Inside Money

Business writer David Chaplin blogs on personal finance

Inside Money: How to figure out KiwiSaver

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KiwiSaver managers have charged members a total $421 million in fees and expenses, according to a new report.
KiwiSaver managers have charged members a total $421 million in fees and expenses, according to a new report.

Winston Peters, canny old politician that he is, has hit the opinion sweet-spot with his call for some sort of government-run, taxpayer-guaranteed KiwiSaver.

Who would run this mythical scheme, how they would generate better returns than everyone else and what exactly New Zealand's taxpayers (still recovering from our last little foray into finance company back-stopping) would be guaranteeing are obviously tiny policy details that would have to be worked out later.

In the interim, Peters has got the crusade underway against "hordes of ticket clipping fund managers" - and fair enough, who wants them around?

He claims that fund managers have "sucked" out fees of $325 million from KiwiSavers over the last five years sounds like a lot, but is it really?

According to my annual analysis of KiwiSaver schemes (the 2013 edition is available now here), Peters has actually underestimated the true cost so far.

My study, which sourced data from the annual reports of 38 KiwiSaver schemes (the entire market excepting company-only funds) toted up fees and expenses of $181 million in the 12 months to March 31 this year.

Over the last three years, KiwiSaver managers have charged members a total $421 million in fees and expenses - at least that's all I could find.

By my reckoning KiwiSaver has a total cost of about 1.2 per cent of assets under management - not unreasonable by any means.

But there is a wide variation in cost across the 38 schemes in my study, ranging from 0.7 to 3.4 per cent of assets under management.

Whether those fees are justified or not depends, of course, on what the manager is claiming to do on your behalf. The new quarterly reporting regime should help members, eventually, work out if their particular KiwiSaver fund is doing what the label says at the right price.

Over the 12 months to March 31 this year, all KiwiSaver schemes experienced positive investment returns - by my calculations across a range of 0.9 to 21.2 per cent. In aggregate the 38 schemes in the survey added about $1.5 billion through investment returns (most via capital gains rather than income) - or just over 10 per cent.

Not a bad year, really, but that's just my opinion. If you want some facts (or figures anyway) do check out my report.

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