As a woman with $154k in my super fund, I am an outlier
I am a nearly 40-year-old female with over $154,000 in superannuation. That makes me an outlier.
Measure after measure corroborates woeful facts that as a woman, I am expected to retire with about 45% less than men and that my balance should currently sit at $60,000.
After 22 years in the workforce, my super balance has never received an additional cent in contributions.
I recently came back from maternity leave after one year. During my 20s, I took months off to travel and had sporadic but protracted periods of unemployment in between jobs that string together to leave an indelible hole in my bank and super account. I've taken hard-to-swallow pay cuts to switch industries, and been fearful of salary negotiations that asked for more or the same amount my male counterparts earn.
Topping it all off, I had multiple superannuation accounts with costly retail funds running simultaneously with insurance cover I did not know I was entitled to - which I probably would not have been able to claim.
How I managed to more than double my nest egg compared to the average balance is nothing short of a superannuation-gender gap miracle.
Entering the workforce at 16, I remember being bewildered by filling out my first-ever superannuation-application form. What was a binding death nomination? I have a younger brother. Does that mean he's my dependent? Or was I a dependent?
When it came to the investments section, there was an option to "default". I didn't like the sound of that, so I opted to split my contributions across eight asset classes to add up to 100%.
I distinctly recall that Australian shares was at the top of the list by happenstance and allocated a nice, neat figure of 40% to it, followed by international shares, which also received 40%.
With my Year 10 commerce education in tow, I knew leaving my cash in the bank would guarantee interest, so I allocated the remaining 20% to the cash option.
That was a fun exercise, I thought to myself, and oddly gratifying to have a vague level of control for something I had no language or enough understanding for.
So, for every job I started and super fund application form I had to fill out thereafter, I never deviated from splitting my money across 40% Aussie and international shares respectively, and leaving 20% in cash.
At the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, I was working for an investment bank when the financial world started to implode. As stock markets and capital markets crumbled, a sage colleague told me that he moved all his superannuation to cash. I did the same thing.
In mid-2009, as signs of recovery began to flicker, he told me that he went back to equities. I did the same thing. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and ravaged the markets, I moved everything to cash. Four months later, I reverted to my 40-40-20 split.
You could hardly say that I was 'engaged' with my super. I left multiple accounts open only to bleed fees for a decade. Prior to becoming a financial journalist for the super fund and investment sectors four years ago, I had no idea what industry or retail funds were, or what a MySuper product was.
Even after years of studying and working in accounting, the concept of 9.5% superannuation did not leave the confines of my employment contract.
The critical importance of superannuation to me now is the by-product of occupational hazardry.
I took my Gen-Z brother out of a pitiful lifecycle product and yanked my husband out of a crummy industry fund that took 10 business days to implement investment switches (it was 20 March 2020 by the time the fund moved all his savings to cash and, by that stage, the market had plunged 30%, leaving me infuriated).
The fact that I will retire with a hefty nest egg propped up by an overreliance on equities and unsolicited intra-fund advice is underwritten purely by kismet.
To think what could have been if I knew my way around the superannuation system back then - to understand what 'Superannuation Guarantee' meant or the difference between bonds and equities from as young as 14 years and nine months - would solve the much-decried superannuation and financial literacy gap.
The thought of quantifying the financial literacy and socioeconomic capital opportunity costs are distressing and growing.
I wish that all hard-working, low-income earning women who leave the workforce to have kids; don't have the confidence to ask for a pay rise; or cannot work but want to work because they are experiencing domestic violence have the same luck.
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