"We built GROW for people like us": Q&A with CEO of newly-launched GROW Super June 2017

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Last month saw GROW Super, a new fund ‘built by millennials’, launch with a viral campaign that resulted in 1,000 downloads of its app in the first week. Keen to find out how the fund aims to compete for members in the Australian market of large, established super funds, Industry Moves catches up with GROW Super CEO, Joshua Wilson, who speaks of his confidence and enthusiasm for the challenge ahead.

What was the impetus for starting up GROW Super?

We had seen the success of micro-investment platforms that made it easy for Australians, particularly younger Australians, to save and invest their money. It was a real epiphany moment where we realised that when people have a tool or a platform that is built and delivered specifically for them, you can create real engagement.

For us, there was a clear opportunity to take this mindset and apply it to superannuation, which despite being the most important financial asset most of us will ever have, has probably the most disengaged audience. We believe that’s dangerous, especially when so many of us will be so short in retirement. We built GROW to wake Aussies up to “the gap”, and then give them the tools to start closing it easily without having to make drastic changes in their lives.

How do you plan to navigate the market and stand out from bigger, more established funds?

There are two components to this question. The first is the size piece. Is GROW Super a stand alone fund and the brand new kid on the block? Yes, of course. But when we discuss size and brand credibility in the industry, it does not get much bigger than Dimensional Fund Advisors, who manage a minimum 85% of all our clients money.

In terms of standing out as a brand, our marketing will definitely establish us as a challenger brand quite quickly. Super isn’t boring, the way we talk about it is boring. The industry has put in minimal effort to engage people in their superannuation to the point where most people are so disinterested they don’t even know where their money is. In the current environment, it’s not going to be hard for us to stand out. We’ve created a product that puts consumers at the centre and tackles all the frustrations they have about super head on. We’ve also taken an unconventional approach to our marketing strategy, simplifying the language and speaking to people in a way that actually makes sense.

Our marketing campaign is the first by a super fund to go viral after we launched with The Betoota Advocate in a video that has had almost 150,000 views and rising.

What is your vision on the control over the 15% (is it possible to choose individual companies/startups etc.) and have you plans to increase the 15% to a greater percentage in the future?

One of the huge problems in superannuation is this lack of engagement. Super is your money, so you should be able to invest it in things you are passionate about or believe will give you a greater return. However, we also feel a strong interest to protect the best interests of our customers. It’s just not sensible to have a massive overweighting in your super to one industry sector, let alone one company. Imagine if you had invested 15% of your super into MySpace or Bebo 15 years ago? That stock would be worth nothing now.

In that spirit, I can’t foresee us increasing the 15% in the near future and any ability to invest in individual stocks would have some protective limits in place. We want people to be engaged, and we believe our tactical tilts offer that. We can’t be cowboys with people’s money to try and get them to put their super with us.

What research did you conduct, prior to launching the fund, around what millennials want when it comes to their superannuation and what were the key findings of this research?

When we first had the idea for GROW, we didn’t have to dig too deep to see there was an obvious gap in the market for a consumer-focused super fund. One of our founders, Mathew Keeley, is a Financial Planner and was often stunned at how apathetic people were about their super. Watching the success of micro investing platforms, like Acorns, also proved to us that young people do care about saving and investing, they just want high quality, easy to use tools to help them get there.

We built GROW for people like us. We’re the people who have already had five jobs (and accumulated five super funds) by the age of 25. We work as entrepreneurs and freelancers and don’t pay ourselves super. We’ve been ripped off by former bosses who didn’t pay our super and we didn’t even realise. We care about our money and our future and we want to know who is managing our money and where it is being invested.

With millennial focused fund, Spaceship, recently copping flak for its high risk/low return model, how does GROW Super, as a new player in the game, plan to gain the market's confidence?

It’s fantastic that there are companies starting to look at making superannuation a more exciting and engaging product for customers. I think you will see more and more companies trying to come into this space and “disrupt” or “innovate” in it. This will be good for customers but it can also be incredibly dangerous if the underlying investments are unlikely to outperform the market, which in theory is what will happen if you are using ETF’s.

That’s why it was so important to us to have that relationship with Dimensional. We can say with confidence that our funds are managed in one of the most successful funds on the planet. We can say with confidence that our customers will have the benefits of the scale that comes with being six and a half times bigger than the largest Australian super fund. We can say with confidence that our customers will have the benefit of being with a customer focused superannuation fund that is a ferrari on the inside AND on the outside.

It’s great to have a customer focused super experience, but it needs to be matched by an equally robust, world class investment engine underneath. Being able to look the industry in the eye and say that we are delivering both will give us that credibility in the market and that’s reflected in our rapid acquisition rate since we launched.

What excites you the most about your work?

There is nothing more satisfying in the world than coming into work and seeing a team of people that you have assembled with an uncontainable passion for achieving a collective dream. That dream of making people’s lives better is what drives us all, and when you hear about how much people love something that you have had a hand in creating, it’s a very special feeling.

What has been the best piece of advice that you have received?

Two pieces. Trust your gut and stay humble. If you can get the balance of those two right, you will find yourself in good stead.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life/career so far?

My parents taught me lessons that transcend business and are really just about who you are as a person. They taught me that your integrity is something that you can’t compromise on and that being able to go to sleep at night, knowing that you have given your best and conducted yourself in a way you can live with, is more important than anything else. That has had a huge impact on me: I do deals in a pretty unconventional way compared to a lot of people, but that integrity factor allows you to do that.

I’ve been blessed to have some amazing mentors along the way but have also had some amazing people on this journey that have been the rocks that everything we are building stand on. Ben Trevisiol (GROW General Manager) and David Baxter (GROW CTO) have been with me since day one and are the reason everything has panned out how it has.

What’s something that most people wouldn’t know about you?

I hate birds - especially ducks and chickens. I’ve been attacked by them more times than I care to remember [laughs and then cries].

GROW Super

Joshua and the GROW Super team.

View Joshua Wilson's profile