to super they had nowhere to go.
“They were just waiting to have Future Super launch to have that one option,” Mr Verwey said.
Raising capital from angel investors and later from Bendigo Bank, which wanted to make a statement about its ethical credentials, Sheikh and Verney built contact lists from the climate change and disinvestment movement and teamed up with investment company Grosvenor Pirie, which already had a master super fund that could provide the infrastructure to set up a small niche fund.
“We created the template for how other super funds could come to market, and there’s been in the past few years probably a dozen or so new super funds that have come out to try and disrupt the superannuation industry, mainly around technology and engagement,” Mr Verney said.
Future Super is now one and has become one of the fastest growing super funds in the country, with investments across solar farms, such as here in the ACT, wind farms and sustainable listed companies.
Mr Verwey said fossil fuel free was the point of difference but Future Super ran a diverse portfolio of ethically based investments.
“The pleasing thing is that the amount of things that an ethical investor can invest in is growing very rapidly. In the ASX 200, about 70 per cent would pass our ethical investment screening. So the world is moving this way as well, which makes it much easier to run a fund like ours and still run a diversified portfolio,” he said.
But members still enjoy returns that over the long term are about the same or a bit better than a mainstream fund.
Mr Verwey said Future Super expected the return to 30 June to be in the top quartile for all balanced funds in its category, with the latest figures on its website showing a 6.61 per cent return after fees for the Super Fund since it started in September 2014.
“Our members have done exceptionally well. Over the four years our return would be in the top half [for all balanced funds in its category],” Mr Verwey said.
“Ethical investors shouldn’t be willing to make a sacrifice to make these investments, they should expect that their portfolio is going to perform just as well as a fund that didn’t screen out unethical investments.”
Future Super is now raising extra capital as it embarks on another period of growth, so it can have an even greater impact.
“What we really want is to build our community much bigger to what it is now. We’d love to have 200,000 members to make a really massive impact on the superannuation industry and show funds that are doing the right thing ethically by their investors and their members can be really successful,” Mr Verwey said.
He welcomed the recognition from the Telstra Business Awards, particularly the new category.
“It recognises that businesses can be good for the world but also be good for businesses at the same time,” he said.
The Awards are announced on 12 July at a black tie dinner at Gandel Hall at the National Gallery of Australia and include four categories – Emerging & Energised, Small & Succeeding, Social Change Maker, and Medium & Making Waves.
Other Social Change Maker finalists are communications agency Fifty Acres, strategic design consultancy ThinkPlace and 3D animation, visual effects and computer games educator The Academy of Interactive Entertainment.
In the Emerging & Energised category, cloud-based rights-management platform for sponsorship professionals SponServe is vying with innovative firm Vivid Accounting, and CopperTree Analytics Australia, which provides the commercial building market with a software platform that helps lower carbon emissions, the Disability Leadership Institute and family-focused disability support provider Skipper Care.
In the Small & Succeeding category, the finalists are Corporate Catering by Mr Cappuccino, the Old Bus Depot Markets, consultancy Rapid Context, tattoo studio Tatts On Tatts Off (TOTO) and multi-disciplinary firm, Wholistic Financial Solutions.
Tech-related firms are prominent in the Medium & Making Waves category with IT management consultancy Projects Assured, cybersecurity firm Penten, and iSimulate Pty Ltd, which converts ordinary iPads into world-class medical training devices, and engineering firm Datapod making the finals.
Joining them are recruitment agency HorizonOne and double-glazed windows and doors provider Solace Creations.