David Chaplin 's Opinion

A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: How KiwiSaver fees add up

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The lid is being turned a little tighter to stop some previously invisible KiwiSaver fees escaping the jar unnoticed. Photo / Thinkstock
The lid is being turned a little tighter to stop some previously invisible KiwiSaver fees escaping the jar unnoticed. Photo / Thinkstock

The office of the Government Actuary (GA) is history, consumed in April by the newly-formed uber-regulator, the Financial Markets Authority (FMA).

But don't be fooled by the name change, the actuarial spirit lives on within the FMA, which a once-over of the government KiwiSaver and superannuation sector annual reports, previously published by the GA, will confirm.

Check it out, there's a cents column in the accounts, who but an actuary would bother with the piffling figures to the right of the decimal point?

I won't. I'm going to round up.

By my unactuarial reckoning of the FMA KiwiSaver annual report, the scheme cost about $164 million (including all fees and expenses paid by members) to run in the 12 months to March 31 this year. Divide that by the approximate $9.2 billion stuck in KiwiSaver schemes as at the end of March and you arrive at a rough total cost ratio of 1.8 per cent.

Doesn't sound expensive, doesn't sound cheap either. Perhaps it's just right, a real Goldilocks situation.

Applying its 'not unreasonable' test, the GA always tried to keep a tight lid on KiwiSaver fees, but it didn't have an airtight solution for all schemes.

This year, under its new banner, the government KiwiSaver report reveals the lid is being turned a little tighter to stop some previously invisible fees escaping the jar unnoticed.

"An issue that has recently come to light which deserves comment in this report relates to Trustees investing in sub funds where the fees are deducted from the assets and a net return is declared," the FMA KiwiSaver report says.

That is, some KiwiSaver providers probably didn't declare the true cost of running their schemes because fees were buried in funds delegated to external managers.

How much of a big deal that is will vary, of course, from scheme to scheme. But the Mercer KiwiSaver scheme provides a good example for comparing fee differentials.

This year for the first time, Mercer - which is an actuarial firm at heart - provided a breakdown of fees paid to investment managers that were previously bundled up in the unit trust price. Happily, Mercer also back-dated the process to last year, confessing total fees/expenses in 2009/10 of $3.67 million, of which about $660,000 was formerly invisible.

A victory for the actuary.

David Chaplin

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. David has edited magazines and websites for the financial advice, investment and superannuation industries. Today, he contributes to various publications in Australia as well as his bi-weekly blog for the NZ Herald under the 'Inside Money' banner.

Read more by David Chaplin

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