Traditionally clunky administration and a disinterested customer base provide fertile ground for smart insurgents to disrupt Australia’s $2 trillion superannuation industry.

Throw in intense competition from new players and the growing appreciation by Australian consumers that they can move their super like a bank account, and incumbents are starting to feel anxious enough to make major changes.

This realisation by the senior leadership at financial services firm Mercer — which manages the retirement savings of around 1.3 million Australians — provoked the company’s business transformation program in 2014.

The senior executives didn’t know how we were going to do it, but they knew what we had to do to survive in the next decade or two decades of intense competition in our industry. That actually means looking after the customers better than anybody else,” said Cambell Holt, consumer marketing leader, Pacific, at Mercer.

Holt, who was recruited by Mercer in 2014 after eight years at ANZ, was speaking between sessions at Salesforce’s Future of Marketing event in Sydney yesterday.

The brief was to help build a best in class retail financial services business in the super space,” Holt told Which-50.

Great customer experience is not a hallmark of the superannuation industry, and historically it hasn’t operated in as much of a competitive environment as other industries, Holt explained.

If you look at an industry where typically awesome customer experience wasn’t a hallmark of the industry, it’s ripe for disruption,” Holt said.

Holt said the competitive environment is only starting to manifest now, 11 years after a legislative change which allows Australians to choose where their super goes.

Customer apathy and the disinterest that most Australians have displayed historically in their retirement savings has meant that they have been slow to pick up on the fact they can take their account anywhere they want,” Holt said.

The three-year transformation project, dubbed Super Genome Project, was unveiled to the market in 2015. The first steps were implementing the infrastructure required for the future.

I inherited a web site that was built before the iPhone was invented,” Holt joked.

The web site was rebuilt with Adobe Experience Manager, the call centre infrastructure was moved into the cloud, then Mercer built its own insights and analytics platform and implemented the Salesforce marketing cloud.

Underpinning the transformation is the belief that businesses need to be rebuilt around the notion of customer primacy, and this involves a commitment to redesign the customer journey from onboarding to retirement.

“The first place we deployed marketing automation was in the new joiner experience,” Holt said. “New customers are now taken on a fully automated 90 day experience with email, SMS, outbound telephone calls all orchestrated by Salesforce marketing cloud with the absence of human intervention.

At the other end of the journey is retirement and a much longer automated marketing campaign that begins in customers’ early sixties and lasts between three and five years. It is designed to help customers make decisions about what to do with superannuation when they are approaching retirement.

Last, not a decision we want our customers making in a hurry,” Holt explained. “A customer’s birthday will now trigger a series of automated experiences and interventions and nudges and calls to action over three, sometimes five years.

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