Bernard Hickey: A safe decision but wrong

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The Govt's decision was politically safe - but sometimes the conservative decision in the short term is the wrong one in the long run. Photo / Thinkstock
The Govt's decision was politically safe - but sometimes the conservative decision in the short term is the wrong one in the long run. Photo / Thinkstock

This week, the Government made a decision that is likely to cost voters in their 20s and 30s billions of dollars in lost savings over the decades to come.

But it didn't make headlines, and will probably cost National few votes at next year's election.

That's because the Government's decision to keep default KiwiSaver funds conservatively managed until 2021 seemed an arcane one about investment theory.

The stakes are high. Nearly half a million New Zealanders are in default KiwiSaver funds that manage at least $3.5 billion. They were put there when they started a new job and were auto-enrolled by the Inland Revenue Department in one of the six default funds.

When KiwiSaver was set up in 2006 by then Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen, he chose to make the default funds conservative and give them a seven-year term starting in 2007.

It was an accidental masterstroke because shortly after KiwiSaver started, the global financial crisis hammered riskier funds invested in stocks.

Default funds invested in bonds coped much better in 2008 and 2009.

But that changed over the past year as stock markets boomed. Investment theorists say markets are now reverting to their long-term trends, which are that long-term savers are better off investing in funds more heavily weighted to stocks.

However, most savers in default funds never move and that is extremely costly for them in the long run because they miss out on billions of dollars of returns from growth funds.

The Government's decision was politically safe - but sometimes the conservative decision in the short term is the wrong one in the long run.

- Herald on Sunday

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