Five minutes with Carol Keller, Prime Super Member Solutions Manager

Q: Tell us about Carol Keller away from work.

There are just two of us in the household: myself and my husband, Keith. To relax, we love to go travelling overseas or bushwalking in Australia’s spectacular National Parks.

I also love photography, cooking, attending rock concerts and eating out with friends.

We live in bayside Melbourne, so on a typical weekend, you will find me walking along the beach, coffee in hand and chatting to local passers-by.

Yes, I admit it - I definitely have a coffee addiction!

Q: Tell us about your professional career to date. How did you get into the superannuation game?

I started my career in psychology because I have always had a desire to help people. But it ended up burning me out.

I was working in a position that helped teenagers with behavioural problems and one day I saw an advertisement for a superannuation position. They wanted someone degree-qualified that they could fast track to a team leader position. I got the job and got promoted pretty quickly.

The job suited me perfectly: I could still fulfil my passion for helping people, but in a financial rather than social or psychological sense. I also love learning, so there was also a whole new world to explore!

The super fund was just starting up and it was called the Australian Farm Superannuation Plan. Interestingly, that super fund is a predecessor of what is now known as Prime Super!

Since that first job in super, I have thrived. I’ve worked extensively in administration, operational and member-facing positions within superannuation and at the same time, I’ve indulged my passion for learning.

I am now an ASFA Fellow and hold both a Diploma of Superannuation Management and a Graduate Diploma of Financial Planning.

Q: Your position is Member Solutions Manager. What does that entail?

The Member Solutions team is a very important part of Prime Super. We help members make the most of their super by providing them with timely information or general advice. We do this via face-to-face meetings, video conferencing or telephone, but we also do workplace visits and group seminars.

There is always a demand for member meetings offsite or online, but we have also found that employers are increasingly aware that an onsite meeting with Prime Super can also contribute to their employees’ financial wellbeing with minimal disruption.

As you now know, two of my main passions are helping people and learning and I get to plenty of opportunity to do both in this role.

One thing that constantly motivates me for example, is the difference I can make to members’ lives by providing information that empowers them to make a simple but important change to their super. I also get to do lots of learning, because superannuation legislation is constantly changing!

Q: What was the impact of COVID-19 on your role?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had two impacts on my role and I see both as being positive.

First, more meetings are conducted online or via the telephone. The online meetings have allowed members in regional areas or with young families to meet with us online to discuss their super. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they may never have done this.

It’s also allowed us to relate to our members on a really human level because for example, children or pets may momentarily “contribute” to a meeting!

Second, although the types of questions we get asked have generally remained the same, there has been an increasing focus on investments. From my point of view, this is yet another opportunity to educate members about their super.

Q: What is the most common question from members at the moment and what is the main piece of advice you have been offering them?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot more members seeking information about investments and generally, this has been to help them decide if they should switch to a “safer” investment option in the fund. It’s a very natural question to ask in the face of economic uncertainty and investment market turmoil.

How do I respond? This can differ based on the individual member, but there is one thing that I always say. The best way to manage fluctuations in investment returns or volatility is not to panic.

Superannuation is a long-term investment and although it is tempting to switch investment options when returns are negative, history has shown that the financial markets will go up again over time and that switching during a downturn will lock in losses.

Most of our members are invested in Prime Super’s MySuper (Balanced) option and the long term return illustrates this point. The fund earned an average of 8.53% (net) over 10 years to 30 June 2019, despite some periods of volatility. *

It is also important for members to realise that the negative returns reported in the media usually do not directly correspond to an equivalent loss in their super fund.

Sometimes the media are talking about Australian Share Market returns only, or about the average return across a very diverse superannuation industry. Talking to the Member Solutions team can help members separate fact from fiction.

Q: What do you love about your job?

I love being able to connect with people and to contribute to their financial wellbeing by providing information or advice about super. I can’t count the times where long-term members have looked back at a change they made to their super some time ago and then said to me “thank you for helping me get to where I want to be”.

Prime Super is also a great place to work with some very wonderful and well-qualified people - so there is that, too!

Q: Why do you enjoy working with RCSA and our member base?

Your membership is vibrant and diverse and I just love talking to them. The opportunity to connect with someone new and find out about their lives is important to me.

At the same time, there is a definite opportunity for me to be able to help them. Many of your members have several super funds for example and as a result, they are probably paying more fees than they need to.

A good outcome for these members would be for me to help them consolidate their super into one place, while making them aware of any insurance they may lose at the same time.

My challenges? Most of your members focus on the wellbeing of others around them and sometimes forget about themselves. I can make a small contribution to turning that around by helping sort their super.

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