Trish Curry: London is such a vibrant, exciting city

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance

With more than 2.1 million members and assets of $AU120 billion, AustralianSuper is the largest pension scheme in Australia and it has now a formally established presence in London. Led by Trish Curry, the new office is located in the redeveloped area of Kings Cross, sitting amongst some of the most innovative and forward-thinking companies in the world.

The idea behind the creation of the AustralianSuper office in London is to generate greater investment opportunities within the UK and Europe, which will lead to better retirement outcomes for members in Australia. 

Trish spoke to Advance about her experiences in London with AustralianSuper so far, the astonishing redevelopment of the Kings Cross area, in which AustranlianSuper holds a 67% stake and how Australians are influencing the culture. 

ON MOVING TO LONDON…

How long have you been based in London?

I moved to London on the first of December 2015, just in time for winter. It was a beautiful time of year to arrive: the magic of the Christmas markets with and mulled wine, generally everything that goes along with Christmas in the northern hemisphere.

What was your immigration process like? 

I came over on what's called a Sole Representative Visa which is a fairly unique. Only one person per company can have it, and it's for the individual who establishes a branch of a company in the UK. We were really fortunate that the UK government has been very supportive of AustralianSuper, making it a really smooth transition.

Do you take advantage of London's central location to travel a lot?

When I first came over there was an expectation that I would only be here for nine to twelve months so I promised myself I would travel least every other weekend. I think Australians continue to put the Brits to shame when it comes to travel. I still find it astounding that there are people I meet who live here and have never been to Paris.

ON THE NEW LONDON AUSTRALIANSUPER OFFICE…

What does your role at AustralianSuper involve as the Regional Head UK?

My role is to oversee all the operational and regulatory aspects of running the business over here. No two days are the same for me because there are so many different aspects of the role. Another facet of my job is dealing with UK and European pension funds which I find really fascinating. In Australia, we're incredibly fortunate that we have a reasonably mature superannuation system in place. A lot of pension funds here and across Europe are really interested in the Australian experience.

In the UK they've only recently rolled out superannuation auto-enrollment, which is their version of default super. This year is the first year that many Brits are receiving any sort of contribution and it is at two percent, in Australia, by comparison, contributions are at nine and a half percent. It really makes you appreciate how fortunate we are in Australia.

Why did you set up an office in London? 

The reason we set up an office here is to source new investment opportunities that we can own on behalf of the Australians back home. This year has been about making sure that we're creating the right relationships with the right organisations both here and across Europe, relationships that will benefit us long term.

What’s something that you think AustralianSuper does really well, either as an organisation in general or for their members?

We have what we call a members-first philosophy that is instilled in every staff member when they join the fund. It means that any decision that we make needs to be in the best interest of the members we represent. We don't forget that the one hundred and twenty plus billion dollars we invest is member money, not ours!

ON THE REDEVELOPMENT OF KINGS CROSS…

How has the area of Kings Cross transformed itself in the past few years?

Transform is the keyword. Until only recently, it was a pretty seedy industrial wasteland, right in the heart of London.

It did go from a place that had a bad reputation to being an awesome place right in the heart of London; all seven hundred and forty thousand meters squared. There are office buildings, residential apartments, schools, a university, galleries, lots of restaurants and bars and about twenty-six acres of green space.

When the development is fully complete about seven thousand people will call the estate home and about thirty thousand people will call it their workplace. There'll be tens of thousands of people who come through every month for their fix of shopping, eating or attending different public events.

What was the best part of being involved with setting up the new AustralianSuper office? 

Decorating the office! Giving it the right mix of an Australian feel and an AustralianSuper feel.I contacted the Museum of London to see if they had old records and images of what the building used to look like. They were really supportive in pulling together images of all of the old buildings that we've restored. 

I was able to make a mural in our office showing all of those buildings, what they looked like in the 1860s through to what they look like now. It’s nice to reflect on the heritage of the estate and how far we’ve come.

It's such a great location as well, right in central London. 

Definitely. There’s Kings Cross Train Station which is a two-minute walk, and then five minutes from the other side is the Eurostar terminal, taking people to Paris or Belgium.

What other companies have offices in the estate?

Google have their headquarters here as do Universal Music Group and The Guardian Newspaper, among others. Another exciting development that’s coming up in Autumn of next year is the Coal Drops Yard, the new retail hub for the Estate which will be housed in one of the original heritage buildings that has been restored.

How big of an impact do you think having redeveloped, innovative office has on creative and productive output?

If you look at the sorts of companies that set up here or who are seeking to set up the one commonality is that they all have a real creative flair. We’re really proud to be part of something that not only benefits the members we represent, but also the larger community and the people who live here.

In partnership with the developers and the other investors who make up the Kings Cross Partnership, we have fostered a number of sustainable initiatives designed to ensure that we've got an environmentally-minded outlook for the Estate. For example, we have an onsite energy centre that provides almost a hundred percent of the heating and hot water needs of the Estate.

ON AUSTRALIANS IN LONDON…

In what ways do Australians influence the culture in London?

Coffee! I think Australians are delivering (what I class as) a Melbourne-quality flat white. There has been a revelation in the last couple of years where more and more Australian cafes are popping up and having great success.

What impact do you think Brexit will have on Australians in the UK, if any? 

We talk about Australia being multicultural, which we definitely are, but London is on a whole other level. When I arrived here, I ignorantly assumed that the UK would definitely remain in the EU.

I was speaking at a two-day pensions conference in Brussels on the day of the vote and the day after. There were probably two hundred people at the event, about twenty percent of them were British, and the rest European. On Day One of the conference, everyone was really jovial, and people were getting up to give their presentations and invariably there'd be a joke about the UK leaving the next day. Everyone would laugh, but no one thought that it would actually happen. Then Day Two happened, and everyone was experiencing utter shock and devastation, and in some cases, tears.

And has it affected AustralianSuper in any way? Or is it too soon to tell?

In terms of our operations, Brexit hasn't had an impact really on our day to day in that we're not marketing to people here and not selling goods or services. It doesn't have the impact on us that other businesses were feeling, and continue to feel, during the period of the unknown. 

What’s your favourite thing about living in London?

It’s such a vibrant, exciting city where you can always find something to do. It's a really easy city to meet people because there are so many people that live in London but don't come from London, whether they're from somewhere across Europe, somewhere else in the UK, or from far off places like Australia.

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