Industry Super Funds

Learn the essentials of industry super funds and how to compare them.

Last updated on April 29th, 2022 at 04:32 pm by Adrian Edlington

Compare Industry Super Funds in Australia

Industry super funds are now a big part of the Australian superannuation market, but what makes them different and how do they compare to other types of super fund? Find the answers you’re looking for with this comprehensive guide.

What is an industry super fund?

Industry superannuation funds are one of several types of super fund available to Australian workers. Industry super funds were originally set up specifically to service specific industries (hence the name), but most are now open to the general public.

In 1991/92, the Australian government introduced what’s called the “Superannuation Guarantee”, which made it a legal requirement for your employer to pay a portion of your wages (initially 3%, now 9.5%) into a super fund. At the time, both unions and employer organisations were keen to prevent retail superannuation funds from forcing high fees on members, so a number of industry super funds were set up to service many of the major industry sectors and provide a viable low-fee super option for those workers.

While initially only workers in those industries could join the fund, most industry funds have become what’s called “public offer funds” since then, meaning they’re now open to anyone to join. The table below is a snapshot of some of the industry super funds available to Australians and the industries they were originally set up to support.

Industry super fund Target industry
CBus
Construction and building
Energy Super
Energy, renewables and electrical
First Super
Furniture, joinery, paper and timber
HESTA
Healthcare and community services
Hostplus
Hospitality and retail
Legalsuper
Legal professionals
Maritime Super
Maritime
Media Super
Print, media, entertainment and arts
MTAA Super
Motoring and small business
REI Super
Real estate
TWUSUPER
Transport
UniSuper
University employees

How does an industry super fund work?

For the most part, Industry super funds work the same way as any superannuation fund. Every payday, your employer diverts part of your income into your super fund – generally 9.5% (although you can choose to contribute more). The super fund then takes that money and invests it in a variety of ways, which might be a mix of shares, property, and more stable investments like business loans. The money will slowly grow over time, until eventually you reach retirement age when you can access the money – either as a single lump sum or as a long series of regular payments (effectively acting as a wage for your retirement).

Most funds also have additional products offered as part of the package, including affordable insurance for loss of income, permanent disability and loss of life. Some also offer other services, such as financial advice. The fees for these services are generally paid out of your super.

How do industry super funds differ from retail super funds?

The main way that industry super funds differ from retail funds is how they handle profits. Industry super funds are what’s known as profit to member organisations. Retail super funds are generally owned by shareholders, meaning that part of the profits made by the fund go back to them. By contrast, industry super funds generally cycle those profits back to members of the fund, which show up as lower fees and better returns on your super. This difference means industry super funds can be a competitive super option and can often offer very good returns.

Sometimes, retail super funds can have more options on offer for their members. They might have more control over investments or more insurance choices or financial advice options as a way to attract customers. However, aside from this, publicly available industry super funds run quite similarly to retail funds.

How do I compare industry super funds?

You should compare an industry super fund to its competitors in the same way as you would with any superannuation product, asking the same sort of questions:

  • What sort of fees does the fund have? – This will often be different depending on the amount of super you have saved – fees can be charged as a flat rate, as a percentage of your super balance, or often as a combination of both. They might be general admin fees, investment management fees, or specific fees for things like changing investment options or activating a financial advice service.
  • What returns has the fund seen in the last 5-10 years? – Remember to compare similar kinds of fund (including balanced, growth and MySuper) over the same time period wherever possible – comparing different time periods won’t give you a reliable measure.
  • Does the fund have options for the sort of investment strategies I want? – That could mean lots of options or one simple choice, depending on your preference. Many funds have options for high risk “growth” strategies, balanced strategies with a mix of risk, and safer “conservative” strategies with lower returns. Most also have a default, low fee “MySuper” option. Remember, though, that industry super funds can have less flexibility with investment options.
  • Is there insurance or any other services that I want from a super fund? –How do they compare in terms of the premiums, coverage and other options that I’m looking for? Do they have a financial advice service if I need it?

Are industry super funds the only profit-to-member funds on the market?

No – public sector funds and some corporate funds operate on a similar model to industry super funds, but they’re often only available to a very specific group of employees. These are government workers in the first case and employees of a specific company in the second. If you have access to one of those funds, it’s definitely worth considering as you compare your super options. They’re off limits to most workers, though.

The advantage of industry super funds is that they’re profit-to-member funds that are available to everyone. Technically, a self-managed super fund is also a profit-to-member fund, but that’s generally because you’re doing most of the work of investing and managing the profits yourself. That’s a lot more complicated and generally not a worthwhile option for the average Australian worker.

What investment options will I have with an industry super fund?

Pros and cons of using an industry super fund

PROS

Profit-to-member structure – The setup of an industry super fund means that there’s less overheads thanks to a lack of shareholder ownership, improving meaning more profits being returned to members.

Good performance, lower fees – As a result of being more cost efficient, industry super funds rank among the highest return funds, and often have very low fees.

Often invested in Australian infrastructure – Industry super funds often invest in unlisted assets, which includes Australian infrastructure such as bridges, roads, shopping centres, airports and public transport – often directly applicable to their focus industry.

Good alignment with a specific industry – Although most are now open to any new members, many industry super funds continue to invest in and support their focus industry so people working in that industry are helping themselves by using the fund.

Not owned by a bank or financial institution – Many workers appreciate the fact that their super isn’t controlled by a large corporation, but rather run by – and for – members.

CONS

Less investment options – As a rule, industry super funds have less options and flexibility than retail funds when it comes to how your money is invested. For example, only one Australian industry super fund offers a lifecycle investment strategy (that’s an investment strategy that progressively changes its level of risk over your lifetime).

Less perks – Retail super funds come with various services attached as added perks – such as financial advice, or the ability to view your superannuation balance when accessing your normal bank accounts. Most industry funds can’t offer the same level of added extras.

Unlisted assets – The fact that industry super funds invest a lot of unlisted assets means much of their members’ funds are tied up in assets that are potentially hard to value and tricky to sell.

Often industry specific – Although the specific focus of some industry super funds can be great for workers in that industry, members who aren’t part of that industry might not benefit as much from the way the funds invests funds and runs.

Some profits spent on advertising – Although industry super funds don’t have to pay shareholders and don’t pay commissions to financial planners, some of the profits do go into advertising to attract new members. This can take a cut out of member returns.

Frequently asked questions about industry super funds

What are some of the biggest industry super funds in Australia?

Industry super funds are very well represented on the Australian market. In December 2020, six of the ten largest Australian super funds by membership were industry funds. Some of the biggest industry superfunds in Australia include:

  • AustralianSuper
  • Aware Super
  • HESTA
  • HOSTPLUS
  • REST
  • Sunsuper
Can anyone join an industry super fund?

This depends on the fund. The majority of industry super funds are now public offer funds, which means that anyone can join. This is why some individual industry super funds are amongst the largest in membership across Australia. There are still a few industry superfunds that are restricted to members of a specific industry, however. UniSuper, for example, is run specifically for staff of Australian universities and the research sector (and their family members). If you have access to a restricted membership industry fund, it’s worth investigating – they can be a very good option.

Can I switch out of an industry super fund if I want to?

Generally, you can switch out of a super fund at any point – Australian law allows you to have multiple super funds and move your super between them as you see fit. There are a few instances where an employer is required to pay your super into a specific fund (this is more often the case with public sector super funds when you’re working in government), but even in those cases there’s nothing to stop you starting a separate super fund and transferring your super into that, even while you’re still working in the role.

Can I switch into an industry super fund?

You can switch into most of the major industry super funds, as they’re open to all members. It’s just a matter of setting up an account with the fund and rolling your super over into it. You can’t switch into a fund that’s limited to workers of a specific industry unless you’re currently working in that industry. That also means you should think carefully about leaving a fund with restricted membership, as you may not be able to get back in once you’re out.

What happens to my super if I leave my industry?

Most industry super funds – even those restricted to a specific industry – will still allow you to remain a member of the fund even if you’ve now left the industry. As long as you don’t shut down the fund, you can still use it. This can prove to be very handy, as sometimes even a short-term role in that industry can potentially give you access to the industry super fund.

Can my family use the same industry super fund as me?

Generally, yes. Industry super funds that are open to the public are accessible to anyone. However, even funds with membership restricted to a specific industry sometimes allow close family to make use of the fund. It very much depends on the fund though, so you should do some homework and read up on the fund to be sure. Additionally, your chances are probably better if your family member opens their account while you’re still working in the industry yourself – many funds allow you to maintain old accounts once you’re no longer in the industry, but not open new accounts.

What other types of super fund are there?

There are various alternatives to industry super funds on the market, although not all of them are available to the general public

  • Retail funds – A commercial superannuation fund run as a traditional financial business.

 

  • Public sector funds – Normally set up by the government specifically for public sector employees.

 

  • Corporate funds – Generally set up by companies specifically for their own staff.

 

  • Self-managed super funds – A special type of fund where up to four people manage their own super investments.

 

  • Other fund types – There are also a few other types of funds (such as eligible rollover funds) that do specific, specialised
Are industry super funds better than other types of fund?

The main advantage that industry super funds have over retail funds is the fact that they’re profit to member. Because industry superfunds don’t have shareholders that they provide financial returns to, they can put a little more of their profits back into their members’ funds, giving them an edge in terms of returns and fees. That doesn’t mean that a good retail fund with highly experienced and clever investment managers can’t compete with an industry super fund, but it gives industry super funds an edge that means they often perform very well compared to other types of fund.

How many industry super funds are there in Australia?

As of March 2021, there were 34 Australian industry super funds on the Australian superannuation market. Between them, those 34 funds have more than 11 million members – out of 24.4 million accounts total in the super industry.

What is the best industry super fund for me?

To answer this question, you need to start with what you’re looking for in a super fund. One person might simply be looking for the best returns and lowest fees – and those figures aren’t hard to find. Another person might be looking for the best ethical investment option, so they might make a list of funds advertising ethical investments and go from there. A third person might have specific life insurance needs, so they might need to be calling around different insurance providers. Figure out what your priority is, and work from there.

What ethical investments do industry super funds offer?

It’s worth doing a little homework on exactly what each fund means by “ethical”. Currently, there’s no real standard within the industry about what counts as ethical. Most funds consider issues like renewable energy and exploiting labour laws to be ethical issues, while some may include stem-cell research. The Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA) tries to regulate ethical investments, but you don’t have to be accredited to call your investments ethical.

Are there industry super funds that are also defined benefit funds?

There are industry super funds that have defined benefit accounts, but you most likely won’t have access to them. Defined benefit funds are a kind of superannuation fund that offers a guaranteed investment return. Most industry super fund accounts will be accumulation funds; they’re subject to market fluctuation, and their returns fluctuate from year to year. Defined benefit funds don’t do that – they offer the same rate every year, without fluctuating. As a result, they’re highly sought after and not very popular with super funds as the fund itself shoulders the risk of a bad investment year.