KiwiSaver members could face their toughest year in 2019 as forecasts for ongoing volatility in global markets could see balances fall significantly for the first time.

But experts say savers are best to stick to their guns and ride it out, or risk missing out on the bounce-back.

KiwiSaver performance figures for 2018 won't be available until the end of January but some funds are likely to have had a negative year for performance, according to Morningstar's Australasian research head Tim Murphy.

The average return for the year to September 30 across growth funds was 11.3 per cent already down on the performance for 2017 of 15.7 per cent.

Advertisement

And the last quarter of 2018 was an even tougher time in global markets, with some markets seeing the gains of the entire year wiped out.

Claire Matthews, a KiwiSaver expert at Massey University says already some peoples' balances will have gone down.

"I think we are already seeing it to some extent."

"The issue is since KiwiSaver has come in we have had a fairly benign investment environment - we haven't really had that volatility. "

KiwiSaver was launched in July 2007 - shortly before the 2008 global financial crisis hit.

But balances were small and bolstered by the $1000 kickstart money put into people's accounts by the Government.

Matthews says the other big difference from 2008 is the number of people now in KiwiSaver.

More than 2.7 million Kiwis now belong to the scheme - a massive jump up from June 2008 when just over 716,000 people were in KiwiSaver.

Advertisement

Matthews says a large number of those 2.7 million people don't have any other investments so they also don't have experience of the markets going up and down.

"They won't remember '87. They have just seen this really upward movement."

Matthews says it is going to be a bit of a reality check for people.

"I can see a lot of people complaining and blaming the Government."

And she predicts that some will make knee-jerk reactions based on the short-term performance without getting advice.

"What they really need to be getting is advice from someone who can say 'don't panic'.

Ayesha Scott, a finance lecturer at AUT, says the number one message she would give is exactly that - don't panic.

"Just because markets are down and returns are lower - is not a reason to change your strategy."

But she says it is a good time to look at your strategy and check whether it is appropriate by making sure the fund you are in matches up with what you plan to use it for.

"If retirement is 20 years aways you can afford to ride out any market cycle."

But if it is closer than 10 years time you might be better to look at a balanced or more conservative fund, Scott says.

"And of course seek financial advice."

Those saving for a first home are also urged to keep their money in a cash or conservative fund to minimise the risk of losing some of their deposit just when they might need it.

Martin Hawes, a financial adviser who chairs Summer KiwiSaver Investment Committee says share market volatility is just part of being an investor.

"It is just the price of being an investor."

And he urges people to stick with shares.

"It is certainly not a time to move out of shares.'

Hawes who has seen the 1987 crash, dotcom bust in 2000, and the global financial crisis says it doesn't seem like a crash is imminent.

"This doesn't seem like that. Valuations are reasonable and though the economy is coming off a bit there are no signs of a recession."

But he says there are clouds in global economy what with Brexit looking precarious and the trade war between the US and China.

"For my money I think the chances are this is going to mean some volatility and it will continue right into 2019."