COMMENT:

The Herald's Cooking the Books personal finance podcast is here to get you the tips you need to weather the financial storm. Hosted by Frances Cook, with a new expert on each episode.

There's nothing like a trial by fire to make you truly understand what risks you're ready to take with your money.

It's all well and good to lay out the rules in theory; that increased risk leads to increased returns, and you'll make more money if you're willing to leave it there for a few years, putting up with the bumps along the way.

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Then a crisis hits, those bumps look more like a screaming nosedive, and you utter the words most dreaded by economists: "this time, it's different".

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So when Covid-19 hit and sent KiwiSavers into a tailspin, you might have expected new investors to panic and yank their money out.

Some did, sure. But the results from the Financial Market Authority's latest annual Investor Confidence Survey paints a picture that's reassuring for the majority.

Most New Zealanders - 71 per cent - are confident that the pandemic will pass, and markets will recover.

In fact 23 per cent are feeling brave enough that they're planning to increase their existing investments, or even start new ones in the year ahead.

Part of the credit can go to KiwiSaver providers, who have stepped up their efforts to earn the fees that they earn from looking after our money. You pay them to look after your nest egg, and should rightly expect to get something back for it.

Their work to earn that cash must also include looking after new investors who aren't used to the rollercoaster ride, need it explained, and some help to decide the best course through for them.

Happily, KiwiSaver providers are increasingly stepping up to the plate on that issue.

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Around half of New Zealanders said their provider had kept them informed about what was going on, and what that meant for them.

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Those who didn't receive communication could well be asking themselves whether they're with the right provider – and I wouldn't blame them.

Another reason for that increased confidence among KiwiSavers is probably the recent rule changes that have made it simpler and easier to understand what's going on.

We all get a statement each year, updating us on what's happening with our money.

But more than 10 years after the scheme was set up, it became obvious that those statements weren't making sense to enough of us.

So now your KiwiSaver statement is getting simpler to help you see how your nest egg is going, and make the decisions that actually matter.

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The day-to-day issues of the market jumping around doesn't actually matter to most of us. The standard advice is to pick a fund that's growth, balanced, or conservative based on your stage of life, and then just ignore it.

But your fees, and how much you're likely to have by the time you hit retirement, are far more important.

Those details have been made clearer as part of a recent series of tweaks to KiwiSaver.

Fees used to be shown as a percentage, but since 2018 they've popped up as a dollar figure, making it much clearer how an expensive account chews into your money.

And just this year, a new rule came into play to show how much cash you're likely to have by the time you hit 65 and can cash out.

Some providers already had a version of this forecast, but the new rule provides a standard way of calculating it, so that all of the providers are singing from the same song sheet. So now you can compare apples with apples across different providers.

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These changes level the playing field so that you can focus on what's truly important.

If you're being charged monstrous fees for your KiwiSaver and you heard nothing from the provider through that scary Covid dip in April, you could be forgiven for asking what you're paying for, and considering a switch.

And if your pile of cash by the time you hit retirement isn't looking very big, it might be the prompt you need to ask your provider if you should be thinking about a growth fund instead of conservative.

Now that's some confident money management.

Listen to the Cooking the Books podcast here:

• Listen to the full interview on the Cooking the Books podcast. You can find new episodes on Herald Premium, or subscribe on iHeartRadio, Apple podcasts app, or Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

• If you have a question about this podcast, or question you'd like answered in the next one, come and talk to me about it. I'm on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

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