Industry Super Australia has produced a dark advertising campaign that attacks Australia's major banks, warning workers about the banks' lobbying efforts in Canberra.
In a 45-second ad, released on Monday, the big banks are portrayed as foxes that are scratching to get into a suburban chicken coop.
A voiceover warns that Australia's banks are "putting pressure on our federal politicians to let them in," before the hand of a suit-wearing man unlocks the door to the chicken coop, allowing the foxes inside.
"The big banks want to get their hands on your super," the ad warns. "Banks aren't super."
It is a stark visual metaphor that the not-for-profit super industry hopes will resonate with Australians, and marks a serious ratcheting up of the sector's battle with the major banks.
It comes after a recent poll, commissioned by Industry Super, found just 31% of Australians trust the views of the big four banks – NAB, Commonwealth, Westpac and ANZ – on super, compared with 69% who trust industry super funds.
The ad pits Industry Super Australia (ISA) against the Turnbull government. ISA believes the government has sided with the major banks over the banks' attempts to extend their market share of Australians' super savings.
Kelly O'Dwyer, the minister for financial services, made a provocative speech late last year to a superannuation conference in Canberra.
She told the conference that Australia's super funds were not governed at the same standard as major banks and life insurance companies, which drew laughter from the audience.
She was later ridiculed by Peter Collins, the chairman of ISA and a former leader of the New South Wales Liberal party.
"The minister for superannuation is saying that she would like super fund governance to be the same as governance for the banks," Collins told Guardian Australia.
"If super funds had been responsible for systemic failures in financial advice, failure to pass on interest rate cuts, excessive executive remuneration and other forms of profit gouging by banks, there would have been a royal commission into super funds in a flash.
"It is abhorrent and unacceptable in the minds of most Australians that the standards for super funds should be the same as those tolerated for the banks."
O'Dwyer says she wants to force all super funds – including not-for-profit default funds – to appoint an independent chair and fill a third of their board seats with independent directors, in a bid to make the industry more accountable and transparent.
"I look forward to working constructively with the opposition, the crossbench senators and my colleagues to ensure the Turnbull government can deliver on its commitment to put members' interests ahead of the self-interest in the superannuation sector," she said last month.
But ISA has repeatedly argued that that would be unnecessary.
It says industry funds have an "equal representation" model under which half their board seats go to contributing employers and the other half to affiliated unions, and that has created successful board cultures that promote members' interests, and which have helped industry funds generate superior returns to those of for-profit funds.
It says industry funds have generated returns of 6.3% on average over the last 20 years, compared to 4.5% for retail funds, without charging commissions or misselling to members.
The ad comes just days the Australian Securities and Investments Commission released the findings of its review of the conduct of the financial advice arms – between January 2009 to June 2015 – of AMP, ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac.
As a result of the probe, more than 1,300 customers were paid compensation for poor financial advice; 26 financial advisers employed by the banks and AMP were banned, and many others remain under investigation.
O'Dwyer said the review showed Asic was taking "proactive steps to monitor the financial advice sector's compliance with the law," and to work with the sector to prevent future harm to consumers.
The chief executive of ISA, David Whiteley, said the findings warned against greater bank involvement in the compulsory super savings of millions of Australians.
"The banks and their subsidiaries have a deeply entrenched sales culture that runs counter to consumer interests and is clearly incompatible with the public policy objectives of compulsory superannuation," he said.