JANET BROWN reports on the recent RVA conference in Melbourne.

RVA president Margaret Owens opened the conference, highlighting achievements over the past year and key issues facing the organisation. Keynote speaker Dr Alexander Kalache, co-president of the International Longevity Centre in Brazil, then introduced delegates to his Ageing Framework, supported by the four pillars of participation, health, security and lifelong learning. Richard Hinchliffe, ANZ, highlighted ways in which operators make things difficult for themselves, and conversely some key indicators for success. Next, James Schofield from First NZ Capital gave delegates a sharebroker’s view of the RV sector.

MC Sean Plunket, donning his political commentator’s hat, introduced us to the New Zealand political landscape from a Game of Thrones perspective. Sean identified three key, big picture policy areas that are currently hot topics: entitlement to or rationing of national superannuation, inter-generational discord over property ownership, and assisted dying and euthanasia.

Then the focus shifted to research. First, Mark McCrindle took delegates through the results of McCrindle Research’s recent survey of resident wellbeing, using the net promoter score methodology. The RVA sector’s score was the highest yet, 20 points ahead of the next, the online shopping industry, and significantly ahead of the Australian RV industry’s score. Mark characterised residents as usually being “pre-choice resisters and post-choice embracers” and urged operators to keep their offering and service real, relevant, responsive and relational. Mary Wood, from the Retirement Living Council of Australia, gave an update on preliminary results from their recent census and research, which will be used to inform and lobby policy decision makers.

After lunch, Cameron Bagrie, ANZ Bank principal economist, gave his customary annual economic update. Michael Voges, executive director of the UK’s Associated Retirement Community Operators, shared with delegates the challenges of establishing retirement villages in the UK, noting that 75 per cent of his sector was currently social housing. Academic staff from Melbourne University briefed delegates on their newly developed multi-disciplinary Master of Ageing degree, and the Healthy Ageing quiz, accessible online at www.nari.net.au Wednesday’s proceedings started with a high-energy, inspirational keynote address from Rod McGeoch, chair of MediaWorks. Then retirement commissioner Diane Maxwell, who leads the Commission for Financial Capability, updated delegates on the Commission’s work with future retirees and their recent highly successful series of seminars for intending RV residents.

Richard Grayson and Richard Gates from the ANZ gave delegates a comparison of the New Zealand and Australian RV and aged care markets from a financier’s perspective. A key difference currently is that New Zealand is dramatically outbuilding Australia in the RV sector, and the reverse applies to building of care facilities.

In the intriguingly named “What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas” session, Martin Oettli and Andrew Joyce took us with them on their recent group tour of California RV facilities, highlighting key differences. They noted the focus on personalised and anticipatory customer service, the wide variation of pricing models in response to customer preference and need, the availability of care for every need but at a price, and the lack of a safety net for those who can’t afford care.

Michael Ambrose then took delegates on a different journey: the process of preparing 17 retirement villages and over 200 shareholders for an IPO process, creating the Arvida Group. Arvida chief executive Bill McDonald completed the story, highlighting the challenges facing him on appointment and describing their determination to create “a corporate that isn’t a corporate”.

Next the focus shifted to innovative RV design, with professor Alan Pert and associate professor Clare Newton of Melbourne University highlighting options and key criteria such as social inclusion, community focus, modular and prefabricated building design. We also had a whistle stop tour of some of the highly individualistic designs for the network of Maggie Jencks Cancer Centres in the UK.

Delegates were relieved that the Covenant Trustees’ free health checks indicated they were mostly in good shape, although the results for male delegates were not as good as for females. Since 2011, the ANZ has surveyed delegates annually to discover their current concerns and expectations.

Richard Hinchliffe noted the three top issues in 2015 were finding good employees, likely higher wage demands, and increasing levels of compliance; the three top priorities were further building development, improving the quality and skills of employees, and acquiring land for development.

Corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson’s conference wrap-up session shared what he described as his obsession with culture – “why we do it this way round here?” After the conference closed, many delegates took the opportunity on Thursday and Friday to experience the unique Virtual Dementia Lab and also explored several local retirement villages.

Between sessions, delegates explored the trade show, the $5,000 travel voucher draw, won by Stephen Hanson from Geraldine Retirement Village. The Monday night opening cocktail party gave delegates an opportunity to catch up and share stories from the Grant Adamson Memorial Golf Tournament or the laneways and arcades tour earlier that day. They wined, dined and danced at the conference dinner on Tuesday night, where Norah Barlow was presented with life membership of the Association, and on Wednesday evening had the option of joining 91,500 other footy fans at the State of Origin game at the MCG or enjoying a stunning production of the classic 1930s musical, Anything Goes, at the Princess Theatre.

Conference presentations are available online on the RVA website.

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