Industry veteran takes the reins: Q&A with NESS Super's new CEO Paul Cahill February 2018

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Paul Cahill has stepped into the role of CEO at NESS Super, making this his fourth innings as the head of a super fund throughout his career. We ask Paul to share what he believes to be the most significant change to the industry since he first joined it in 1992 and to outline his goals for the new role. We also find out about his recent studies (including an interesting 'major'), where he sees the future of super, and the advice he would offer industry newcomers.

What are your key goals, short and long term, as you take on the role of CEO at NESS Super?

Short-term goals: Build on the great work that has already been achieved and make NESS Super the most customer centric fund it can possibly be.

Longer-term goals: To ensure that the NESS organisation is prepared for whatever challenges the future throws at us.

What do you feel has been the most significant change to the superannuation industry during your career that has benefited members?

Getting SG to 9.5% has benefited members but more is needed. To fully fund a retirement, 15% is necessary, especially for those on lower incomes. I would like to see life-time caps introduced, especially for those with broken work patterns.

How do you see the superannuation industry evolving over the next five years?

I think that with the weight of money coming in, we will see many more entrants attracted to the industry. The challenge for all is to ensure that we, as an industry, do not drop our standards in terms of governance, member based outcomes and overall security of money for members retirements. I think that we will also see fewer funds (but also much larger funds) but roles for all different types of funds, provided they are managed correctly. Quality of management/service and value for money are going to be key differentiators

What achievement are you most proud of during your tenure as CEO of Club Plus Super (CPS)?

When I left CPS our net promoter score (NPS) had risen from 40%, when I started, to 84% when I finished which I understand is industry leading. Insourcing our contact centre is something that I took great pride in, as the benefits far outweighed the difficulties. Finally, the overall value for money generated by running a low-cost fund with good returns is, to me, what industry funds are all about.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when working as CEO of Concept One during its merger with WA Super?

I live in Sydney; Concept One is located in Perth. Virgin sent me a fruit basket at Christmas. The number of flights and the travel was a challenge but working with good Boards and people (Ken Evans Chair, Concept One and Fabian Ross CEO, WA Super) who put the requirements of the membership before their own personal needs made it very enjoyable and personally fulfilling.

When you first left Club Plus Super in January 2017, you mentioned that you might take on some postgraduate studies. Did you manage to do so before taking on your new role?

I did get some study done and completed two short courses on data based decision making and aquaculture. I have an interest in both fields. I also majored in picking the kids up after school which was far more complex.

"Whatever role you under take on in the industry, make the organisation better for you being there."

Do you have an industry mentor or someone that has influenced your career in some way?

There are a range of people who have mentored me, and some that still do. I won’t call out those who currently do out of respect, they know who they are.

The one person who I will give a special mention to is the late Chairman of AMIST. This is where I started my career. Kevin Cottrill, who died recently, was an old-school accountant who taught me that cost was the most important component in business. The reason I am able to run low cost organisations is because I learned from a past master of cost control. Kevin was very much a ‘behind the scene’ person who placed importance on personal relationships.

What advice would you offer to an industry newcomer?

Whatever role you under take on in the industry, make the organisation better for you being there. Superannuation is one of the most important aspects of a person’s life, both when they start working and when they finish. Respect this fact and understand that many people had to fight to get the superannuation industry to where it is today.

What was your very first job?

My very first job was working in a hardware store in Canberra. My job was to carry all the heavy items out to customers cars (bags of cement, fertiliser etc). I suspect that this is the reason that I now like to do the heavy lifting in roles that I take on.

If you weren’t working in the finance industry, what would you like to be doing?

I suspect if my career path early in life didn’t take me into finance, I would have been a plumber or a builder. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing today, I think I might be out farming fish.

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