March 13, 2019 / 6:49 AM / in 12 days

Australia to publish pension fund ratings, pressure underperformers

SYDNEY, March 13 (Reuters) - Australia will begin publishing “heat maps” of the performance of pension funds next year and will pressure those with poor records to exit the industry, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) said on Wednesday.

Australian pension funds manage A$1.7 trillion ($1.20 trillion) in savings but lack “maturity” in governance and risk management practices, APRA Deputy Chair Helen Rowell said in a speech published on the regulator’s website.

The sector is under pressure to lift standards and improve accountability following a public inquiry last year which exposed widespread misconduct in the financial industry.

“APRA will deliver greater transparency on the industry’s operations, performance and delivery of outcomes, and also on the actions we are taking to lift behaviour and practices across the industry,” Rowell said.

“We expect to begin making public our view of fund performance at a more granular level – our heat maps, if you like.”

The data would include performance metrics for individual retirement funds and their products, encompassing investment performance, fees and costs, insurance, and sustainability, she said.

Insights would be harnessed from the data to identify underperforming funds and products, and the entities responsible for them would be targeted with intensified supervision.

“If trustees are unable or unwilling to respond appropriately, we will be urging them to seriously consider whether restructuring or exiting the industry is in their members’ best interests,” Rowell said.

The powerful independent inquiry known as a Royal Commission took aim at regulators such as APRA as well as trustees and publicly listed financial firms, saying the watchdogs too often were reluctant to take wrongdoers to court.

Rowell said it was a “pity” that a bill to boost APRA’s powers had not yet been passed by parliament, adding: “Our ability to compel action is more limited than we would like.”

“But we will be using whatever tools and powers we have to get action,” she said.

The government has said it will act on the inquiry’s recommendations, which included steps to ensure APRA worked more closely with the corporate regulator, the Australian Consumer and Investment Commission, to seek civil penalties for trustees that do not act in the best interests of their clients.

$1 = 1.4166 Australian dollars Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Stephen Coates

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