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Economic edge

"The best investment ideas and investment thinking can be explained in plain English" - Sunsuper's Chief Economist Brian Parker talks to FS Super about his role at Sunsuper and how he aims to help members better understand investment markets and how the fund is investing their money. 

Albeit unfair, economists have a reputation for being as dull as all get out.

Sunsuper chief economist Brian Parker believes this large generalisation is simply not true. An avid public speaker in a career that spans almost 25 years, Parker says there are many economists who are exceptionally smart yet also possess the critical talent of being a good communicator.

He is quick to point out that economists often analyse and discuss the same issues that are on the front page of newspapers every day. The news played a major role in Brian’s decision to enter the world of economics.

Economists as communicators

As a teenager Parker admits he was a “political junkie” and it naturally led to a keen interest in economics.

“I was really in to politics. You’ve got to remember this was back in the 1980s when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating came in to power and they proceeded to turn the economy on its head,” Parker says.

“If you were interested in politics you inevitably had to have a passing interest in economics. All these debates about floating the dollar and deregulating the financial system, and later cutting tariffs and deregulating the labour market, this was all front page news and part of the policy debate. These issues were really important.”

It is Parker’s belief that economists should have views on these types of issues and share them, especially being in his privileged position at Sunsuper. He says where appropriate the $33 billion fund has a responsibility to contribute to the economic debate because the issues are important for the long-term running of the country as well as members’ retirement savings.

Parker says he owes Sunsuper’s one million members the courtesy of telling them what the super fund is doing with their money and “why we’re doing it.” His aim is to explain investment ideas in the most common sense way possible.

“I’m a great believer the best investment ideas and investment thinking can be explained in plain English,” Parker says.

“In fact if you have an investment idea that you can’t explain to somebody in plain English, it tends to ring alarm bells and probably says it wasn’t a great idea to begin with.

“A lot of investment thinking and a lot economics is glorified common sense and should be explained in such a mundane sort of way.”

A day in the life

As much as it is important for an economist to be a good communicator, Parker warns a tool such as the mobile phone can be deadly “because it means you’re never off.”

“That’s fine if you get paid to be never off. It’s not a nine-to-five job. You’re always thinking about world markets and world events, you know, how things are faring in China, Greece or wherever. You can think about that day or night or any time really,” Parker says.

“I get up in the morning and I read the overnight research, look at what’s happened to the markets and just get ready for the various morning meetings we have.”

Sunsuper will generally hold a weekly meeting to talk about market developments which then progresses in to the weekly investment recommendations meeting.

“In that markets meeting myself and Alistair Sloan – who runs our dynamic asset allocation – he and I run that meeting. We’re not really in the running commentary business. It’s really trying to focus on key events and key issues,” Parker says.

“We have a weekly investments recommendation committee which basically is the key internal meeting, so I sit in and have a vote on that. We look at research papers, investment proposals are presented and challenged – it’s a very good forum.”

Parker explains they’re a super fund, not a trading desk and that “we’re investing people’s money for the longer term. Superannuation is everybody’s longest term asset.”