Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi wants to see default KiwiSaver fees fall, but providers are reluctant to budge.
Following a recent Government review, just two of the nine KiwiSaver default providers (Kiwibank’s Kiwi Wealth and ANZ) decided to reduce fees.
An ANZ spokesman says the bank’s decision to reduce its annual KiwiSaver fees by 0.02% to 0.57% of a saver's overall balance (including a $2 per months membership fee) was a result of a “regular review of fees” in November last year – not because of the Government review.
Kiwi Wealth, which dropped its fees from 0.55% of an overall balance to 0.48%, said it welcomed the Government’s review of default fund fees and felt a decrease was warranted.
Faafoi says cuts from both providers will lead to an estimated $1 million in fee savings for KiwiSaver members over the remaining four years of the current default provider term of appointment.
Yet he would like to see the KiwiSaver market become more competitive.
He wants to see providers continue to review their fee structures and for more fees to be dropped – “we would obviously like to see more movement heading south.”
But this doesn’t appear to be on the radars of the seven other default providers (ASB, Westpac, BNZ, Fisher Funds, AMP, Mercer and Booster).
Mercer chief executive Martin Lewington says any further reduction in default fees could end up having an adverse effect on customer returns.
“It may be that you think ‘okay, the only way we can meet the Minister’s expectations is to reduce some of the diversification in the portfolio.’
“That may not necessarily be the best outcome for the customers. We don’t believe it is.”
Lewington says Mercer charges higher fees than, for example, a passive fund because its investment portfolio is a lot wider.
Mercer’s annual fund fees for its default KiwiSaver 0.58%, plus a $30 a year admin fee.
“We have a high weighting to alternatives, things that aren’t shares or bonds, such as property, infrastructure, private equity and some hedge fund strategies.”
These sorts of assets are generally more expensive, but he says it adds more value and helps reduce volatility, hence the higher fees.
If fees were further reduced to meet Faafoi’s expectations, “there are leavers that you would need to pull,” Lewington says.
This could include reducing some of the fund’s exposure to those alternative assets.
Essentially, he says customers pay more in terms of fees but receive better returns as a result.
He says if Mercer’s fees became out of sync with the market, then they would have to be adjusted.
Clipping the ticket
Despite this, the FMA’s KiwiSaver report for the year to March 31 last year shows default KiwiSaver providers didn’t lower their fees at all from 2016 to 2017.
“As membership grows we expect the costs per member to fall, unless overall costs rise in the market faster than we see (or hear about), or providers direct more money to provide better service. This includes increased member engagement efforts. We are not aware that this is happening currently,” the report says.
The report shows bank providers have kept their fees at a similar level since 2011, while non-bank providers have reduced theirs.
Speaking to Interest.co.nz in October last year, FMA chief executive Rob Everett said he couldn’t say why non-bank providers’ fees have fallen at a faster rate than bank providers.
“Overall we think the sector is now big enough… that there’s enough fees being collected by providers… that we should be at that tipping point where fees are starting to come down as a percentage…
“The bigger the provider, the harder we’re pushing them on why they’re not at the point to bring down fees. But we stop short of telling them where they should be… We don’t really have a remit that will allow us to specifically set fees…
“For us, it’s about putting pressure on providers to explain why their fees are where they are, and exactly how those fees are made up.”
The process for the next appointment of default KiwiSaver providers will start in 2019 and Faafoi says fees will be a significant factor in the tendering and appointment process.
Other seven providers respond
Asked why it did not reduce its fees in response to the Government’s review, Westpac says its scheme is already “excellent value and competitively positioned in the market.”
BNZ says its fees are a combination of monthly member fees and management fees, while Fisher Funds says its default fund offers “great value for money when viewed in the context of overall services and investment expertise provided.
ASB says it already offers some of the lowest fees in the market, and AMP says it already has a strong position, compared to other default KiwiSaver providers, stressing its offers a “broad range of member services.”
Booster says its fees are still “very competitive” above the $10,000 threshold.
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