Superannuation system will fall short: Westpac’s BT Financial Group chief executive Brad Cooper

Australia needs to rework its superannuation system to cope with a wave of five million expected retirees by 2033, according to Westpac’s BT Financial Group chief executive Brad Cooper.

Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney last week, covered by The Weekend Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald, Cooper warned the superannuation system will fail many, despite it being the biggest pension system in the world relative to GDP.

He encouraged political parties to work together to build a system that encourages more voluntary contributions, otherwise the system will be unsustainable. But he said any tax breaks should cut out once people reach a certain level of wealth.

He said should be a formal target on how much super should aim to provide in retirement.

“To shift most super balances towards a healthy income replacement rate, we need to acknowledge the importance of voluntary contributions in our system,” Cooper said.

He says to live comfortably, retirees need to be earning 65% to 70% of their pre-retirement income, but at the current rate many won’t be able to achieve that.

“Take a 20-year old male who enters the workforce and earns an average salary of $72,000 during his working life,” Cooper said.

“He receives 12% compulsory contributions, makes no voluntary contributions and retires at 65.”

Johnson said at a rate of return of 5%, the figure used in recent government announcements, he will earn just 51% of his average salary.

“So, on the compulsory super payments alone, a person earning the average salary cannot get near the preferred income replacement rate of 70%,” Cooper said.

“When you look at the adequacy of compulsory super contributions, you realise that even those earning $90,000 a year or $120,000 a year will also have a large shortfall. They will replace just 45% and 37% respectively.”

Only those who earned $40,000 a year in their working life would reach the 70% standard, but only because of top-ups by age pension.

“Without a government age pension, they would only replace 31%,” Cooper said.

He said this should be ringing alarm bells as the system was designed to ease the burden on future generations of paying for age pension.

With retirees to represent a larger share of the economy, Cooper said that it makes economic sense to foster a system that allows retirees to live comfortably and spend on services.

“Regardless of what we think of the financial challenges facing the governments of today, they’ll be many times worse in 20 years if we do not create an adequate system of savings,” Cooper said.

“If today’s 30-year-olds are the government ages pensioners in 2050, our future economy is in real trouble.”

Alistair Walsh

Alistair Walsh

Deutsche Welle online reporter

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