Sunsuper and its customer to core strategy

How the profit-for-member super fund transformed into a customer-centric business and the key learnings

Customer to core sounds like an easy thing to say, but for superannuation firms like Sunsuper, it can be a complex thing to achieve.

Sunsuper was born in the late 1980s in an era when the government was moving towards compulsory superannuation for all Australians as a key pillar in supporting their retirement. Fast forward to 2019 and super assets were valued at $2.8 trillion at the end of the March quarter, according to the Association of Superannuations Funds of Australia, with some 500 funds responsible for managing the financial side of retirement of millions of Australians.

Superannuation has also become a complex business, highly regulated and not without its share of scandals and problems over the years, from commissions to fees, transparency, and the Global Financial Crisis.

Throughout all this, Sunsuper's goal is to deliver the best return to members, yet as a profit-for-members fund its operating costs need to achieve maximum results and efficiency. Speaking at the Gartner Customer Experience & Technologies Summit in Sydney this week, head of customer interactions, Sunsuper, Amalie White, shared how the fund’s customer to core philosophy guides its digital strategy and the challenges of leading a customer centred transformation in this landscape.

Her advice was simple, although it belies the complex and sometimes fraught journey for companies building the customer into their DNA.

“Our vision and sole purpose is to inspire and empower Australians to fulfil their retirement dreams. And we’ve been on a multi-year digital transformation journey to help our customers before they know they need it. It should be simple, but it isn’t always,” said White.

Customer to core mapping

"In a profit-for-members environment there are challenges in how we position ourselves with a new member who knows the fees and chargers and are shopping around - as they should be,” White told attendees.

The fund took to heart the mantra of ‘know your customer’ and embraced this for every part of the business. It entailed creating an end-to-end customer lifecycle, then began transforming the service model, encompassing all staff and all platforms.

What came out of the process was nine member lifecycle phases, 34 journey summaries and one service catalogue and 19 service blueprints. Sunsuper also reviewed processes and systems to simplify and streamline with a single purpose to assist the customer, or potential customer, in a timely, efficient manner.

“This is as much about people and process as it is about technology,” White said.

A big emphasis was on not keeping customers waiting. "We can’t afford to train our people in 10 different systems. So we developed one system,” continued White.

Sunsuper use Appian to leverage a low code development platform and provide the fund with the way to fulfill its goal of transformation to simplify and get maximum value through efficient investment. The platform allows for a simple design process using drag-and-drop development to build applications and deploy them to any device.

Appian also offers the fund a unified data view on a single screen that can be interacted with regardless of where it’s stored. An intuitive experience helped created synergies between business and technology. And it enabled it to automatic processes, build it all out on a secure, scalable cloud.

"It was important to choose something that was affordable, something that had a good user experience that we knew would translate to a good customer experience,” White said. "We used that initially for our workflow and were able to design for what we needed.

"What we’ve done in the last three months is we’ve now taken those processes and put them into our member online platform. So our system that our people have been using for years are now facing the customer.”

But standardising and simplifying does not just mean systems, it’s as much about people and process, White said noting Sunsuper's efforts to focus on culture alongside technology.

The fund has embraced agile capabilities, improve customer retention and simplified its technology footprint. On the customer side, there are lower fees, simplified service and people can manage their retirement funds. For the business, it’s now aligned its goals of growth, keeping costs low, delivering customer value and internally it’s improved the culture and supports staff knowledge.

The dividends stretch across the organisation's key pillars: Business benefits, customer benefits, strategic alignment and employee benefits. Importantly, Sunsuper also aligned how its members see the fund with how its people see the fund to be streamlined and transparent.

“We have the same platform, internal and external, so staff have the same view as customers. And when you talk about standardisation, that was incredibly important to use," White said. "So our people have the same experience, our customers have the same experience.

“That’s mapped through our customer journey layer, through the technology layer, through the people layer. And that takes our customer to our core.”

Among the milestone results are a 21 per cent increase in customer interactions, a 15 per cent drop in overall costs to serve customers.

Key learnings

White outlined three key learnings from Sunsuper's customer-centric transformation. The first is that design thinking is critical, although it won’t remove siloed decisions and competing priorities on it’s own. In navigating the obstacles, White said processes that bring people closer to the customer help.

It's also vital to have buy-in and guidance from the top-down. "That has to happen at the leadership level. We talk about enterprise leadership and how we're making decisions that are considerate of both the upstream and downstream both within our enterprise and industry effectively," she said.

There won’t always be agreement among everyone, but that’s OK, White said, although it’s critical everyone agrees on the framework for decision making before starting and finally a project of this scale and complexity requires agile leaders to bring transformation to life. What's more, this may require new or additional leaders.

"And we've learnt that done is better than perfect. You can plan and plan and workshop without getting anything done," White concluded. "Getting it done and then testing that with your customers and then continuing to refine."

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