As the default superannuation fund for the Northern Territory Government as well as a number of Aboriginal Co-operatives and businesses, AustralianSuper is proud to have a significant number of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members.

And we’d like to provide those members with quality service that takes into account the challenges they face living in remote communities and engaging with the super system.

In April this year, key AustralianSuper customer service and education staff travelled to East Arnhem Land in the remote north-eastern corner of the Northern Territory. The purpose of the trip was to receive cultural training from the Yolungu people, one of the largest Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander groups in Australia. The Yolungu represents one of oldest living cultures on earth and strongly maintain their traditions.

The training, which was facilitated by Anglicare Northern Territory (“Anglicare NT”), highlighted a range of cultural differences which make engaging with the super system difficult for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members.

As part of efforts to improve services to these members, AustralianSuper has launched a collaborative pilot program involving its contact centre administrator, Link and Anglicare NT. As part of the pilot, a team of consultants has been created who are dedicated to receiving queries from Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members. The immersive experience in the Northern Territory has equipped these specialists with greater cultural awareness, and an appreciation of the issues and challenges faced by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members so that they are better equipped to respond and resolve queries.

Here, Kim Cureton of AustralianSuper, who accompanied the study tour reports on insights that emerged and the challenges of travel in this remote part of Australia.

Here’s what Kim had to report:

1. Where did the AustralianSuper group travel and why did you choose that location?

We were invited by Anglicare NT to visit Nhulunbuy, a remote community in East Arnhem Land, where they provide a range of support services to the community, including delivering a Money Matters financial education program. The Anglicare NT team in Nhulunbuy are spending a lot of time helping their clients access their superannuation. As the largest super fund in the country, they invited us to visit them and see first-hand some of the challenges Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members living in remote communities have in accessing their superannuation.

2. What did you hope to achieve?

We wanted to educate our customer service teams about some of the cultural differences in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities. We also wanted to explore what we can do to keep improving services to remote communities.

3. What are some of the challenges from a super point of view?

The biggest challenge is members being able to adequately access our services. If you don’t have an easy connection to the internet, and you don’t like talking on the phone because of language difficulties, then accessing our services is difficult. Members in this situation usually get help from a community agency like Anglicare NT. There are also some challenges in making superannuation processes culturally appropriate for communities that aren’t regularly using services like ours. Things like timeframes to complete processes, and rules around verifying identity need to fit the cultural context. For example, it’s quite common for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander members to have multiple names over a lifetime, which can make verification of identity difficult. Also, complex family and kinship structures can make the nomination of beneficiaries difficult in the current system.

4. Is communication a challenge also?

Communication is a significant challenge for some members, who may have learnt English as a third or fourth language, after their local language and the dialects of nearby communities. Using telephone services is difficult if the member is constantly having to translate what we’re saying on a complex subject like superannuation. Even small techniques like our consultants using silence as thinking time for the other person, and not just space that needs to be filled up, is helpful.

5. Is the new call centre approach being trialled proving successful?

When you call AustralianSuper’s contact centre, members hear ‘If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, please press 1’, so Aboriginal members can self-select the dedicated line. To date, we’ve had over 3,000 calls and the call rate is increasing rapidly. So much so, that we’ve had to increase the number of consultants who can take these calls. We’re happy with the early signs. We will be regularly reviewing and calibrating the system to ensure its adding value and to determine if it becomes a permanent feature of AustralianSuper’s service offering.

6. What was your most memorable part of the trip?

Going to Elcho Island and working with the Anglicare NT team to answer the superannuation questions of people on the island. It was a very humbling experience to see how much difference superannuation savings could make to these members’ lives.