You've heard it many times. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
It wasn't that long ago I wrote in this blog for Simplicity KiwiSaver about the cost of knee-jerk reactions to investment market jolts.
It was back in March 2020, around the time the first big wave of Covid had a tsunami effect on the markets. As usual, when significant market movements make mainstream news, investors wakeup. In the case of KiwiSaver, it jolted many erstwhile apathetic investors to log in to their accounts for the first time and look at their balances. Naturally, when you see balances drop and returns move into negative territory, you feel seasick and search for solid ground.
A quick recap for those who don't remember: We saw an unprecedented rush of DIY investors switching fund types and doing it without any proper advice. Like buffalos fleeing a bushfire, fear drove them from one precarious situation to another. In that case, right over a cliff's edge.
The exodus at that time was from Growth funds, which were getting hammered the hardest, into Conservative funds, then perceived as a safe harbour.
As I explained in my blog, losses in KiwiSaver, or another investment-type product, are only paper losses until you make a tangible move, like withdrawing them. The losses are therefore realised when you take action. In this case, investors crystallised those losses by selling one fund type, and buying another.
Given all that is happening in the world these days; geopolitical instability, the Wild West of investment trades and structures, cheap credit, quantitative easing, and now unprecedented inflation and interest rates, it is very difficult to know how best to sail these rough seas. When hedge fund behemoths like Ray Dalio start chiming that "cash is no longer trash" you know times are really tough.
Not unlike climate change, we tend to be experiencing the opposite of what we expect, or at least what was forecast. And in many cases, the outcomes are more dramatic than expected too.
Those who switched in early 2020 from KiwiSaver Growth funds to Conservative funds, were reminded of the wicked temperaments of the markets when Growth funds shot back up only a few months later. The returns seem to defy gravity, until just recently.
Those that ended up switching out, then back into Growth fund when returns appeared healthier, paid the price. Literally. They crystallised their losses, then paid more to buy back into the fund they had just abandoned.
Those who went into Conservative from Growth and stayed, are now seeing history repeat itself but this time the fund fortunes are reversed. Conservative funds are now trending down worse than Growth funds, which had years of unnaturally high returns to cushion the latest meltdown.
The tech revolution has been fantastic for so many areas of our modern lives, but in the investment space tech's ability to serve investors responsibly has moved ahead of people's ability to use the technology wisely and knowledgeably.
I hate to think of the aggregated account losses in all those $250 fractional share accounts where investors bought on impulse, trend or in some cases, even allowing their kids to select based on the colour of the fund that appeared in their app. I'm not making this s-t up. In one of the more popular finance forums, where a legion of newfound DIY investors share their 'expertise' with one another, I read that colour choice comment from a mother when (she) was responding to another person's questions on how to choose the right fund type for a kid's account.
Previously, if you wanted to choose or switch your investment portfolio up, you had to do that via a financial advisor or a broker, or someone else (presumably smarter and more-savvy than you).
I'm not saying the 'good-ole-days' of being forced to use a financial advisor or broker at a much higher expense, and being turned away at the door for less than $25,000 is superior to our current environment but it was some measure of protection that is absent now. And yes, there are plenty of examples (pre-fin tech revolution) of bad eggs fleecing too trusting mum-and-pop investors. Think BridgeCorp and the like. But that unfortunate time shouldn't be used as an excuse to ignore the hazard that easy DIY investment platforms have created.
A little too late to the party, we have the regulator posting on Facebook or Linkedin with educational tips that barely anyone reads. It is like the horse has bolted, and they have set out the neighbourhood watch to round them up with dog whistles.
KiwiSaver may be getting on in age (it was introduced in 2007 when I moved to NZ from Canada), but in relative terms, it is still spanking brand new.
It has only been in the last few years, that many enrolled in the scheme have woken up to the fact that KiwiSaver is not one single entity that swallows money from their pay cheque each month, but a range of individual different players all vying for a slice of that juicy pie.
Just how big is that pie?
According to the latest FMA report on KiwiSaver, the honey pot now holds close to $90 billion, the collective savings of close to 3 million New Zealanders.
From the very beginning, when I first started reporting on KiwiSaver, it was speculated that at the point at which members' accounts reached the equivalent value of a small car, they would begin to take note. With average balances now hitting the $29k mark, that's precisely what we are seeing.
Investors have become more knowledgeable about the fact that they have agency i.e. they can switch to one of several dozen providers who among them, offer hundreds of different fund types.
They now feel like they have some buying power and can demand more from their provider, which is great. They ask questions about performance and fees and how much they pay in tax. Also awesome.
But there is still a huge gap to close beyond those basics and more fundamental questions about risk tolerance, contribution rates, and how much they are on track to have in expectation of their time frames for needing their money i.e. buying a first home or hitting retirement at age 65.
For a price, some providers build in 'advice' for their investors, but few are aware of that and even fewer take advantage of it. How do I know? Because I've sat at roundtable discussions where fund managers have been attacked for their higher fees (justified because of the advice component) and admitted that people don't know, don't care, or can't be bothered to get advice.
Until people start to care more, history will continue to repeat itself, and some expensive mistakes will be made. When is that magical turning point? My guess is when balances hit the equivalent valuable of a more expensive car, the one that you baby, clean weekly and get annoyed by parking lot dints. So maybe somewhere in the order of a Tesla for example, at $70k ish.
Until then, there will be plenty more crash and burn and angry investors getting upset at fund managers and/or the FMA that they weren't better warned, prepared, or educated.
There is always someone to blame and more often than not it is a deflection for not taking more personal responsibility.
Don't let that be you.
Check your Fund Profile here using the Gov'ts finance website Sorted.
Your Provider will also have fund profile tools and or advisors in some cases, so check that out too.
Amanda is a personal finance expert who draws on Eastern wisdom to help you grow your wealth and wellbeing. Money Matters was published in 2013 by Penguin Random House in NZ.