One Roof Member Christina Hobbs, Founder of Verve Super, in the Spotlight

Christina Hobbs is a One Roof member and the Co-founder of Verve Super

Launching a women-led business in a male-dominated industry

Not too long ago, it was considered 'taboo' to speak about money, politics and the weather at the table, but Christina Hobbs wants to chat about it all. She's on a mission to close the gender pay gap with superannuation, and if anyone can do it, it's going to be her.

She has a Masters in Finance and Economic Policy, a Bachelor of Commerce, and a Bachelor degree in Science. She's also armed with an authentic passion for creating positive change, and while changing the world with superannuation might be a strange concept to most, to Christina, it makes sense now more than ever.

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Australian women retire with an average of 47% less superannuation than men, yet by 2025, Australian women will hold more than $1.5 trillion in superannuation. If you've previously approached superannuation with a lacklustre attitude, Christina Hobbs' story will change your mind about it. She has a lot to say about money, politics, the weather and most importantly - equality.

Why Super?

For us, there are several reasons for 'why super'. Our co-founders have spent most of their careers working in issues relating to women's economic inequality, and in Australia, superannuation is the ultimate example of it. In Australia, women retire with 47% less super than men, and over 80% of women retire being dependent on their spouse or on an old age pension. Older single women are now the fastest-growing group of homelessness, so we saw that as an issue that had to be seriously addressed. Women also have lower 'financial trust' than men when it comes to investing, and long-term decision-making with money, so we want to address that too. We're really passionate about ethical investing and we've realised the power of women; we'll soon have $1.2 trillion in superannuation, and there's so much we could do with - if it's invested ethically.

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How do you feel about the current state of the gender pay gap?

It's compounding; economic inequality exists throughout our entire lifetime. Pay inequality starts with your very first job, and amongst graduates, it's already at around $5000 difference for the same role between men and women. In the first year out of university, women are already earning $500 less in super, and it compounds over the 40-50 years of someone's working life. Women also take time out of the workforce to have children, but ultimately, the issue is with how the current superannuation system is structured. The government puts $36 billion in tax concession into the system to help people save, and three-quarters of it goes to men. So, the problem isn't really that women take time out of the workforce to have and care for their children; it's that there's a superannuation structure that heavily favours people who earn the most and spend the most time in the workplace.

Is that something we need to change fundamentally within the government? How do we do that?

Yes! There are three ways we change it; one is how we advertise and campaign. We want to raise awareness through the media about the issues and change the public perception. It's not about 'women's problems'; it's not the fault of women that they have less super, it's structural problems. There are several different policy changes that we would like to see too. For instance, (currently) you don't get paid super if you earn under $450 a month, and there's a lot of women in that group who either have multiple jobs, or they're just entering back into the workforce after having children. Other countries provide 'caring credits' so you can accumulate credits for super while you're working, and we would like to see superannuation paid when careers are on parental leave, not just when they're actively working.

So parental leave payments don't currently include superannuation?

No. We were so close to achieving that change, though. The Australian Labor Party had several policies which would have helped, including enforcing super payments on parental leave. But interestingly, even without the government change, we're seeing a lot of companies doing that already. They have the choice, so some companies are already offering their workers super while on parental leave, and it's great. As a super fund by women, for women, it's one of our policies that we also reduce our fees while our members are on parental leave, so they don't have to pay the fixed fee, and we give our members the option to have us contact and arrange super payments through their employer.

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How'd you get into superannuation?

I'd been on the board of another superannuation company, Future Super. They were the first super fund in Australia not to invest in fossil fuels, so I was already aware of the industry and quite passionate about it. I was working for the United Nations, and I was in a conflict area, and I was spending a lot of time thinking about how we can create real solutions for the serious problems we have around climate change and conflict, and I wanted to have a real impact. At the end of the day, we can create change by smart choices with our money. If your super is invested in the top Australian funds, chances are it's being used to finance unethical causes; coal, gas, oil, other non-renewable resources, uranium, heavy military-style weapons and assault rifles, and in companies that are trading to South Arabia and backing industries that back slave-labour. A lot of people just aren't aware of it. The problem is that in the coming years, superannuation will own 60-70% of the Australian stock exchange so if people are just investing money into their super and not thinking about where it goes - these are the companies that will continue to grow. For me, it was an ethical issue, and the three of us (co-founders) had been thinking the same thing. Alex had worked for a superannuation company before, and she just loves customer service; she's really passionate about how we can serve women better with the right financial services. We joined forces and became more aware of the gap in financial literacy and also the challenges that women face, so we really wanted to provide financial literacy support. We looked at lots of different coaches and eventually found Zoe online. She started a not-for-profit called '10,000 Girls' and over 10 years, had coached over 10,000 women. She was super inspiring and uplifting, and we loved her approach, so we gave her a call. We had a two-hour conversation, and she'd been thinking about starting a bank for women, so we all joined forces and started Verve Super.

Is there a bank equivalent?

No. There's no bank equivalent owned by women for women. Verve Super is actually a first in Australia; a female-owned and led financial service company by women for women.

Who does what in the business week to week?

Zoe manages the financial coaching. She's been doing one-on-one teaching with our members, and now we're moving into coaching, so she handles that. She also does live Facebook chats in our Facebook group each week answering members' questions around financial management. Alex oversees all member engagement and customer service, and then I've been managing our marketing, media and also our investment plans. We all work remotely; two of our founders are based in New South Wales.

Why was making the Verve membership process simple, so important to you?

We want to make it really easy, so there's no confusion. When you join Verve, we'll find all of your other super accounts to roll over too. Most Australians have multiple super accounts, and if you have a lot of accounts with small balances (which a lot of women do), you can quickly erode those accounts over time with fees. We pull the data from the ATO website, so it's easy, automated and accurate.

What does economic equality mean to you?

It's when men and women have equal control over resources; fair control, equal ability to acquire wealth, and the same choices when it comes to how and when they want to use that wealth.

What do you value most, and why?

Purpose; I want to live a purposeful life, and that means having enough money so I can do the things I want to do. Starting Verve was an essential step towards that; if I hadn't been financially secure, it would have been challenging to go out and start a business. I value living a life with purpose and making sure that I have the financial resources to do that.

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You invest in companies building a better world for women, our community and our planet. What are some of those businesses?

We don't invest in things like tobacco, gambling, or fossil fuels. We do invest in companies that support a positive social and environmental future, such as medical tech companies, renewable energy companies and healthy sustainable food production companies. When it comes to investing in our chosen ethical companies, it is complicated though. In Australia, you can't 'just' apply ethics to investment, even if you want your money invested ethically. I have to prove and argue that by investing ethically, we think it's the best strategy for profit. There's a lot of research out there that shows ethical investment funds outperform the market over the long term, but we still have to argue our case for investing in ethical companies. There's been a lot in the Australian Financial Review lately that some funds are saying the government should crack down on us; they call us an 'activist funds'. On the other hand, there are also cases of young people suing their superannuation funds for investing their money in coal. They've proved that the industry is dying and that their money isn't being responsibly invested because it's invested in coal.  

Every time a new member joins Verve, you donate on their behalf to GoodReturn. Why did you choose to pay it forward, and what does it mean for the women GoodReturn supports?

GoodReturn is a microfinance organisation that works with women in the Asia Pacific region, and they use the money that we give them to provide financial literacy, business skills and training to the women that they work with. We chose to partner with them for two reasons; one is because we want to show our members that it doesn't matter what financial situation you're in, you can always help another woman. Secondly, we acknowledge that the global economic system isn't fair, and as a super fund, we want to play our own part in levelling the playing field and giving back.

Why did you choose Rosie to represent Verve, and what's she all about?

We were looking for a strong symbol for women. Rosie was developed by a man who was trying to encourage women to work in factories during the war, but over time, she's been reappropriated to be a symbol of women's economic empowerment. She's sort of been 'taken back'. We chose Rosie because she's a symbol of women's economic empowerment, and on our website, we have lots of different Rosie's to show that women's economic empowerment also has it be broad; there is no 'one' representation of what that looks like.

Is it hard challenging and changing a broken system?

Yes, it's very hard. Sometimes it can be a bit sad, but you just have to keep on going, and I think now more than ever, we can't stop. We have to keep going. We have to keep building momentum like there's no other option. It's disheartening sometimes though; I'm so disappointed with the recent election results. Labor had so many fantastic policies to introduce across every sector. They were going to start bringing back the women's labour budgets, start reporting any changes to the superannuation system and how it impacts men and women, they were going to introduce paid parental leave, and climate policies, dental care and the pension... Labour was going to make a critical report public; the Workplace Gender Equality Agency had developed a report that reveals the wages of businesses with more than 1000 employees, and the difference between male and female wages in the exact same role. It's an incredibly detailed pay equality report, and it would have been publicly available. There would have been class action suits across the country because pay inequality is illegal. You might be a woman working in the same role as the man next to you, but because people don't really discuss those sorts of things in the lunchroom, people aren't aware of the pay inequality. We would have been a giant leap closer to closing the gender pay gap with that report, now we're another three years behind. 

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How do you push through?

Taking action is the best thing you can do. You only start feeling overwhelmed when you're not actually taking action. So, if you're not volunteering, if you're not in a community of people, if you're not doing something, that's when the overwhelm sets in.

Should more people talk about politics and other traditionally 'taboo' topics?

Totally! I think we've got to get out of the age of charity and into action. It's not enough anymore to give money to causes or just watch documentaries about causes, we need to take action ourselves.

Do you think we'll ever close the gender pay gap?

One day. I think if you look at all forms of social justice, the trajectory goes up and down. Some years are better, and some years are worse, but it's all just going in one direction, and that direction is for equality, across every aspect of life. The gender pay gap is one of those things that will close, but I don't know if it will close in my lifetime. We really need to close it though; it pains me to think about the women that have been affected by it their whole lives and are now retiring into poverty.  

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

I'd have three; being able to control the outcome of the election, and to make people better and kinder. And also, to be able to do more on less sleep.

This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate

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