Cover Story: Gregory Cantor
A dignified legacy
Dignity is important for Greg Cantor. It underpins who he is, and it's what he has strived for 30 years to provide fund members each and every day. Harrison Worley writes.

Within seconds of sitting down for a chat with Australian Catholic Superannuation and Retirement Fund chief executive Greg Cantor, you feel completely at ease.

Maybe it's his firm, but warm handshake. Or the way his eyes meet yours as he greets you. Either way, Cantor is a little bit old school. And it comes as no great surprise given his schooling at Randwick's all-male Marcellin College, in a time when the school's staff - then mostly brothers - taught students the "dignity of the individual".

The superannuation pot has become too tempting for Treasury and government of both political persuasions to keep their hands off as they try to balance budgets.
"They taught you to respect others, and those schools, they teach you to be a man," Cantor says.

According to Cantor, these "little things" - looking others in the eye, having a firm handshake, even dressing appropriately - are all part of his make-up as a person, and he says people owe a lot of their formation to their schooling.

The long-time Sydney Roosters fan - which he admits put him in the minority at Marcellin, given most of its students supported South Sydney - oversees more than $9 billion in retirement savings on behalf of Catholic teachers across the nation. He reveals his upbringing is responsible for the simple principle which he lives his professional life by today: CHIPS.

"Compassion, honesty, integrity, pride and selflessness," he explains.

More executives should live by the principle according to Cantor, which he says is responsible for much of the fund's success. People, not one person, he notes, are behind ACSRF's achievements.

"I think if more executives lived by these five tenets, the world would be a much better place," Cantor says.

"I know very well the success of the business is not down to me alone. It is the people we employ and the calibre of our board.

"However, they must embrace the culture of the organisation, which is based on values and ethics."

With the fund recently receiving an Australian Business Award as an employer of choice, Cantor says he feels vindicated in his lifelong approach to work.

"Of all the awards we've won, that meant a real lot to me," he reveals.

"Because it was affirmation from my staff - and the independent umpire - that the organisation we run is a place where people want to work, and they buy into."

Cantor says he and ACSRF's staff share a fundamental passion. At the centre of it all, he just wants to help the fund's 90,000-strong membership - 70% of which are women - have a dignified retirement, and it's driven him since he joined Sydney's Catholic Education Office as finance manager.

"I've been here a long time. But from day one I've always wanted to be the person that helped our members have a dignified retirement," Cantor says.

Day one, in 1989, arrived after several stints in finance and accounting, including six years at the Overseas Telecommunications Centre while studying a Bachelor of Business in night classes at the University of Technology Sydney.

He fondly recalls the introduction of international subscriber calling in 1975, which he says significantly reduced the cost of overseas phone calls upon the removal of the middle man.

"That service transformed communications," he remembers.

"Prior to that, you needed to ring your overseas contact through an operator.

"The introduction of IDD drastically cut the cost of international communications. I can recall it more than halved the cost of international phone calls overnight through the introduction of satellites."

A spell as a management accountant at Yellow Pages and a period in foreign exchange and money markets with IBM followed before Cantor joined the Catholic Education Office, where he would remain if not for a function of his role as finance manager growing beyond the job's original remit.

"Part of that role included being the fund secretary of the super fund," he recalls.

Cantor says that with less nuns and brothers employed in Catholic schools around the country by the end of the 1970s, something had to be done to attract good teachers. State school employed teachers, he explains, were offered superannuation. In response, the Catholic Education Office set up its own fund.

"When I joined, the super fund was managing $80 million and I had two other staff assist me with secretarial duties," he recalls.

"Our superannuation fund came out of necessity to attract and retain lay teachers in Catholic schools throughout Australia. Because the number of nuns and brothers drastically reduced over that time."

By 1994, the fund had grown so large it required his full-time attention. Then Prime Minister Paul Keating had begun the process of subjecting superannuation funds to corporation law, and during the next decade the fund was involved in 13 successful mergers among the Catholic sector across the nation.

"When Paul Keating called for superannuation funds to be incorporated, I went to the executive director of the Catholic Education Office, brother Kelvin Canavan and informed him I thought it was time I gave up the finance manager's role and concentrated on the super fund," Cantor says.

"He agreed, and the rest is history."

As he tells it though, that "history" is full of examples of Cantor doing whatever was needed to ensure the fund ran smoothly after the board implemented a self-administration model in 1996.

"When the fund started, we only had a few staff," he says.

"I've been over the years the chief investment officer, the company secretary, the privacy officer, the complaints officer and the accountant.

"I've done all those roles, so that's served me well."

Compared to those early days, Cantor now enjoys the benefits of a much larger staff: 120 to be exact.

The fund has now grown to such a size that it made sense to purchase a permanent home for its NSW-based staff among Sydney's bustling inner-city suburb of Burwood in 2010. Its hallways are now littered with subject matter experts responsible for areas Cantor used to tend too, though even now, he says his vast experience across the fund sparks insights others might struggle to come up with.

"When they [staff] come to me to do projects, because I've had the whole gamut of the organisation, I can ask questions that maybe somebody else might not be able to ask, because they haven't had that rounded experience," he says.

Not that he's getting bored. He says it's hard to with successive governments continually messing with super's policy settings.

"But as I say, from a technical sense, no two years have been the same in the industry," he says.

"People ask 'How don't you get bored?' or 'How do you reinvent yourself or refresh?'

"Every budget there's some tinkering, they do something. There's always something going on. And I understand some of those changes are for the better, but I still think the essence of that 12% [superannuation guarantee] needs to happen."

Cantor is concerned by the agitations of "vested interests" who continue to pull the super system away from the ambitions of Keating and former Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Bill Kelty.

"And I don't understand why those vested interests exist," he admits.

"But the model that Paul Keating and Bill Kelty planned in the late 80s... I believe it works, and it has served the nation well. Unfortunately, the superannuation pot has become too tempting for Treasury and government of both political persuasions to keep their hands off as they try to balance budgets."

Cantor says the industry needs more foresight, putting the case forward that the more people with sizeable super balances at retirement, the less pressure placed on the age pension. If government still wishes to interfere, he'd prefer it did so with an eye to nation building, noting the opportunity before government in today's low interest rate environment.

"Super law states that with the sole purpose test we have the core purpose of providing for members' retirement," he says.

"With interest rates so low - and looking like staying low for the foreseeable future - I have often wondered why we can't have "nation building" bonds issued by the government where super funds (subject to their asset allocations) would be encouraged to take up these bonds.

"I look at the visionary politicians we had 100 years ago in Sydney. What if the suburban rail system was not built? What if the Harbour Bridge was not built? What if the Snowy Mountains scheme was not built? Do we need a depression to get things done to get people in work? I hope not."

He isn't apologetic for his views on super or the state of Australia's politics either, because his life experiences tell him a failure to adequately prepare for retirement leaves people exposed.

In his opinion, any extra funds Australians choose to divert away from their super balances would end up being spent and not saved.

"If you got that extra money in your pay each week, you'd spend it. And I have enough experience to know that what Keating and Kelty did, it's been nation building," he says.

"And I'm not apologetic for espousing what they say. I believe in what they did."

As for what's next for ACSRF, Cantor says the fund will continue to innovate in the same vein it always has.

In 2000 it became one of the first funds in the nation to offer an allocated pension, and in 2015 introduced RetireSmart, its solution for protecting account-based pension members from market downturns by holding two years' worth of cash for retirees to drawdown, while their portfolio continues to fatten through exposure to growth assets - which all helps Cantor in his quest to deliver a dignified retirement for members.

Link to something nf866Qd1