Uncertainty, confusion and just plain apathy are being blamed for an apparently slower than expected uptake of the new retirement saving scheme, KiwiSaver.
A Weekend Herald survey of 17 KiwiSaver providers four weeks after the scheme started on July 1 has found that they have been swamped with inquiries, but the numbers actually signing up are being counted only in the hundreds and thousands out of an eligible workforce of two million.
Twelve of the 17 providers refused to disclose numbers, citing commercial confidentiality. Of the five who gave numbers, the biggest was 3000 enrolments in Aonsaver, run by insurance brokers Aon.
Manager Jim Routledge said that was less than expected because of "general confusion" and "apathy".
" I think it's largely that it just hasn't been top of their priorities."
Fisher Funds Management said it had signed up 2420 savers, Fidelity Life 450 and the Association of Credit Unions 350.
Most surprisingly, one of the six "default" providers, Mercer, has signed up only 600 people so far despite scoring what seemed to be a prize relationship with Kiwibank.
The head of the company's global investments for New Zealand, Martin Lewington, said most employers were waiting to see all the options before choosing preferred providers.
"They are using the luxury of the next two or three months to make a good choice," he said.
The other five default providers, who will get KiwiSaver account holders who don't actively choose another scheme, all said they were happy with their numbers so far.
ASB spokeswoman Debby Bell said the bank was getting more than 1000 inquiries a day and had trebled its planned KiwiSaver staffing.
Ann-Marie Nansett from Axa said enrolments were "meeting projections", Steven Giannoulis from ING said they were "more favourable than we anticipated" and Robert Gatward from Tower said he had run out of 25,000 investment statements, on top of 60,000 supplied to Inland Revenue for default clients - "far more than we ever expected".
"So the interest is quite high. The applications are now coming through but not at the same level yet."
The sixth default provider, AMP, declined to say anything about its enrolments except that they were "weighted towards people who are older and perhaps nearing retirement".
Nic Craven of Grosvenor also reported "a real rush at the start, particularly among those aged close to 65". One person enrolled two days before their 65th birthday.
Savers can access their savings either at age 65 or five years after opening an account, whichever is later. Enrolment after 65 is not permitted.
Providers also reported many enrolments from parents and grandparents on behalf of children. Tower's first enrolment was for a 2-year-old, and the Association of Credit Unions said about half its enrolments to date were for children.
SuperLife director Michael Littlewood blamed lower than expected enrolments on uncertainty about KiwiSaver's future if the National Party won the next election.
Although no figures are available from Inland Revenue, providers believe that thousands of employers have chosen preferred providers, despite a warning from the Employers and Manufacturers Association that they could risk being sued by employees if they advise staff to join a scheme which turns out to perform badly.
Aon has already signed up "several hundred" employers, Mercer "more than 100" with a majority of big multinationals, and SuperLife and accountants Staples Rodway had more than 100 each.
EMA advisory services manager David Lowe said:
"Our advice has been, don't give advice or conclusions about what people should do with their money. That is different from choosing a preferred scheme."
$80 bonus to join up now
Wait beyond next Tuesday to sign up for KiwiSaver - and you may lose $80.
Finance Minister Michael Cullen plans to change the KiwiSaver Act so that anyone joining KiwiSaver before the end of July will get the full Government subsidy of up to $20 a week on their savings for the whole month - just over $80 for the month.
The same rule will apply in every subsequent month. So someone joining up to the last day in August will get the subsidy from August 1, and so on.
Jim Routledge, who runs a KiwiSaver scheme for insurance brokers Aon, said people should stop worrying about marginal differences in fees and think about how much they lose every month that they stay out of KiwiSaver.
A Herald survey last month found that annual fees on a $1000 account with 22 out of 23 providers ranged from $33 to $58 a year, or from zero to $18 after allowing for the $40 Government fee subsidy.
"If you look at losing $80 a month by not joining, $20 [difference in fees] a year is neither here nor there," he said.