CMO profile: Leaning in to Active Super

Industry super fund's marketing and member experience leader shares the journey to rebrand the business from the inside out and securing stakeholder buy-in

Chantal Walker is a marketer who loves a challenge. But two years ago, if you’d asked her what she thought about joining the superannuation industry, she would have told you it’s not her thing.

So it’s quite fortunate Walker is also curious enough to explore a fresh opportunity outside her comfort zone. When asked if she’d be up for the challenge of joining a local government super fund that needed a complete transformation, from digital and systems to a fresh name and rebrand, Walker lent in.

“I love to reinvent, change and inspire people,” Walker tells CMO. “I met our CEO, Phil Stockwell, who had been in the role for one year and who had never worked in an industry super fund, although he came from the world of financial. I felt something there and that I could help return the business to growth.”

What’s more, Stockwell was a CEO who wanted someone out of category. In this, he was supported by company chair, Kyle Loades, of former NRMA fame. Walker’s own background is diverse in terms of category but mainly encompasses larger corporates – certainly no industry super funds. Her resume stretches marketing, brand and digitally oriented roles with Qantas Loyalty, Telstra, Foxtel, News Corp and HSBC.

“The fund had been stagnating and shrinking, and there was the burning platform to either fix it or be subsumed by someone else,” Walker says of the scenario she walked into at Active Super. “There is huge regulation in the industry and significant pressure to merge and lift the game. It’s a good thing for members. And I love a challenge and to redo things.

“Both our CEO and chair also wanted me to change things, so I got permission from the outset.”

With about 100 people at Local Government Super (LGS) as it was then, Walker also felt it was small enough to effect significant change. So 18 months ago, she became chief marketing officer, and immediately kicked off a complete brand overhaul.

Becoming Active Super

Active Super, formerly known as Local Government Super (LGS), manages more than $14 billion in superannuation assets for approximately 80,000 members, including current and former NSW local government employees. It’s a certified responsible super fund with investments across Australian and international shares, property, infrastructure, private equity, fixed interest and absolute return asset classes. Active Super is also one of four Australian super funds with all products certified responsible by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA).

The first step for Walker was getting her head around an industry super fund run by local government and unions.

“It’s a different pace to what I was used to. What’s more, no one leaves the super industry. The good thing for me is they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s backwards in terms of digital experience and has always thought about people as ‘accounts’,” she says. “My first question was: How many members do we have? And my first action was to change all the reporting to talk about members, instead of accounts.”  

Chantal WalkerCredit: Active Super
Chantal Walker

A year ago, following the departure of a customer service member manager, Walker’s role extended to chief member experience and growth officer encompassing marketing, digital, CRM and business development.

“By that stage, we’d had some success and had seen growth for the first time in years. I was asked to take on more responsibility as chief member experience and growth officer,” she says. “It’s good because I can now really shape everything we can do.”

Executing the rebrand

Of course, Walker had plenty of people telling her she wouldn’t be able to affect such a holistic rebrand. It was, in fact, the third time the business had tried.

“The previous two times had failed because they didn’t think take stakeholders on the journey,” Walker says. “I learnt that at Telstra the hard way – stakeholder 101 is to take everyone on the journey. Yes, it takes a bit longer. I had a former boss once say Chantal, you think too quickly, and get it before others get it, sometimes you just have to just wait. Lead with a full train – let people collect the luggage, dawdle before they get onboard and you’ll eventually get there.”  

From October 2020, Walker worked to take everyone on the journey, leading to the debut of the new brand in May 2021. She attributes a “crack” internal team along with agency partner, Principals, as instrumental to ensuring the whole business felt involved in the process.

“We were tossing up on two agencies and the other was initially looking better on creative, but I knew we needed a strong, steady hand on stakeholder management,” Walker says. “The team at Principals have been brilliant, helping with the board, coming to workshops, being softly spoken, considerate and helping people understand it.

“The board had never thought it was possible. Now they know what’s possible, they’ve opened up for other topics, such as building the digital ecosystem and spending real money in building awareness. I would never have been able to have that conversation a year ago.”

As Walker puts it, “a brand has to be built from the inside out”. A significant milestone was coming up with a suitable name early on not that was only was legally and digitally available, but also reflected what the industry super fund actually does.

“A brand needs to say what it does on the tin. The super industry loves a list, and I also wanted an A brand. But most importantly, it had to say what we did,” Walker continues.

“We are an active manager, which means we actively manage our investments… Our ESG credentials are amazing. We have a methodology based on analysing every asset class on its emission, right down to bonds and fixed incomes. Most only look at the equity side, yet portfolios are often more fixed income and bonds rather than equity. It all emits carbon.

“We are very active in the community as we are local government. I also felt a verb was good, it’s a doing word.” 

Hefty consumer research to get to the final brand name employed ethnographic methodology over a week-long timeframe, giving participants jobs every day to build out insights based on how they think and feel about finances, life and more.

“The other tricky part was getting unions and local government onside to change the name,” Walker says. “The board was very nervous about that, and I spent a huge amount of time with key stakeholders such as the USU to gain their view and get them onside before we made that decision, so they felt they had skin in the game.”

Back-end rebrand work was approached methodically. For example, with 100s of forms used in super, Walker prioritised the 30 most used first. She repainted the Active Super office and engaged in communications with members in advance of debuting the brand externally.

“Many marketers forget about their own members and do everything to attract new. But you have to tell existing members first, as well as staff,” Walker says. “As part of this process, we redid our cultural values, working with HR.”

When it was time to launch in market, Active Super commenced with outdoor, digital and radio advertising.

Measuring progress

Alongside this, fresh weekly reporting and better data capture have been key in demonstrating progress. “We track everything – who’s coming in, out, age, councils and geography. We are growing,” Walker says.

“Last year, there were only a handful of superfunds who grew without mergers by over 1000 members. We are up there. That’s one way we are measuring growth. Another is we are acquiring members outside of NSW. They will have only seen PR and digital activity; we haven’t done much above-the-line advertising in these other states yet. We have done some outdoor in Victoria and seen numbers spike, proving advertising works.

“The third key measure is losing fewer members, which is great for net growth. Then we have people approaching us, such as media asking for comment on ESG, women’s issues and other issues in the wider superannuation industry. We have a big job as industry to equalise the super industry for women and get everyone including young people engaged in their super.”

Walker points to APRA’s performance testing for super funds, which showed 13 funds failed. Despite this, only 7 per cent people have moved funds.

“So many see superannuation as this thing over there I’ll get to later,” she says. “Then there are the regulatory changes and macro issues for the industry to solve that will help people to engage. These are things like super during parental leave, removing the $450 threshold, closing the gap between men and women, and super funds being split between partners.”

Digitisation and the generational change it’s triggering is making a big difference too, and Walker believes super funds improving their digital smarts will fuel help ensure superannuation becomes more top of mind. That’s why digital is the next priority for Active Super. At present, the organisation has outdated systems, which she admits are not member centric.

“We are working out what we need to do as we transform our data ecosystem to take it from a legacy model with no single member views to one where we have automated triggered communications using our first-party data in an intelligent way to increase member engagement in all channels and service.,” Walker says.

“Planners have all their own systems right now and our data comes in weekly, and we need to get to daily data. It’s hard to do this, but we need to. We have hired some smart people to help us do it. And we need to do everything with the members’ best financial interests at heart.”  

Walker says her experience with Foxtel particularly helped with customer acquisition and how to measure it, while her time with data and digitally advanced organisations like Qantas Loyalty and Telstra also helps. A final attitudinal approach she highlights is an ability to ask why.

“We’re working on a project now to get all our letters down, and I’ve asked why we aren’t accepting digital signatures,” Walker says. “All this is about asking why and challenging the norm. You do have to respect where people have come from and why it is the way it is. But it doesn’t mean you don’t change things – it’s about taking away their fears, explaining it, and using data to take out some of the emotion.”

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