KiwiSaver: Can your investment path be improved?


Two decades ago, house prices were on the rise, home ownership defined a sense of wealth and people were spending more than they earned.

You may think that still holds true in 2018, but what definitely has changed is our concern for securing a financial future, rather than just the "here and now".

This mindset shift has come with good reason. By the early 2000s, New Zealanders had gained an international reputation as the worst savers in OECD, heavy reliance on foreign borrowing and was a nation in debt.

At the same time, the population began to age, and longer retirements were on the horizon.

In a bid to respond to these alarm bells, the government of the day introduced a solution that aimed to encourage long-term saving habits, secure the standard of living in retirement and maintain the economy's ability to provide for those pensioners.

Enter KiwiSaver, and not a moment too soon.

When KiwiSaver was established on July 1, 2007, the scepticism it had faced turned out to be unfounded.

In a little over a year, more than one million people had signed up.

Enrolments have exceeded expectations, with more than 2.7 million people now members of KiwiSaver.

Looking back, it's easy to forget how ground-breaking it was. KiwiSaver was the world's first auto-enrolment, opt-out, national retirement savings scheme. It is now serving as an inspiration for other nations like the UK and Ireland.

KiwiSaver's 11th birthday is a major milestone and a cause for celebration. There is clearly much to applaud.

This is also a chance to reflect, to look at what has worked, and to consider what can be improved.

While the inception of KiwiSaver marks a giant leap in the right direction, it is still young, and there is plenty of room for improvement.

Both financial capability and engagement are on the rise, but people still aren't sure how much they need to save or what retirement looks like.

At the same time, many members continue to contribute at minimal levels and not receive the Government's full member tax credit or take contributions holidays when other financial priorities arise.

As a result, KiwiSaver member balances remain relatively low, and despite having an exemplary model in place, as a nation, we continue to have the lowest rate of retirement savings.

While membership rates are high, "default" members comprise 21 percent who were automatically placed in a scheme on starting a new job and didn't opt out.

These members are typically sitting in lower-risk funds, are not taking an active interest in growing their KiwiSaver accounts and they potentially do not know who manages their KiwiSaver savings.

Unlike a traditional savings account, KiwiSaver introduces members to both the habit of saving and the concept of market volatility.

A member chooses a fund, accepts a certain level of risk and hopes to reap the benefits of positive returns.

As markets do well, so too do KiwiSaver balances. However, as political or economic events cause markets to wobble, the opposite is bound to happen.

For many, this see-saw effect was a complete surprise, and some react to adverse market events by switching to more conservative funds.

According to Good Returns, data shows that KiwiSaver members who work with advisers, as opposed to going it alone or via a bank, have more allocation to growth assets throughout their lives.

We have 26 KiwiSaver providers in New Zealand at present, not all the providers have the same services, and most of them don't provide professional advice.

In a recent KiwiSaver finding report, 62 per cent of respondents want their KiwiSaver provider to give them access to free professional advice tailored to their needs or circumstances.

An industry study says investors aged between 17 and 32 have 30 percent higher exposure to growth assets, due in part to the effect of unadvised default members ending up in conservative funds, and, KiwiSaver members aged between 33 and 60 with an adviser had 15 percent allocation to growth.

When it comes to reaching your goals in retirement, time is your biggest ally and seeking financial advice is particularly important.

Many don't know what their financial goals should be, and even more, don't realise that the goals they have set with their current spending and saving patterns are unattainable.

As a financial adviser, the key thing for me is advice.

At Stewart Group, we believe the quality of the advice is as relevant as the choice of your KiwiSaver provider, and we encourage our clients to seek tailored advice on contribution rates and fund choice to track their progress towards retirement.

• Nick Stewart is the CEO and Authorised Financial Adviser at Stewart Financial Group, a Hawke's Bay-owned and operated independent financial planning and advisory firm based in Hastings.

• The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961.