Tamsyn Parker

Money Editor for NZ Herald

KiwiSaver yet to win public's trust

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand's KiwiSaver industry needs to win the public's trust before it can expect people to hand over their retirement savings in exchange for a regular income, according to a top man at New Zealand's regulator.

Adam Hunt, head of strategic intelligence for the Financial Markets Authority, told attendees at a retirement policy conference, there needed to be a change in behaviour from providers before an annuity market could be considered in New Zealand.

Annuities allow people to use their retirement nest egg to buy an insurance contract which can give them a regular income until they die.

They are seen as a solution to people living longer amid fears they will run out of money in old age.

At the moment individuals can choose what they do with their KiwiSaver savings once they are eligible to take the money out - usually around 65 years old.

But there has been debate around whether people should be trusted to spend their money wisely or be forced to use part or all of their savings to buy an annuity.

Hunt pointed to overseas experiences which had not all been positive.

"In the US there is an uproar because annuities aren't working very well."

Since the United States set up its annuity system in 1991 there have been 62 major failures of providers, he said.

"It doesn't reinforce faith in the market."

The schemes are also seen as expensive because those who sell them often get a commission of up to 12 per cent with the average commission around 6 per cent.

Last month Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to scrap compulsory annuities from April next year.

Shares in companies which provide the products plunged in the wake of the news amid talk the change would result in people splurging the money on houses, cars and holidays following on the back of the Australian experience.

Australia has no established annuity market despite having a compulsory superannuation savings scheme. According to The Guardian research by Australian investment management firm Challenger in 2012 found 32 per cent of Australians spent their super on buying a home, paying off a mortgage or home improvements.

A further 19 per cent used it to buy or pay off a car and 14 per cent paid for a holiday with it.

Hunt said there had been a loss of faith in the retirement savings system in the UK.
But the market response had been "if only they were smarter [people] would understand it was good for them."

Hunt said from a regulatory perspective he would like to see a shift in behaviour from providers.

"I need to see some high trust products and models that restore public trust."

"It's not a technical problem it's a problem with faith and trust...it's not just about delivering a technical solution like a long-term bond."

More than two million people are signed up to KiwiSaver with the pool of money expected to hit a combined $20 billion this year.

- NZ Herald

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