Women in Super member Mel Birks is in the Women in Super spotlight this month. One of her great motivations for working in this industry is one that she shares with many of our exceptional members: to make sure that members who have more modest balances still get access to good, low-cost products as their super is pooled with other members to get the best deal.
“I commenced work in super at the Australian Taxation Office where I was an advisor to an Assistant Commissioner for Superannuation on issues relating to policy, lost super, Senate enquiries and the like,” Mel remembers. Although having changed positions since then and having worked in marketing, relationship management and customer experience, she finds that her role now has not significantly differed from the one she had in her early career days. “I have a more senior role now and am working for a different organisation,” Mel says. “But I still assess and analyse policy impacts of super and explain it to my stakeholders.”
Asked what she considers as her most significant success in her career so far, Mel does not have to think twice: “Coordinating the Compare the Pair campaign in its first year with 17 super funds. I learnt a lot about the importance of a shared vision, working collaboratively and having a commitment to ensuring members get the best outcomes for their super.”
The enthusiastic owner of a kelpie who gets her out of bed every morning to go for a walk, has also learnt that it is essential for her to work somewhere where everyone demonstrates the values the organisation espouses, she says. It is something she learned the hard way at a previous workplace. It was an experience that she now files under “not enjoyable”, but also under “new learnings”.
Working in superannuation, for her, bears many highlights: “I’ve worked with so many great people in the industry including women such as Debby Blakey, Anne-Marie Corboy and Louise Davidson. In my first role in industry super I was also lucky enough to work with Garry Weaven, one of the founders of super in Australia – a true visionary.”
Mel is in particular inspired by Debby Blakey, the CEO of HESTA: “I think Debby Blakey is a great role model, she is smart, emotionally intelligent and always has her members’ best interests at the forefront of any decision she makes for the fund.”
Speaking of visionary, Mel has a clear idea of what the superannuation industry will look like in ten years from now: “There will be considerably fewer super funds and super accounts than there are today, and those funds that remain will need to continue to deliver low-cost products, with solid returns.” She also thinks that there will be an increased focus on retirement products as more people move into that phase of life.
Her motto is: “The most important thing in super when all is said and done, is making sure members can maximise the money they have in super to ensure a dignified retirement. To be successful, we’ll need to continue to put our members’ interests first, be adaptable to changing technology and be able to prosecute our case when policymakers come up with less than ideal proposals.”
And where does she see herself in ten years’ time? “Still working in super in a role that allows me to continue to work to improve retirement outcomes for working Australians and in particular, women. It’s important to me that members who have more modest balances still get access to good, low cost products as their super is pooled with other members to get the best deal. Those goals are what motivate me to work in the industry.”
Mel Birks is a Director of Women in Super, the Chair of the VIC Committee and a long-standing member of the Mother’s Day Classic organising committee in Melbourne.