Stakeholder analysis by #ASFA starts at the wrong end

In the December 2013 edition of Superfunds magazine, the CEO of ASFA, in her regular column, discusses the three major groupings of stakeholders in the superannuation system in Australia. In order, they were listed as 1) policy makers, 2) the general community and 3) individual fund members. When listing the fund members as the third group, the author said that individual fund members are “arguably for many, the most important”.

If I were writing that column, I would have reversed the order and dropped the “arguably” clause. Fund members are the most important stakeholders. The rest simply do not matter.

Policy makers have an interest in the workings of the superannuation system and its efficacy, but that does not make them stakeholders. People working in the superannuation sector should not have regard to the policy makers wishes when going about their daily business of servicing members. Policy makers, that is, governments, are elected by the democratic process. The policy makers are answerable to the voters. They survive as policy makers depending on how good their policies are. The superannuation sector, to the extent it changes behaviour or modifies a decision etc to cater for policy makers as a perceived stakeholder, can only do so by reducing the emphasis on acting solely for the real stakeholders, the members. It is not our duty to look out for the policy makers but it is our duty to do the best we can for the fund members, given the set of policies that are in place.

The broader community is clearly not a stakeholder. Chatter in the streets, for example about forcing superannuation funds to cease investing in tobacco businesses, is merely chatter.  The broader community cannot be identified. “Name them, who are they?” as Margaret Thatcher once swiped George Negus with. There is scope for some people or groups to act on their perceived notions of what the broader community wants. Ordinarily, they can use their own time and money to act for social change. However, there should be no place for them to use other people’s money, as in superannuation savings of fund members, as a means of pushing social change based on their own views and in a position of being accountable to no-one. 

There is no such thing as society, only individual people. As economic agents lucky enough to be trusted to work in the superannuation sector, we should be answering to fund members alone.