Redesigning superannuation for millenials

Published 6 min read

You’d never guess it, but Superannuation in Australia is probably the best designed industry ever… for the wrong reasons. Paul Bennetts sums this up pretty well with his regular slam on traditional superfunds:

The problem with today’s superannuation funds is that they thrive on being disengaged from their customers.

I come from a long history of working at — and running — startups, so to me not engaging with customers is a direct route to declining growth. However in superannuation — the less contact these funds have with you, the less you’ll consider your other options.

This technique works because they rely on financial illiteracy. To the average consumer, funds are compared solely on their fees rather than the net return of the portfolio. The result is people bragging that their super fund has the lowest fees even if it’s returning 4% per annum.

Investing in the Future

Spaceship started in mid-2016 as a response to a pretty obvious question. Take a look at the five most valuable companies in the world today — four of them are technology companies that are literally reinventing the way society works. So, why am I not seeing these incredible technology companies in my superannuation portfolio? Where are the Googles and Apples of the world?

The answer was simple — a company, a new type of super fund, where you can get exposure in “Apple, Google, Uber, Tesla and more”. It was a purely tech-focused superannuation fund with a portfolio of U.S. tech giants.

While the changes to the portfolio to support a more diverse range of companies was important, the biggest change was in our mission: “Spaceship will be the first super fund to invest where the world is going, not where it’s been.” Technology companies as we know them now might not always be at the forefront of innovation. So now we don’t just invest in technology, we invest in the future.

In September 2016 around the time I came onboard, we raised $1.6M from some of the greatest entrepreneurs in Australia, including Mike Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian and Jane Lu of ShowPo. That helped us scale up our marketing efforts, hire some incredibly talented individuals and grow a waitlist of 28,000 people.

February and March were spent working on our “beta” member portal (as well as some other under-the-hood projects) and rolling over our entire waitlist over the phone, one-by-one. Our customers believed in what we’re doing and their faith was the reason we had been able to grow so fast.

In June, we raised $19.5M from some of the best VC firms in the world, including New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Sequoia Capital and Valar Ventures.

Spaceship was a challenge and a rare opportunity. The romance of startups and disruption has spread into every other industry — education, recruiting, travel, music. But superannuation has been left seemingly untouched by the trend. Maybe it’s time we took a look at our super and wondered whether it could be more.

The Product

Every designer knows the difference between a good product and a great product is the amount of thought given to the details. Coincidentally, it’s also what separates a startup from the modern technology company. In most cases, you’ll find yourself re-engineering some element of human behaviour. So the more natural it feels, the more successful the product.

As Ed Chao observed in his article on Influencing Redesign:

Getting a complete redesign to happen isn’t easy. Redesigning each and every component is hard enough. But do you know what’s even harder? Convincing everyone in your organisation to get on board with the idea.

It doesn’t matter if your company has fifteen people or fifteen-hundred, influencing redesign at an organisational level requires focus and perseverance. However, for the first time in my career, I’ve found myself faced with a challenge much bigger than redesigning elements, components, a website or even an entire brand identity.

At Spaceship, we were on a mission to redesign an entire industry.

male putting sticky notes on wall
Photo by Startaê Team / Unsplash

Redesigning Superannuation

Most of my time at Spaceship was spent on a total redesign to bring us from aspiring upstart to scalable company. I spent the first few months at Spaceship studying superannuation and what I found didn't surprise me — the disengagement from customers, the focus on comparing fees over performance and the general lack of empathy for people.

Once you’ve gained some insight into the industry you operate in, you can see why things are the way they are and locate areas that are ripe for disruption. The problem we had is that we were looking for inspiration in existing super funds, but what we’re doing simply hadn’t been done. According to Rice Warner, there’s 214 regulated RSE holders in Australia and to me as a financially illiterate millennial, they’re all the same.

It’s not just polishing a landing page or updating a style guide — we were targeting the traditional views of an industry considered “boring”. We looked through Dribbble and Behance to find some outlandish concepts but there was nothing. Nobody wants to redesign super because it’s too hard or boring — they’d rather be doing the 300th concept redesign of Facebook.

So, we shifted our sights to broader horizons — wealth management, savings and payments. While superannuation isn’t innovative in design, companies like N26, Zero, Stripe and RobinHood are revolutionising the way we think about finance management. That’s the sort of future we wanted for Spaceship.

Concept for the Spaceship Dashboard

Designing for Trust

According to Paul (and probably most tech founders as it’s such a cliché ideology): “our customers are what matter most”. As such, understanding your potential and existing customers through direct engagement is probably your quickest route to finding out why someone uses your product or why they don’t and what’s holding them back from using it more.

The practicality of Product Design theory means that user engagement has become a fundamental study that influences what and how you design. For every product, there’s an infinite number of features to build and the same amount of ways those features can fail. A better solution would be to reach out and listen to your customers, create empathy and learn what to build.

You can build many things through design other than the product itself — accessibility, security and emotional triggers. But Spaceship is a super fund, it was our sole purpose to provide benefits on or after your retirement. So we needed to design the hardest, most important thing of all — trust.

Past, Present and People

A company’s legacy influences its design just as much as its future does. Inspiration can be found in both the past and present, so it's important to look at what’s currently being done in your company and others. How does this tie in with how your customers feel and your own views of the future?

The biggest question to answer when influencing redesign is “why”. Design without purpose is meaningless. For Spaceship, the answer was transparency. Transparency is most easily conveyed through simple design, however sometimes requires more intricate methods of visualisation to understand the core of a particular concept or issue. Sometimes there’s a lot of content, sometimes a little, but the important thing is that it’s clear.

The break from the lazy modern concepts of minimalism and flat UI that the original Spaceship styleguide had paved the way for some great social media marketing potential and gave us a unique identity to work with. However it became clear through our initial member portal that it doesn’t translate well into a user interface and it affects the one principle that we wanted to aim for — clarity.

white paper
Photo by Harpal Singh / Unsplash

People are at the heart of any company. Even if you sell to government or businesses, they’re still just collections of people. Super is about people too — their lives, their careers, growing old and managing wealth.

I loved the work we did at Spaceship and I hope they find the persistence to truly disrupt the superannuation industry.

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