A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: Winners by default - when five becomes nine

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

According to a list I compiled earlier, 11 KiwiSaver providers volunteered for default duty but only nine were approved by the government last week.

On my list, but not the government's, were Superlife and Aon, who, it is understood, will be debriefed on the reasons for their unsuccessful bids in the next week or so.

With the possible exception of Grosvenor, there were no real surprises among the lucky nine: all of the five incumbents were reappointed plus the three other major banks (BNZ, Westpac and Kiwibank) previously out of the default ranks.

But, in return for the default honour, the government has squeezed a few more basis points out of the industry with most existing providers knocking down their prices while two of the new contenders put in substantially lower bids.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MOBIE) has put together a useful table comparing default scheme total annual fees based on an account balance of $7,000 (which is roughly the current default member average).

According to the MOBIE estimates, the annual fees for a $7,000 account would range from $27 at Grosvenor to $69 for Mercer members. Fisher Funds (formerly Tower) default comes in at $68 while the Australian-owned bank schemes range in price from $58 for ASB to $66 for both Westpac and ANZ (OnePath scheme).

Comparing the MOBIE figures with similar estimates on the Sorted website (which assumes a $7,400 member account), it's possible to see how the existing five default providers have changed post-review.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia-owned ASB scheme price has remained static while, under the new default contracts due to start this July, the Mercer, Fisher and ANZ (OnePath) schemes will be about $6, $4 and $3 cheaper respectively for the idealised $7,000 member.

The biggest discounter of the incumbents, however, is the AMP scheme, which will see annual fees fall from about $78 for our $7,000 member, according to Sorted, to $51 under the new contract.

Jack Regan, head of AMP Financial Services NZ, says the default review process prompted the group to take a "forward-looking view" on price, betting that increasing scale over the next five to 10 years will keep the offer profitable.

While the default schemes don't necessarily compete on price (given most members are automatically allocated by the IRD), Regan says the low-cost should still hand AMP a competitive advantage, particularly among employers.

Furthermore, AMP will now open up the default scheme to the public (access was previously via the IRD only) while the new annual member fixed fee of $23.40 - down from $36 - will apply across all of the group's KiwiSaver funds.

Allan Yeo, Grosvenor chair, says the firm deliberately pitched its default price at the extremely low end, creating a product that "goes to the heart of what a default fund should be, a holding account until the member makes an active choice".

Yeo says Grosvenor is confident its member education process (a new default requirement) will see people shift out of default and into more appropriate funds over time. However, if, for whatever reason, members make an "active choice" to stay in the Grosvenor default, the annual fee of $30 will kick in once the account hits $10,000.

Kiwibank, meanwhile, has set a higher management fee (0.59 per cent - or 59 basis points) than Grosvenor (38 basis points) for its default offering while dispensing entirely with the annual member fee - although it also has a $40 minimum charge.

The default review has delivered savings for disinterested KiwiSavers, but undoubtedly behind the scenes providers are trimming costs as well - especially as the default system now has four extra mouths to feed.

The nine default schemes will each pick up about 1,000 members every month under current settings. But underwriting the enthusiasm for default status is also a tacit understanding that at some point - soonish - the government will come good on its promise to introduce mass auto-enrolment for all non-member employees into KiwiSaver, potentially pumping over 1 million bodies into the default system.

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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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