Working paper

New Zealand’s KiwiSaver was introduced on 1 July 2007. New Zealand’s success with the ‘soft compulsion’ of automatic enrolment has been and is continuing to be an influence in the design of opt-out schemes in the UK and Ireland. While there have been numerous changes to KiwiSaver as outlined in this paper, six years on, the retirement saving scheme appears well accepted by the public and membership has exceeded most expectations.

New Zealand’s experience suggests that auto-enrolment and large incentives to entice people to remain opted-in may ensure initial take-up is high. It also suggests the incentives may be reduced significantly ex post with little impact on membership. Core tax-funded KiwiSaver subsidies have been both substantially reduced and not indexed while membership has continued to grow strongly.

Whether this auto-enrolment scheme, featuring generous provisions for withdrawals and contributions holidays, is sufficient to ensure that those who should be saving for their retirement are saving, and saving enough, is open to debate. If KiwiSaver is made compulsory, as some powerful lobbies propose, there are large complexities to resolve, including the future role of the universal state pension, New Zealand Superannuation.

Lessons from KiwiSaver on what to avoid in the design of a national retirement saving scheme may include: opening it to children; offering housing subsidies; allowing too many providers and privileging some of these as ‘default providers’; ignoring the issue of decumulation; and obscure objectives. Advantages over previous work-based retirement saving schemes include the portability of KiwiSaver accounts facilitated by the IRD’s role as a clearing house. New Zealand has also limited regressivity in the design of its very modest tax incentives, but at a cost: many save just the minimum required to maximise the subsidies.

The Working Paper surveys the first six years of KiwiSaver’s evolution to July 2013. In that time, the fundamental questions around its purpose and design have not been resolved. Is its purpose to enhance access to suitable wealth accumulation vehicles for those who have missed out on traditional work-based schemes? Or is it to reduce the pressures on the economy of an ageing population; or to solve the national saving problem? Will KiwiSavers in fact have more to spend during their retirement, or will they simply reduce other savings to compensate? In the long term, what are the implications for New Zealand’s overall pensions framework, and in particular the very successful universal state pension?

As 2014 is an election year, political parties are positioning themselves on KiwiSaver policy. In the meantime there is strong international interest in New Zealand’s retirement saving scheme, with its unique features such as auto-enrolment.

The Retirement Policy and Research Centre is pleased to publish KiwiSaver: Now we are six. It updates earlier working papers, including Working Paper 2010 KiwiSaver: lessons for Ireland. TheviewsinthisWorkingPaper’scommentaryarethoseoftheauthors.

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