Christina Hobbs is determined to disrupt Australia’s superannuation space, co-founding Verve Super, Australia’s first ethical superannuation fund designed for women, by women.
But until she spent a decade working for the UN in conflict-affected countries such as Syria and Iraq, she never thought about superannuation much at all.
“I realised my own superannuation was invested in weapons that had killed innocent civilians,” she says.
“It seemed unbelievable, but the reality is that almost all super funds in Australia invest in weapons, tobacco, gambling and fossil fuels.”
She was also shocked to learn Australian women are retiring with 47% less super than men and one in four elderly Australian women are experiencing poverty as a result.
“At the same time, 93% of financial service companies are led by men,” she says.
In this Q&A with Women’s Agenda, Hobbs talks wellness, superannuation and the retirement system failing elderly Australian women.
Was your career in superannuation planned or did it happen by chance?
I never thought I would be working in superannuation. I began my career as a management consultant with Deloitte. I then spent over a decade working for the United Nations as an economist and financial inclusion expert.
I spent many years working in conflict-affected countries, and it was while working in Syria and Iraq I realised my own superannuation was invested in weapons that had killed innocent civilians. It seemed unbelievable, but the reality is, almost all super funds in Australia invest in weapons, tobacco, gambling and fossil fuels.
I decided I needed to change this, and became passionate about the power that we all hold through our superannuation to invest in companies that are doing good instead of bad.
At the same time, I’ve always been passionate about building the economic power of women and I was shocked that Australian women are retiring with 47% less super than men.
There was no question in my mind we needed a super fund tailored for women that invests ethically to build a brighter future. So, I left the UN to start one. Through joining forces with a talented group of women, Verve was born.
What are you working on right now that’s got you excited?
Verve offers free financial coaching to our members through online learning and also through meet-ups. We’re currently working with an exciting partner and will launch national events to support women to learn how to invest in the coming months.
I find this super exciting, because we surveyed our members to ask them what support they wanted, and we know that so many of our members would love to start investing or learning more about how to grow wealth over the long term, but don’t know where to start.
What is a key issue facing women in your profession?
There is currently a real crisis in the retirement outcomes of women. Women are retiring with 47% less super than men, and one in four elderly women are currently experiencing poverty. At the same time, 93% of financial service companies are led by men.
The big challenge that women and advocates of women in our industry face, is how we can elevate our voices to advocate for a fairer retirement system for women and all Australians.
What’s the best professional tip you’ve been given?
Very early on in my career, I was told it’s far more important to think about the experience that you are gaining rather than the salary you are earning.
I’ve always aimed for positions that help me build my skill set and learn from excellent people — I’ve sacrificed salary increases and promotions to instead collect better experiences and I am convinced this mentality has led me to where I am today.
Have mentors aided your career?
Mentors have been really important for me. Being the founder and chief executive officer of a company is not easy, and can often be a lonely path. The mentors who have understood that and offered me unconditional encouragement and enthusiasm have been invaluable to my confidence and sense of being supported.
I find that some of my best mentors have also been through a similar experience, can relate to what I am going through and have lessons to give.
Along with your career, what other priorities do you juggle?
I juggle my career with ensuring I have enough time and energy to be a supportive friend and family member.
The one area of my life that has dropped off in the past year since starting Verve is my engagement in community work. At Verve, we do free financial coaching workshops with some community organisations, but in the year ahead, I want to do more volunteer work to support elderly Australian women who are struggling on the pension — those on the frontline of a retirement system that has largely failed them.
How do you stay at the top of your game?
When I worked with the United Nations, if I was in a conflict zone, we would work for a month in the country, and then take a week out to rest and recuperate. Today, I try to still keep this approach.
If I go through a period of very intense work where I am working hard and late, I will ensure that at the end of it there is at least a week afterwards where I relax and work at a more moderate pace.
Wellness is like a bank balance, we don’t always need to be making contributions and withdrawals, but at some point, if we are withdrawing a lot, we need to stop and top our energy back up through the things which bring us joy and nourish our souls.
Where do you get your news?
Well, of course, I love Women’s Agenda for the latest on economic and societal issues that impact women.
I also follow a number of feminist bloggers and writers. In terms of career support, I am a big fan of motivating TedTalks. (Hello, Brene Brown!)
Any book recommendations?
I love the book Synchronicity the Inner Path of Leadership. It is a book I read a long time ago, and it really highlighted to me the importance of being on the right path and making decisions to follow your purpose. It’s guided me through some tough career decisions over the years.
This is an edited version of an interview first published by Women’s Agenda.