‘Putting the customer at the heart’ of a business has become a common corporate axiom. But for Natalie Previtera, new CEO of education professionals’ superannuation fund NGS Super, the saying has personal connotations.
Previtera’s first job in financial services was in the call center of a bank – a role she credits with sowing the seeds of her success. “I think anybody who has spent time in a call center gains a really good understanding of what customers or members want,” Previtera tells The CEO Magazine.
“The problems they have are many and varied, and you’ve got to be able to think quickly in terms of problem solving.”
Of course, it can seem a long way to the top when you start at entry level. Previtera, who studied for her Bachelor of Laws while solving customer concerns, found the key to progression was coupling a can-do attitude with accelerated learning.
“If you show initiative, have a willingness to do more than what’s expected and always do your best to over deliver, you are rewarded with more opportunity,” Previtera says. “I have also had the benefit of some incredible mentors.”
Growth of the Right Kind
Previtera stepped up to the top job at NGS Super in June 2023, having held the position of acting CEO for the previous nine months. During the period prior to her ascension, the company faced a dilemma not uncommon to companies of its size – merge, expand or face the risk of being swallowed by a larger entity.
NGS Super had been eyeing a potential merger opportunity but opted instead to expand its membership base.
“I think it was a brave decision not to go ahead with a merger when everybody else was merging,” Previtera says. “It led to a lot of soul searching by management and the board. For example, what are the potential opportunities in the sector we were established to serve?”
“We’ve got a real intimacy with our members we don’t want to lose.”
Exploring those opportunities included an inward gaze to analyze what made NGS Super stand out in the market. “We really understand our membership,” Previtera explains. “We’re a niche fund in that way.”
Previtera soon found herself intensely involved in devising a plan to expand that niche. “We realized that if we were really dedicated to growing the business and doing things differently, there’s no reason our fundamentals couldn’t remain solid while we continued to provide for our sector,” she explains.
“We want growth, but we’re looking for the right kind of growth – steady and stable – so we can continue to do what we are doing right now.”
Previtera points out that the ‘right kind’ of growth taps into one of NGS Super’s core values – carbon neutrality.
“Our whole fund is essentially on track to be carbon neutral by 2030. And we are very proud of that. It’s one of the things that differentiates us,” she says.
By aiming for 2030, NGS Super has committed itself to investing responsibly on its members’ behalf. “We check our targets regularly, and we are well on track to deliver by 2030,” she says. “For us, waiting was not an option.”
Apart from consolidating a commitment to social responsibility, Previtera considers NGS Super’s carbon target to be good business sense. “Being known to invest in that way, there will be other members we attract who are outside the education sector,” she says.
A Strategic Edge
As far as Previtera is concerned, NGS Super’s focus remains on providing the right service for its members. “The big end of town isn’t for everyone,” she says.
“Those big funds serve a purpose. But we don’t want to be massive – we’ve got a real intimacy with our members, which we don’t want to lose.”
Which is where Previtera’s call center roots shine through. “When you’re on the frontline talking to members and customers, you’ve got to have compassion and empathy,” she says.
“You do your best to help those people, and I’ve taken that into all the roles I’ve had.”
With her role now at the top of the corporate ladder, Previtera continually strives to reach out to those who matter most. “We have members coming into the office regularly. I get a lot of chances to meet them. It’s a good opportunity to listen and hear,” she says.
“You get a mixture of good stories from people telling you they’re happy and proud to be associated with NGS, but you do get people for whom things haven’t gone according to plan.
“Being able to do something for those members who might need it, that’s fulfilling. At the size we are, we can do that.”
“Our ability to be agile is what’s important.”
Previtera says NGS Super’s modest size also gives it a strategic edge. “There’s no doubt we are smaller than many of the other players. We’re not the tiniest, but we’re certainly not the largest,” she says.
“Being a small fund, our ability to be agile is what’s important. And that goes to so many elements like our culture, our recruitment policies and the way we structure work.”
Partnerships with strong, like-minded suppliers such as TAL Insurance are also vital. “You are only as successful as the partners you have,” Previtera says. “The people you want to work with are those who’ll be in the trenches with you when you need to solve something for your membership.”
Ultimately, for Previtera, that’s what it’s all about – from the start of her career, it has been about the voices on the other end of the phone in search of guidance and assistance.
“Our purpose as a fund is to help our members and the world prepare for tomorrow. And we try to instill that in everything we do.”