Superannuation and Christianity – do they fit together?
3 ways to reconsider your super
The Bible commands: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). So does this mean it’s wrong to accumulate superannuation?
CEO of Christian Super, Ross Piper, doesn’t think so.
“There’s actually a deep scriptural principle and biblical practice around [financial] planning and provision,” he argues.
“Take budgeting, for example. Thinking about what are the means or the needs we have in our life, and how do we appropriately plan for those things, is entirely consistent with what superannuation is actually about …
“As people of faith, we should be embracing good stewardship and planning in all aspects of our lives.”
Australia’s compulsory superannuation system means we don’t have a choice about setting aside some of our income for retirement. But rather than just allowing our superannuation payments to flow unseen into any old fund, Piper encourages Christians to be active in the way they think about and steward these finances.
“Superannuation typically is seen as somewhat of an un-sexy proposition that nobody thinks about until they are about to retire,” he tells Eternity.
“If it’s all about the money and the bank balance when you retire, I think we’ve missed the point.” – Ross Piper
“Well, we think for people of faith, even if you’re in your early twenties, [you should] have the option to make good choices and good decisions about how you try to build and grow your super. And your money can actually be working very hard for you in ways that are deeply aligned with your values and beliefs,” he says.
Piper identifies three ways in which Christians should reconsider their superannuation.
“There’s a misnomer that retirement is the conclusion of meaningful work,” says Piper.
“We see these advertisements on television spruiking superannuation, and you see a frosted image of an elderly couple walking on the beach collecting shells. But we [at Christian Super] think the idea of a purposeful retirement is critically important.”
He points to “countless stories” of people who have an “incredible season of service” after they conclude paid work.
“Retirement can be a season where the fruits of [our Christian] character are most abundantly expressed and used,” says Piper. “All the experience and perspective that people gain throughout a lifetime of service – whether that’s in paid work, in ministry or caring for and raising for a family – can benefit those around us enormously.”
Now 51, Piper says he has been challenged personally to reject the “one-dimensional view of retirement that we’re sold in Australia”.
“Retirement is just a point in time where you stop earning money but you keep serving,” he says.
For Christians, Piper says this means being “very deliberate and intentional” when thinking about how to your time – especially how you will serve. A direct flow-on is how you will spend your money in retirement.
“Scripture talks about us as stewards and the fact that everything we have – whether it’s our earnings, whether it’s what sits in our super account or the other assets we have – is actually not ours. They all belong to God,” says Piper.
“As stewards of those things, we’re called to plan well but, equally, we are called to be generous. So if it’s all about the money and the bank balance when you retire, I think we’ve missed the point.”
Profits and ethical investments should not be incompatible, according to Ross Piper
When thinking about superannuation from a biblical perspective, Piper suggests considering the need to be financially generous before and throughout retirement.
“Often, churches are not all that good at talking about money or they only talk about it when they need it,” he says.
“We believe it’s really important to teach a theology of generosity and theology of stewardship. And we think superannuation is a core part of our ability to live as productive people in our community and society, contributing both in our working lives but also in our non-paid, post-retirement lives.”
Eternity asked Piper what matters more when it comes to superannuation – profits or ethical investment decisions?
“The two should not be incompatible … There’s a growing body of knowledge and evidence that would actually suggest that taking an ethical approach to your investments does not detract from but rather enhances returns.
“For some time there was always a view that surely if you’re taking the ethical approach, it must compromise your returns. In fact, the opposite is now starting to build as an investment case.”
He gives examples of the tobacco industry – which Christian Super has not invested in for 20 years – and non-renewable energy resources.
“These industries and sectors might be profitable in the short term, but as a long-term investment, they are very poor investments,” says Piper.
While he admits that his, and other superannuation funds, have a legal duty to “invest every dollar in the best financial interest of their members”, Piper reiterates this can be done through ethical investing.
As part of its ethical investment strategy, Christian Super allocates 10 per cent of its $2 billion funds under management to “impact investments”. These investments are guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to solve some of the world’s biggest problems – such as poverty, providing equal access to clean water, healthcare and education; and climate justice.
“This approach to investing is geared to not only deliver strong financial returns but, equally, very actively targeted toward positive societal or environmental change,” Piper explains, noting “Christian Super was probably one of the first superannuation funds globally to establish an impact investing asset class.”
He gives examples: “investing in sectors such as renewable energy, socially affordable housing, financial inclusion, microfinance and healthcare in emerging markets.”
“That’s really important,” adds Piper. “The role of superannuation is to help our members retire well, with the best financial position they can – but we think in that journey towards retirement, the assets our members have can be doing remarkable things, transformative things in society or for the environment.”
“There is profound opportunity if you can start to direct capital towards things that are good for society.” – Ross Piper
Piper – who has worked previously in aid and development – believes the superannuation industry has great potential to change the world.
“There is north of $3 trillion now – bigger than Australia’s GDP – sitting in Australia’s retirement savings. And so with that scale, there is profound opportunity if you can start to direct capital towards things that are good for society or good for the planet.”
While superannuation funds play a significant role in this, Piper points to the crucial role of every person who makes super contributions.
“You’ve now got consumers, whether it’s people of faith or others, who are increasingly making ethical choices about where their money is going or where it’s not going. That in itself is driving (hopefully) a virtuous cycle where you have institutional investors thinking more and more about the social and environmental impacts that their investments are having.”
“Like any industry, superannuation is in need of reform,” Piper adds, noting such areas as fee reduction for members and improving investment performance.
“But,” he concludes, “whatever different people’s views are about what’s right or wrong in the system, the core fact is that superannuation is an enormous asset to this country.”