Allianz Retire+ heavyweight jumps ship

Fintan Thornton
Allianz Retire+ - Head of Institutional Solutions
Date: 10 November 2023
Position: Head of Institutional Solutions
By Elizabeth Fry

After three years, top Allianz Retire+ executive Fintan Thornton has departed to join a health fund.

The resignation of the institutional solutions head comes at a time of turmoil for the retirement industry, which has come under intense scrutiny by the prudential and investment watchdogs.

The regulators have warned of a crackdown if superannuation funds don't do more to help Australians achieve a secure and dignified retirement.

Hence, the loss of a retirement specialist like Thornton is a blow to the industry.

While at Allianz Retire+, Thornton completed the initial build-up of the institutional business he had set up in 2020 with notable partnerships with Link Group and Hub24.

An actuary, Thornton joined Allianz Retire+ in 2020 from Colonial First State, where he served as head of superannuation and head of strategy and implementation before that.

Previous experience included being head of employee superannuation at CBA, director of actuarial at Russell Investments and retirement practice actuarial consultant at WTW in the UK.

Earlier in his career, he worked in traditional actuarial consulting, advising large companies with complex defined benefit pension/superannuation funds.

Thornton has been replaced by Catherine van der Veen and Lucy Foster, who will share the head of group retirement solutions client delivery role.

He landed at CBHS Health Fund - a member-owned not-for-profit private health insurance company for CBA staff and their families- as chief member solutions officer.

The retirement specialist has been involved with the fund for 11 years, serving as deputy chair and head of the audit committee.

In the new role, he will lead a team of about 60 staff across product, sales and partnerships, marketing, and insurance cover for international visitors and students.

Whereas his previous role was primarily building business partnerships with superfunds, CBHS Health runs a business-to-consumer business.

Removing hurdles

As for the retirement scene, Thornton said the industry now has a real focus on the decumulation part of the superannuation market.

"We've got many chief retirement officers and similar roles, and that's a big step forward for the industry compared to where we were," he said.

Thornton also noted that some roadblocks and hurdles link to advice and advice rules about what superfunds can do legally.

Once removed, he added, it will more comfortably allow a super fund to have a more meaningful conversation with a member approaching retirement or recently retired who can offer them an experience or service that meets a standard of advice.

"This will mean that mass Australia will get better support from their super fund than they are permitted to provide today," he said.

That said, Thornton argued that the gold standard will always be financial advice from an independent financial adviser.

To him, better and more seamless access to personal data is still one of the key hurdles.

Thornton wants a world where advisers and super funds could access MyGov data with appropriate authorisation and cognisant of cybersecurity concerns.

He pointed out that some super funds are investigating the possibility of obtaining banking data using the Consumer Data Right, or open banking as it is widely known.

"For a compulsory system, obtaining data through MyGov is an efficient way to supply superfunds with the data they need to build better retirement offers for members to consider. It would be a game changer,' he added.

"For example, superfund members could consent to have MyGov data preloaded into their super fund so it can easily access data already available on government systems."

Thornton said once that hurdle is cleared, the cost of providing sensible household-level advice will drop. And financial advice will be much more available, enabling retirement products and services to be offered to more people.

"Some of those protocols already exist for a particular purpose. If we think about how tax agents complete a person's tax return, they can access a raft of information via government systems.

"I can envisage a working model where other entities could access that information with appropriate consent and authorisation protocols.

"This would allow superfunds and advisers to compile a financial plan or offer a more compelling flagship solution at a significantly lower cost than today."

He is beginning to see some support for this idea and hopes it will emerge as a second phase of the Quality of Advice reforms.

Separately, Ryan Harbin has joined Allianz Retire+ as the state manager of Queensland. He arrived from Dexus, where he held a similar role.

Before that, he was a regional manager with Russell Investments, Challenger, and BT.