Are Kiwi-saver investors too conservative?

Fisher Funds recently released research suggesting those nearing retirement, and in retirement, should reduce their growth assets allocation more slowly than currently implemented in New Zealand (NZ) and that the NZ Funds Management industry should do more to help shake Kiwis out of their too conservative approach to investing.  As reported on Good Returns.

This is an interesting piece of research.  At the very least, credit where credit is due.

The NZ industry should be discussing these issues more broadly.

It is disappointing to see these discussions transcend into a debate over fees.  Fees are important.  So too is the appropriateness of the investment strategy being implemented.  And arguably, investment strategy is more important.  Investment strategy and fees can be debated independently.  Perhaps the comment by Fisher Funds, as reported by Good Returns, “too-conservative investment was a bigger concern than fees, which gets more attention”, was too much for some.


I’d imagine in some circumstances Fisher’s comment would be true, subject to the level of fees being paid and mismatch of investment strategy relative to a Client’s investment objectives.

And that is where I would like to jump in.  The focus on the growth / income split and rule of thumb of reducing the growth allocations with age is potentially misleading.

The investment strategy is obviously subject to the individual’s circumstances, including age, level of current income, other assets, risk appetite, risk tolerance, planned retirement age to name a few, but most important is required level of replacement income in retirement and any aspirational goals e.g. legacies.

Therefore, the investment strategy should focus not only on wealth accumulation but also the level of replacement income in retirement.

Many of the Life Cycle Funds based on cohorts of age and only managing market risk (through the reductions in growth assets) have a number of shortcomings.  e.g. many are not managing inflation risk and longevity risk.  Lastly, most Life Cycle Funds don’t make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions, it is a naïve glide path.

More importantly, the vast majority of the Life Cycle Funds, particularly in Australasia, are not focusing on generating or hedging replacement income in retirement.

The New Zealand industry is behind global developments in this area, more robust approaches are being developed.

Globally the retirement income challenge is leading to new Goal Based Investing solutions.  Goal-based investing is the counterpart to Liability Driven Investing (LDI), which is used by pensions and insurance companies where their investment objectives are reflected in the terms of their future liabilities.  See my post A more Robust Retirement Income Solution


Arguably the main challenge facing retirees is to have a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income.

A good advice model recognises this issue.


The underlying investment solutions need to be more targeted in relations to investment objectives.  For example the “conservative” allocation (described by EDHEC-Risk as the Goal-hedging portfolio, see post above) is a fixed interest portfolio of duration risk (interest rate risk), high quality credit, and inflation linked securities.  Nevertheless, investment decisions are not made relative to market indices nor necessarily a view on the outlook for interest rates and credit.  Investment decisions are made with the view to match future income replacement requirements, matching of future cashflows and client liabilities.  This is akin to what Insurance companies do to match their future liabilities.

The investment strategy required to generate a stable stream of replacement income is much more sophisticated that a fixed interest laddered approach or investments into term deposits.  Particularly with retirement lasting for 20 – 25 years.  NZer’s are lucky, as they have had, at least historically, high real interest rates.

From this perspective, the Good Returns article noted that a Kiwi Fund providers Life Cycle Fund was invested 100% in Cash for those over 65, if this is true, this is a very risky investment solution for someone in retirement.  Let’s hope they are getting the appropriate level of  investment advice.


Of course this leads into the fee debate.  We all know a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns.   Increasingly institutional investors are accepting that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes.  True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth.

Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks. For example, those risks may include market beta, smart beta, alternative and hedge fund risk premia.  And of course, true alpha from active management, returns that cannot be explained by the return sources outlined above.  There has been a disaggregation of returns.

Not all of these risk exposures can be accessed cheaply.


I’ll say it again, fees paid are important.  Nevertheless, the race to be the lowest cost provider may not be in the best interest of clients from the perspective of meeting their unique investment objectives.  Sophisticated investors such as endowments, insurance companies, pension funds, and Sovereign Wealth Funds, are taking a different perspective.  Albeit, their approach is not inconsistent with fees being an important “consideration” that should be managed, and managed appropriately.  They likely manage to a fee “budget”, as they manage to a risk budget.


A balanced and appropriate approach is required, with the focus always on achieving the investment objective.


So are Kiwi Saver investors invested too conservatively?  Quite likely.  Is the solution to have higher equity allocations? Not necessarily.

The answer is to have more goal orientated investment solutions with a focus on managing the biggest investment risk, failure to meet your investment objectives.  To achieve this, may require a higher level of fees than the lowest cost “products” in the market.  Lastly, the goal is not about beating markets, it’s about meeting investment objectives.  Risk is not solely measured by the level of equities you have in a portfolio.  Risk is the probability of meeting your investment objectives.


Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement


Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.



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