Results of survey on how readers have done in KiwiSaver

  • Why do survey?
  • Differences in performance
  • Big numbers
  • Happy and unhappy readers

Most of the 300 or so guests at young KiwiSaver’s tenth birthday party are having a good time. Some say it’s one the best celebrations ever. But over in the corner are a couple of folk who haven’t won any games and don’t like the food.

The “guests” are the people who responded to my recent survey to find out how readers have done in KiwiSaver, since it started in July 2007 or since they joined. And the short answer is that most have done very well — which is hardly surprising given the extra money contributed by the government and employers.

The vast majority now have balances way in excess of the amount they themselves have contributed — either directly to their providers or through deductions from their pay. Some people have more than tripled their money.

Many who responded to the survey sent me more than just their numbers. They asked questions and raised issues that we’ll look into today and next week. For those who complain about this column covering KiwiSaver too much, sorry, but I’m ignoring you. This is KiwiSaver Party Time! As one reader put it:

“Keep telling the story. I’m amazed at how many of our friends and colleagues do not understand it.”

HOW WELL HAVE PEOPLE DONE?
EMPLOYEES

Balance As Multiple Of Your Contributions

(Eg average balance in a conservative fund is 1.99 times member’s own contributions)

Lowest, Average, Highest
Conservative: 1.22, 1.99, 2.89
Balanced: 1.35, 2.28, 3.28
Growth: 1.31, 2.34, 3.90
Aggressive: 1.63, 2.54, 3.32

Approximate Annual Return On Your Contributions

Lowest, Average, Highest % returns
Conservative: 2.3, 12.4, 27.2
Balanced: 9.4, 14.9, 24.0
Growth: 4.2, 17.3, 44.2
Aggressive: 8.6, 18.3, 44.7

NON-EMPLOYEES

Balance As Multiple Of Your Contributions

Lowest, Average, Highest
Balanced: 1.45, 1.95, 2.77
Growth: 1.21, 2.04, 3.60

Approximate Annual Return On Your Contributions

Lowest, Average, Highest % returns
Balanced: 5.1, 11.9, 22.8
Growth: 2.4, 11.5, 27.3

FOR OTHER FUNDS

…there were too few responses.

The tables show most people have at least doubled their money, even though some have been in the scheme for just a few years.

Predictably, non-employees haven’t done quite as well, without a boss contributing. The non-employee tables include employees who don’t receive employer contributions — because the employer contributes to another super scheme or uses total remuneration, under which employees make their own employer contributions.

Still, even non-employees who no longer receive tax credits because they are over 65 have sometimes done well. One person, retired from the start, reported that his money has almost doubled in a conservative fund.

The numbers in the annual return tables are approximations. Firstly, we have assumed people have contributed regularly throughout, even though that will be wrong for those who have deposited large sums at times. Secondly, we assume people started contributing halfway through the year they first joined KiwiSaver.

But they give us a rough idea, showing broadly that in many cases KiwiSaver gives a much higher return on your savings — for a given level of risk — than other investments.

This is largely because we’re including in your returns all the government and employer contributions in your name. The returns are, therefore, “fake”, in that they are way higher than the actual investment returns earned by the KiwiSaver fund managers. One reader is uncomfortable with this:

“I am providing this in the interest of ensuring balanced understanding of returns. I think that you should include the employer contributions to show the actual returns from performance and government subsidies for your article…. While I appreciate that you could maintain that you would not get this contribution if you were not part of the scheme, it is not a real return, as employer contributions are not “free” and are a cost to the company.”

My response: True, but we’re looking from the individual KiwiSaver’s perspective. There’s plenty of other info out there about provider’s actual returns. Here we’re doing something different — and it’s totally valid for someone deciding whether to save in KiwiSaver or elsewhere.

It’s also important to note that:

  • This is not scientific research. The number of responses is not large, and there’s likely to be biases in who chose to respond — perhaps towards people who have done well in KiwiSaver.
  • Returns have been particularly good in recent years. The global financial crisis in 2007–08 hurt early returns, but people’s balances were low then. Since then, markets have been strong. Some time in the next decade there are sure to be market downturns which will reduce average returns.
WHY DO THIS SURVEY?

Despite the flaws, the survey gives us anecdotal evidence to present to the man who wrote to me in 2013:

“Mary, will you ever desist from your KiwiSaver ramblings? … The fact of the matter is for the majority of muppets who are investing in this scam they will be lucky to end up receiving $1.05 to their dollar after 20 years of investing.”

I think we can confidently conclude he’s wrong after ten years of KiwiSaver. Say some readers:

“I couldn’t help but contribute to the deflation of that plonker who thought in 2013 that those of us who signed up for free handouts from the government towards our retirement are merely muppets!”

“I think the only muppet around might be your original correspondent. To your original spoilsport reader: Yah boo sux!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And to you, many thanks for championing KiwiSaver over the years. It remains the premier savings vehicle for the young and not so young, even in its diluted form.”

“I think your writer in 2013 is about to eat some humble pie.”

DIFFERENCES IN PERFORMANCE

There’s no clear pattern if we compare the return performance for those who joined KiwiSaver near the start with more recent joiners. While many early starters lost ground in 2007–08, they received the $1000 kick-start, since dropped, and $1043 tax credits, since halved.

But generally, those who joined earlier will have higher balances by now. The sooner anyone joins KiwiSaver, the better.

Also, most people who contribute more than 3 per cent of their pay, or add lump sums, won’t see all their own contributions turbocharged by government or employer money. (The exception is people earning less than about $35,000 who boost their payments to get the maximum tax credit.) But that doesn’t mean it’s not wise to make these larger contributions. They still help to build your KiwiSaver balance. A reader’s good strategy:

“Started off at 3 per cent deductions and then increased to 8 per cent when mortgage paid.”

People’s performance will also be affected by their PIR tax rate. High income earners pay more tax on KiwiSaver returns than others.

BIG NUMBERS
  • The biggest balance reported is from an employee with more than $420,000 in a growth fund. We have to assume that she or he is putting in more than 3 per cent!
  • One woman’s contributions have been multiplied by more than 3.9, in a growth fund she joined in 2007. She is not included in the tables as she was an employee for half the time and self-employed for half the time.
  • Says one champion saver: “Incidentally I’m 55, and have non-KiwiSaver investments of $1 million, and in my 25 years of employment have never earned more than the average wage.”
HAPPY

Many people surveyed commented that they are pleased with KiwiSaver. A sampling:

“Loving my KiwiSaver. Free money!”

“Totally believe in the scheme and all that it stands for — from giving the young ones an understanding about saving for the future, giving the 1st home buyers a hand up into the property market, and showing all the non-believers about the power of compounding returns.”

“Just want to add that I love KiwiSaver and I wish it had been there 20 years ago when I first arrived in NZ.”

“When I researched the numbers from my KiwiSaver, I was astounded by the results. Clear evidence KiwiSaver works and is hugely beneficial.”

“Shifting $20 per week of my savings, incentivised by the Government contribution, has proved wildly successful over this period.”

“I still can’t believe how many people I knew who were sceptical of an opportunity to have a professionally managed fund invested in stockmarkets and regularly topped up by such transparent government handouts. I have (many other investments including rentals and forestry) and the returns on my Kiwi Saver fund have outperformed the lot of them!”

“Enrolling in KiwiSaver is the smartest thing I have done. It hurt a little initially, but I now have a whole lot of money I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

“KiwiSaver has been a godsend for me, who prior to that had virtually no savings at all. I was late at joining KS, but my high income and contributing 8 per cent has meant I have caught up.”

“Brilliant scheme.”

“I love my KiwiSaver! Took me a while to get my head around it as I too was a bit like your reader, thinking returns would be only 5 per cent at retirement. How wrong am I! Took a hit during the GFC, lost my business and then a job. Had to go on a contributions holiday for three years, but I’m still miles ahead in my KiwiSaver account.”

“It is still a no brainer.”

“I can’t believe how much I have accumulated in the ten years.”

UNHAPPY

But not everyone is thrilled:

“I am with a growth fund. Taking into account my contributions and the tax credits, I can’t say that the fund performance has been stunning … and without the tax credit the returns are rather dismal.”

I’ve never said KiwiSaver fund performance is great — just that the government and employer inputs make it great in most cases.

One justifiably disappointed self-employed member since 2007 reports a balance of $213,766, with his own contributions totalling $199,150. His comment:

“As you can see the return is pitiful. Apart from going to work to eat their lunch I have no idea what the fund managers did otherwise. The cost for me to provide these people with a job was up to $183 per month. What a goddam joke.”

However, things came right.

“In October 2016 I changed fund management and I’m far happier with the returns so far.”

Just one respondent lost money. This doesn’t show in the tables, as she was one of only five non-employees in an aggressive fund — too few to use in the analysis. (By the way, the other four did well or very well). She contributed $12,350 and her balance after nine and a half years was $10,419. Says she:

“Luckily I bought property for rental many years ago, so when/if I retire in ten years I will be lucky to buy a new car with what I will end up with from KiwiSaver. My husband was in the fund for six years and ended up with less than what had been put in. Hope other people have done better.”

You must have had extraordinarily bad luck in your choice of provider and fund. I suggest you review that, using the KiwiSaver Fund Finder on www.sorted.org.nz, and switch to a more suitable fund. Chances are you’ll do much better.

NEXT WEEK

In the next column, we’ll look at survey respondents’ questions and comments on different types of KiwiSaver funds and who should take how much risk; switching funds; volatility; and issues around children and KiwiSaver.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of the Financial Markets Authority and Financial Services Complaints Ltd FSCL, a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to [email protected] or click here. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won’t publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Unfortunately, Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.