One of the most under-estimated attractions of having your own Self-Managed Super Fund is the power of a good story. I love stories – whether it be reading a good book, sharing my ideas with friends, or listening to a great story told by a successful entrepreneur, adventurer, close friend, or even a stranger I just met. I find stories are the best way to capture someone’s attention, make them think, influence their mood, and maybe even make decisions that change their life. One of the things I love about SMSFs is how passionate people get telling you about their SMSF story. How they got one, why they did it, what they’ve invested in, what they love about it, what they hate about it, and what they wish they did differently. Even when I think about the most memorable presentations I’ve seen from SMSF experts, what audiences love most is the stories about real people – the good, the bad, and the ugly of running your own fund. Understanding that SMSFs deliver the power of a good story better than any other super fund can really change your perspective, whether you are: a Trustee of your own SMSF, or thinking of establishing one in the business of competing with SMSFs in the superannuation industry an SMSF advisor looking to grow your SMSF business an auditor of SMSFs SMSFs made it cool to be interested in super The popularity of SMSFs has now grown so widespread some are calling this the “golden age of the SMSF”. But how did that happen? The answer is really simple – word of mouth! Like many disruptive innovations, SMSFs delivered their members new stories worth sharing with friends at a BBQ. Just like many of the “cool” start-ups today, their popularity didn’t grow through large companies with massive advertising budgets urging viewers to “compare the pair”. More often than not, the first time most people hear about SMSFs is from their friends. For Facebook users it’s the equivalent of “like” and “share”. My life viewed through my SMSF The journey of my SMSF has almost become like a biography of my life so far. Many of the major events in my life are mirrored in my SMSF in some way, and create stories in themselves. People are always impressed that I started my own SMSF when I was in my 20s. One of my first investments was to buy units in my employer’s property trust when they were expanding. I learnt a valuable lesson when I got divorced – it turned out trying to save a few dollars by choosing individual trustees was a mistake, and I had to bite the bullet and buy a trustee company. It cost a fortune to change over all my investments, but it was worth it so I never had to go through that again! I’ll never forget the first time I decided that I would contribute right up to my maximum contribution cap. I was young, self-employed and had a mortgage, yet I did it anyway SOLELY because I felt better knowing I held the fund’s cheque book. Now it’s one of my annual financial goals. When I sold our share portfolio before the GFC, I gloated constantly about the losses I avoided. And I was super proud to buy my first office premises and lease it back to my business at market value, which I never could have done without my SMSF. I once invested in shares in a hot IPO that turned $10,000 into $32,000 in 1 day, which was exciting. And I also got to invest in a software company I was super passionate about. Then there’s the times I’ve helped my parents (members of my SMSF) use transition to retirement strategies to save tax and get cash when they need it – for a once-in-a-lifetime European holiday, or to fix their roof that blew away in a random cyclone. I tell how it took 6 months for my husband’s rollover request to be paid when he joined our SMSF. And I talk up how easy running my SMSF is now I have a great broker. I don’t have time to research and trade with 4 kids and a busy career, so I just found someone I trust to help out. My SMSF reflects the story of my life, and that’s not unusual. Marriage, divorce, business success and failure, ageing, death, good fortune, luck and loss – who said super is boring?! Thinking differently on how to compete with SMSFs If I was looking for a way to compete against the SMSF industry, I wouldn’t bother with the traditional arguments against SMSFs. Focusing on fee comparisons, administration burden, historical investment performance, or how much you need to start your own fund comes across defensive and, to be honest, makes for a pretty ho-hum story. What if, instead, the focus was on creating unique experiences for super fund members that made them excited to become a member, stay and tell their friends? I’m talking about the type of innovation in customer service that could actually turn super fund members into raving fans. Whether it be using social media to listen and speak to members in real-time, creating online experiences to make contributing and investing more fun, creating new products, faster services….even using gaming. If Uber could turn a boring taxi ride into a ride-sharing phenomenon, so could saving for retirement become an experience worth talking about, If the only experience members of a super fund have is receiving an envelope in the mail every 6 months with a Super fund logo printed on the front, which they throw in the bin without opening, then it’s fair to say they won’t be sharing stories of your fund any time soon with their friends at a BBQ! Using stories to grow an SMSF business I’m not suggesting that an SMSF is for everyone, and there are most definitely many important factors that need to be considered before advising a client to jump in. But if you are looking to grow an SMSF business, it pays to think about giving your clients the experience they crave. Does your service, your technology, your support and ongoing engagement with your client provide them with the opportunity to “like and share” their story with their friends? Most importantly are you focusing your expertise on ensuring their SMSF story is a good one, and that your clients can access the right support at the times in their life when they really need it the most? Auditors need to be able to “see the story” behind the numbers The key to being a good auditor is to always understand the big picture. When I plan an SMSF audit I recognise that SMSFs are run by real people, with real lives, making real decisions. Rather than seeing my audit as a “tick and flick” exercise, I read the financial reports like they’re telling me a story. What story do the numbers tell me, and what do I know about the fund that will point me towards the risks most likely to need my attention this year? It makes my work much more interesting but also means I don’t waste anyone’s time trying a one-size-fits-all approach. I zero in on the real risks and eliminate what doesn’t apply. I would love you to share your SMSF story with me, so feel free to comment and share!