As a woman with $154k in my super fund, I am an outlier


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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.

154k super outlier karren

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.

This article first appeared on FS Super

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Karren Vergara is a financial journalist with Financial Standard, covering wealth management, including superannuation, banking and financial planning. Prior to becoming a journalist, she was an accountant for more 10 years. She has a diploma in journalism and Bachelor's degree in business, both from UTS.
Bob down
March 20, 2021 8.32am

You failed to mention that switching investment options cost you money, due to the sell price and buy price being different. So every time you switch your super balance will reduce and take time to recover.

My financial advisor recently told me that I should have be in any option lower than the default, as even with market crashes the market always recovers.

Super is a long term investment, the best thing you can do is add some extra dollars per week in the early years of working and with compounding interest you will be thousands ahead by retirement age.

Justin Willis
January 20, 2022 9.37am

You need to get a new financial advisor.

Tracey Kelsall
March 20, 2021 11.01am

Simply being a woman who knows how much they have in Super makes you an outlier.

I'm pleased to be an outlier also. But I have contributed extra from day one and only had a 6 month break where I was not employed (my choice). I did take a chunk of unpreserved funds out to pay off my mortgage before my 30th birthday, however I don't regret that decision.

Rod F
March 20, 2021 3.54pm

Hi Karren, Congratulations on your super progress so far. With time, your balance should accumulate nicely. Compounding remains a miracle!

I appreciate the way you have outlined your progress. Much that we need to address is about the impact of caring roles and career breaks arising for several reasons. I like your reasoned discussion which is about more than just a gender division. There really is so much more in this than just the gender discussion and I appreciate how you have widened it through your experience. I look forward to hearing more of your observations.

Josh J
March 23, 2021 9.30am

If you look alittle deeper your low balance problem may be due more to your high cash percentage and you market timing strategy. It sounds like you have sold down to cash after each crash, did you get back in before or after the rise?

Malcolm Rogerd
March 27, 2021 9.24am

Congratulations on your super you have more than I have and I'm a male some of my friends don't even have that much I wish I was in your position

Alex Frame
March 27, 2021 2.55pm

I'm 58 and just saw my super top 300k . It's money i never expected so when i turn 65 I'm going to pull it all out go down to the Star and place it on black.

Double or nothing.

justin willis
April 7, 2021 3.06pm

(I doubt the moderator will let this get published because its the truth, which is not in fashion in 2021)

Ladies, want to end up with the same financial outcomes as a man? Here's how:

1) Don't go to Uni and major in worthless degrees, or degrees in fields that pay badly. Men are not "falling behind women at Uni" we are just avoiding a bad investment which is what most degrees (apart from STEM) are these days.

2) Don't spend your pay on worthless stuff like $300 haircuts and dresses, fake nails, fake eyelashes.

3) Work 41hrs a week (like men do on average) instead of 35.6hrs per week that you are doing (source: ABS data)

4) Choose to work on that big project or tender at work instead of throwing your workmates under the bus at the last minute so you can go to see your daughters ballet recital.

You're welcome.

Peta Fairweather
December 29, 2021 5.27pm

I get #1 and #2. Number 3 is completely dependent on your stage of life. If you have a husband/partner who refuses to share care of the children and childcare isn't an option or is too expensive, someone has to do it. #4 - you can't buy some things. Like time. Or memories.

Basically you are saying if you want decent super, be a man. What a pathetic thing to say.

Edit: 45yo female with 2 teenage children, husband who works PT and was a SAHD and has 500K in super.

Justin Willis
December 30, 2021 4.08pm

"Basically you are saying if you want decent super, be a man. What a pathetic thing to say."

...and yet here you are, with your husband staying at home and raising your children, and you going out and working full-time, hence the healthy Super balance you have.

I am guessing you've done a lot of hours and sacrificed a lot to get where you are at 45yo. So good for you. However, its no doubt come at a cost of not seeing your kids much I suspect. There is no free lunch, just compromises and choice.

Your life choices are literally proving my point for me. Hilarious. Guess my comment isn't that pathetic after all. You might not like my opinion, but its the truth. Whether you would like it to be the truth or not is irrelevant.

Christie No
December 29, 2021 11.04pm

I tend to agree on girls spending money on worthless stuff. I'm a woman and feel like an outlier since I can't justify $300 haircuts, eyelash extensions or god how much are botoxed lips??? Then again maybe men buy stupid shit too.

I commonly tell people my opinion around the gender pay gap as exactly what you said: women don't work as much as men on average. And we don't want to. Many of us want to work part time and make the ballet recitals. I wouldn't expect to be paid as much as my male colleagues as I only work a 4 day week to be at home with my daughter and see her grow. I don't know anyone make and female who works the same hours doing exactly the same job who are paid differently unless it is based on commission or performance?? Weird that we are having that discussion. Let's divide pay by contracted hours and years of experience then....

Nancy Peters
April 30, 2021 4.19pm

I really appreciate this honest account of your experience with Super. I came to Australia in 1992 as a corporate transfer. With the same company. Our UK pension scheme was non- contributory and I worked for the UK company for 11 years from my mid twenties to my mid thirties and had two children during my maternity leave I presume my pension contributions continued to be paid.

When I arrived here I used to receive a statement telling me my Pension balance but I could not transfer it without a big loss due to tax and fees. Then the laws changed and, using a specialist advisor, I could transfer it. At the time my stated balance was UKP 250000. When the transfer was effected, they transferred UKP 500000. Kismet indeed.

After a similar period of working here my Colonial Bank Super had amassed $300000.

I was given no information about Super and remained largely ignorant until much later.

Now, in my 60s, I have a small amount of Super having invested largely in my principal residence. I keep it in cash having long ago decided that the author of 'Where are the customers' Yachts' was right. Investing is just gambling, and I am not interested in that.