The KiwiSaver framework should be used to help set up a way for people to save an "emergency fund" so fewer have to resort to borrowing from high-cost lenders, says the government's money advice arm.

David Boyle, group manager education at the Commission for Financial Capability, told attendees at its biennial summit that other countries were looking at how to help people save for a rainy day and New Zealand should do so too.

The United States as of the end of 2016 had US$25 trillion ($35.5t) in savings of which $15t was in superannuation, but for every dollar invested by the under 45s, 40c leaked out.

A US Federal Reserve wealth and wellbeing survey found nearly half of people could only come up with US$400 if they borrowed it or sold something.


The situation was similar in New Zealand where recent research by the commission found 44 per cent of Kiwis only had enough saved to survive for one month or less if they lost their income.

Boyle also pointed to the growing number of hardship claims coming into KiwiSaver providers.

He said the framework of KiwiSaver could be used to create a bucket system where people's initial savings filled up their emergency fund before the money went into their KiwiSaver fund.

The KiwiSaver system was a "jewel in the crown" for New Zealand as it was a business-to-business system which used a central collection point - the Inland Revenue - through which to funnel the money.

In other countries people have to set up new superannuation savings accounts when they change employers or even move states in the US.

Boyle said the fund might not be part of KiwiSaver but could use the same type of set up and then it would be up to providers to decide if they would offer the product.

The United Kingdom was trialling an emergency savings system which allowed people to put 1 per cent of their income into a rainy day fund and 3 per cent into retirement savings.

Once the rainy day fund was full the money was then diverted into retirement savings.


Boyle said people could set their own limit for how much to put in the rainy day savings account and withdraw it for whatever reason.

"We have to accept that some people will just keep drawing it out."

But he said over time people would get used to it.

"If you put too many rules around it, it will just mitigate the benefit."

Boyle said one of the benefits of setting up the fund was that it could help mitigate the problem with people turning to high-interest debt.