Retirement boss: 'I could weep over the money I've wasted'

Author
Liam Dann, NZ Herald ,
Section
Business,
Publish Date
Thursday, 12 July 2018, 1:29PM

"I was terrible with money," says Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell. "I didn't think I was going to live to grow old."

Maxwell whose job is to promote financial capability and encourage saving says the toughest part of her job is getting young people thinking about their future retirement.

She knows, from personal experience, just what she's up against.

Talking on The Economy Hub at the pub video show, Maxwell, who grew up in London, got her first job when she was 13 shampooing at a local hairdresser.

"I finished my Saturday and I had six pounds and they gave me a Farrah Fawcett flick.

"My first big purchase was a Hawaiian shirt.

"I look back and I could weep over all the money I've wasted."

Young people, says Maxwell, struggle to project forward a few weeks, let alone 50 or 60 years.

"The problem is trying to talk to young people about 'tomorrow' when every message they are getting is 'today'! We want it now, have it now, if you don't have the money borrow it. You go on social media and everyone has got everything."

Ironically, while we are living longer than ever we seem to be getting worse at thinking long term, Maxwell says.

"Our retirees - broadly – they own their own homes, they are mortgage free – our children and grandchildren will have lower rates of home ownership and they'll reach retirement in a different time and they'll be facing different challenges."

At the moment there are around 750,000 New Zealanders over the age of 65, she says.

By the middle of this century that figure will almost double.

"We are having too few babies and we're living longer and longer. If you retire in your mid-60s to late 60s and you live well into your 90s as our children will – then the question is who pays?"

NZ Superannuation was currently costing $30 million a day and in about 20 years it will cost $98 million a day, she says.

And there was a divide opening between those that were preparing to cover some of the cost themselves and those that wouldn't be able to.

"If you sat in a room and looked at Reserve Bank spread sheets for a living you'd think we doing ok," she said.

"We've got about a trillion dollars of housing assets and about $250 billion debt against that. We got about $160 billion of household deposits, $89 billion term deposits, we've got KiwiSaver at $47 billion…so you look across New Zealand - that's, say, not looking to0 bad.

"We've got $750 billion of housing equity sitting there."

The problem was when you broke it down to a household level.

"We've got 13,000 interviews, done over last year, that tell us that about 52 per cent of us are doing ok and 48 per cent of us are not."

The results showed that home ownership put people firmly on the positive side of the divide.

"If these guys want to borrow they do against the house at 5 per cent but people at the other end – what we call intensive care – borrow at 35 per cent, 40 per cent, 50 per cent from second and third tier lenders."

"So we're in schools now. If you can get someone young to think about getting the "here and now right", then actually the rest will follow."

The message was "little and long" because time was a powerful asset to have your side.

But many New Zealanders were struggling with the basic behaviours required to save.

"It's really about your beliefs and it's what you think. You've got to tackle that first," Maxwell says.

"It ends up being a mix of what you know, what you do and what you think …so you've really got to come at it from all angles."

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