Australian Innovation Research Centre

Kim Backhouse

Kim's pioneering qualitative research aims to examine the relationship between corporate governance and innovation within the superannuation industry in Australia. That is, it will examine whether or not innovation is a function of corporate governance. She has conducted comprehensive case studies of twenty different superannuation funds and interviewed CEOs, advisors, asset allocation consultants, and Australian Institute of Superannuation trustees.

Even though superannuation funds have received increasing attention from international organisations, on how they should be governed to enhance both corporate and economic performance, research into the superannuation industry to date has been sparse. Kim thinks this may be largely due to the lack of research funds, especially in Australia. With most of the research coming out of Canada and the US, Australia is somewhat behind in studies looking at both corporate governance and superannuation – until now.

"Corporate Governance has many different definitions. I am looking at it from a legal perspective - that is the structure of the overall organisation of the superannuation industry at the top of the corporate governance chain. My study is focussed on the dynamics of the board at the top of this chain."

By looking at various qualitative variables in both corporate governance - such as board composition (age, gender and education), fund size and ownership - and in innovation - such as whether or not there is a culture of innovation at the board level, presence of innovation strategy and whether there is any new product development occurring - it is hoped a better understanding of issues like resource commitment to innovation and organisational focus on innovation will be gained. From this the factors that drive innovation in the superannuation industry will be better understood.

"The landscape of superannuation is changing and has already changed rapidly. However it wasn't until the macro-economic factors of the Global Financial Crisis, and its resultant low financial returns, did the 'inertia bubble' burst surrounding the way superannuation operated. In an industry that is becoming increasingly more complex, with a proliferation of new super products and significant product augmentation, it is essential that we keep pace with change and recognise innovation in order to remain competitive."

After completing her degree in Law at UTAS, Kim worked for 5 years as a solicitor in Melbourne before returning to Tasmania to complete her MBA. She has since worked for ten years at the Ombudsman's office while simultaneously sitting on various statuary boards; such as Tasmanian Nursing, Electrical Licensing, Chiropractic and Osteopathic Registration, the Internal Audit Committee for the Department of Primary Industry and Water, as well as the Retirements Benefits and Fund Board - where she first developed an interest in superannuation.