A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: Greens thicken the KiwiSaver default plot

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

John Key's failure to curtly dismiss the Green Party's KiwiSaver proposals as 'out of step with the times' feeds in nicely to my own favourite conspiracy theory: there's a secret plot against the default system.

In its just-released policy, the Greens have made the abolition of the six default schemes (Axa, AMP, Tower, Mercer, ASB and OnePath) an explicit goal.

"When KiwiSaver is reviewed in 2014 we will examine the option of making the [Green-proposed] public fund the sole default provider," the Green KiwiSaver policy statement says.

Both National and Labour have also made their respective takes on compulsion as contingent upon the 2014 review.

Remember, too, that there's a project underway somewhere in a government back office investigating how to encourage passive investment options - a potential precursor to the creation of a single default option as proposed by the Savings Working Group (SWG).

The Green KiwiSaver plan is copied straight out of the SWG report - more or less.

Actually, less.

For the SWG model had a subtlety of design, incorporating a default age-based investment program, that the Green version apparently lacks.

Although further detail may be forthcoming, the policy as articulated in the Green document mentions only a "low-risk, low-cost" fund.

The SWG envisaged a 'life-cycle' type default scheme that set KiwiSaver member investments according to the general proviso that the younger you are, the higher the proportion of risky assets should be in your portfolio.

"Lower costs and fees lead to higher returns," the Greens say, which is true assuming all else is equal.

But if the default result is a glorified term deposit not much will have been gained.

The Green Party estimates its projected fee savings of 40 per cent could add about $142,000 to a default KiwiSaver member's bottom line over 40 years. Of course, the counterfactual argument is that professionally implemented asset allocation should more than offset costs with investment gains.

Wisely, the Greens don't get in on this debate, keeping the costs front and centre with lines like: "... KiwiSaver providers often make the amount of fees and costs they're charging so difficult to decipher [for an attempt at deciphering see my previous post]."

Irrespective of the lack of portfolio construction details, well done the Greens for putting my conspiracy theory officially on the election agenda.

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A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

David is a freelance journalist who has covered the financial services business on both sides of the Tasman for over 15 years. He is the editor of industry website Investment News. David has edited magazines and websites for the financial advice, investment and superannuation industries.

Read more by David Chaplin

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