At a glance
Nicole Oborne CPA has devoted her career to solving problems. Oborne, who is a partner and the superannuation and asset management assurance leader at PwC Australia, was a family problem solver from a young age. She grew up keen to do her part to improve Australia’s retirement financial system.
The language of numbers
Oborne, a first-generation Australian, was born of Maltese parents. Her parents arrived in Australia in the mid-1970s, almost penniless and with little formal education. They instilled in Oborne a sense of responsibility – especially in financial matters.
The family landed in western Victoria and, Oborne says, her father worked hard to ensure his children did not go without.
“I would return from school and teach my parents English, and they would teach me financial literacy,” she says.
“Dad and I had one language in common – the language of numbers. It morphed into a passion of mine, which is why I got into accounting. I relate to numbers. I have always found maths enjoyable.”
A super future
By the time Oborne started studying accounting at Victoria University in the late 1990s, her father was looking to retire.
“He had always been self-employed and was making his own contributions. I was sad to see him retire with just A$30,000 in his super, when he had worked so very hard all his working life.”
This sparked Oborne’s interest in super. Superannuation can be complex, and, when you are self-employed, the complexity can overwhelming, she says.
While studying at Victoria University, Oborne worked for NSP Buck/Bank of New York Mellon, as the sole junior accountant in the burgeoning superannuation division.
She soon realised that the superannuation industry had growth potential. It also struck a personal chord, she says, because it was all about helping people.
“Super really did excite me,” she says. “I could see that this was not a legacy sector but one just coming into fruition. I could grow with it as it expanded, and, just as importantly, it aligned strongly with my personal values.”
By 2003, Oborne got a job at PwC Australia. She was also part of the graduate pool. This gave her a readymade peer group of budding auditors and mentors across the firm who were passionate about contributing to solving important problems with social impact.
To cement her credentials, she completed the ASFA (Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia) certificate of superannuation, which PwC Australia sponsored.
In her early career, Oborne became determined to solve a problem for people moving from one job to another. They could not always take their super with them, so they had to restart with a new fund, leading to multiple accounts across the system.
Oborne realised that Australia needed an instrument that could positively identify a superannuant.
Oborne led an industry blueprint submitted to Treasury outlining why a person’s tax file number (TFN) would be the best personal identifier across the super industry. With the backing of PwC Australia partners and her clients, she put forward the proposal.
The Australian Government reacted positively to Oborne’s paper and agreed to allow TFNs to be used for identification.
“It was a clear inefficiency issue across the sector,” says Oborne. “Using the TFN was a breakthrough.”
Oborne progressed quickly through the PwC Australia ranks over the next 10 years. She also worked in Canada and completed a leadership mini‑MBA at INSEAD Singapore.
In early 2016, Oborne was appointed a partner at PwC Australia, then, in October 2021, became the leader of the superannuation and asset management assurance team.
Much of Oborne’s career has focused on solving issues that have developed as the sector has grown exponentially in size and complexity. For instance, she worked with financial crime regulator AUSTRAC (Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre) on case studies to improve awareness of financial crime in the sector.
She also worked with APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority) on the design and implementation of prudential regulations.
“It allowed me to really connect the dots on the spirit and intent of regulation, not just the letter of the law. It’s something that keeps me curious and driven to help,” Oborne says.
She has also recently been appointed chair of CPA Australia’s Retirement Savings Centre of Excellence, which takes part in several consultations with Treasury and the regulators. “Our aim is to ensure we can provide a collective voice across the sector for CPA Australia members,” she says.
During it all, Oborne has continued to help super funds with their strategic objectives, including mergers and operating models. Day to day, her work has been focused on auditing the super funds themselves.
Oborne believes the super sector needs to build a greater sense of trust and confidence in both itself and for the people it serves.
“Everyone associated with a super fund has a fiduciary duty. They are not working for themselves but for a pool of interests and for the members that make up the fund.
“The number one priority for people in the sector is to execute on that fiduciary duty. With that comes a lot of surveillance and a lot of regulatory obligations. My role is to help navigate the funds through that.”
One of the biggest issues is equality. There is still an uneven distribution of retirement outcomes among the population, Oborne says.
While government-funded paid parental leave in Australia has been extended to 26 weeks, super is not included.
Oborne says this needs to be addressed. This is not a women’s issue, she says, but a carer’s issue.
“Anyone taking on a primary carer role should be paid super on parental leave,” Oborne says.
She is also proud that PwC Australia has adopted paid super on parental leave, and that other big companies are following suit.
“We will continue to lobby to have it mandated into the system,” she says.
Oborne strongly believes the super sector needs to be kept fluent in its working and honest in its management. It is, she says, the “capital management sector of the nation”.
“There still needs to be significant transformations in areas such as financial advice, in distribution arms and in the accessibility of super for all people,” she says.
“We think we can play our part in all of this and be that trusted adviser. The way I see it, I still have at least 20 years left in me to contribute to that and stay true to the PwC Australia vision of building trust in society and solving important problems.”