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If You Don't Understand the Consumer, You Don't Have a Business

What are consumers worried about? What are they thinking about? What do they want?

As the CEO of the Financial Services Council, obviously I have to understand what my members want and need across our portfolios of wealth, funds and asset management, life insurance, superannuation, financial advice networks and trustee companies, but it's also very important to me to understand what consumers are thinking about.

I came into the financial services sector after a long and diverse career in the media and the corporate world, and also, importantly, as a consumer of financial services. Like many Australians I have life insurance, a superannuation fund, an asset manager and a financial adviser.

I learned about consumer-focused businesses during my nine years as an executive in a top 30 ASX-listed food, beverage and alcohol company. Constant testing of the market, listening to consumers and making sure their needs and desires were met – and surprising and delighting them with innovative new products they didn’t know they wanted - was embedded in the DNA of the company.

Prior to that I spent five and half years as a broadcaster on Sydney talkback radio, taking calls and listening for hours to peoples’ views on, well almost everything. We discussed Federal politics and the economy, sport, art, cars, travel, health, life and death – and of course the perennial Sydney issues - which school to send the kids to and real estate. I soon learned however that my ABC listeners right across Sydney and NSW had a strong and unquenched desire for knowledge about money – how to make it, invest it and make it grow. I could have filled entire programs with experts talking about financial services, such was the depth of interest.  

Today, running the peak body for financial services in Australia, it's important to me that I don’t lose sight of the consumer. From a consumer's perspective, financial services touches every part of our lives. It is the biggest sector in the national economy, providing 451,000 jobs across Australia. Every one of us has super; it's compulsory.

One of the things I've been thinking about a lot is how can we get younger people engaged in super? It's a significant investment. I’ve been practicing on my own Millennials – my son, 23 and daughter, 21 – getting them to understand the value of super from their very first pay slips, understanding where that 9.5 per cent of their wage goes, explaining the magic of compound interest.  It’s starting to work. My son merged all his small funds using the ASIC MoneySmart app. If it’s on a smartphone, they’ll engage.

On a broader scale, I’ve been talking and writing quite a bit about funds management – not an obvious consumer product – but a very important one. Australia’s 24-year-old compulsory superannuation system has created a healthy ecosystem of $2 trillion of funds under management, which in turn has enabled the development of a globally competitive and expert pool of fund managers.

It's become a valuable niche in the economy, with enormous potential to contribute to Australia's growth through exports. At the FSC we've been working hard with stakeholders to remove barriers to enable more overseas consumers to purchase our funds management expertise and products.

The FSC represents the interests of this diverse and important industry – financial services.  We continually advocate for policy outcomes which not only enable the sector to deliver innovative services to consumers, but also help strengthen the economy as a whole. 

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Sally Loane is the CEO of the Financial Services Council

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