30 Mar 2020

FMA warns against KiwiSaver hardship withdrawals

4:53 pm on 30 March 2020

The country's financial markets watchdog is concerned about a spike in people making hardship withdrawals from their KiwiSaver accounts during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Financial Markets Authority Chief Executive Rob Everett is urging savers to stay the course during what he called "a period of market destruction that we haven't seen since KiwiSaver got set up".

He said people should try to make use of government assistance on offer and only use hardship withdrawals as an absolute last resort.

Financial markets authority head Rob Everett (left) and RBNZ Governor Adrian Orr talk about the insurance report.

Rob Everett says people should try to avoid making hardship withdrawls from their KiwiSaver accounts. Photo: RNZ/Gyles Beckford

He said people should try to remember taking the money out now was reducing what was supposed to be set aside for their retirement.

Everett said the FMA was also seeing people switching between investment funds - in some cases multiple times - as they watched account balances plunge.

For most people it was best to ride out market volatility by leaving funds as they were, he said.

"Trying to play the market and time when you come in and out of these sorts of investments - that's an incredibly difficult thing to do and the smarter advice will be leave it to the manager to whom you pay fees to do that on your behalf."

Everett said often the best advice was to "stay the course" rather than to switch to a more conservative fund during a period of high volatility.

"When you switch from one fund to another, they have to sell all the assets against your name in the first one in order to invest in the second one and you end up just crystallising your loss, you end up basically banking your loss in those particular assets."

The FMA is also reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic by changing priorities to concentrate on scams, especially given most people were working from home and may not have access to their usual support networks.

He warned any perpetrators that the courts were open and the FMA was on high alert.

"It sometimes feels a bit like whack-a-mole but we are prioritising some of our resources away from slower, longer burning investigations to be able to respond to anything that comes through the door at this point. That's what we've been thinking through in the last week or two."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs