Fidelity survey highlights alarming savings rate in Hong Kong

Investment manager says MPF contributions need to rise to ensure Hong Kongers avoid poverty in old age.
The Hong Kong government should consider increasing mandatory contributions to the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) as a way of heading off a growing pension crisis in the region, according to FidelityÆs head of institutional investments in Hong Kong, Nick Rogers.

Speaking at the release of the first ever "Fidelity Retirement Readiness Indicators" survey, Rogers says increasing mandatory contribution levels would be the most obvious way of easing a pensions problem that has already hit may Western countries, and which is now threatening Hong Kong.

"It would certainly help the issue, and it's certainly a possibility," he says. "When the MPF was first introduced five years ago it was seen as an extra tax, especially because the overall economic situation wasnÆt that good. But given the alarming findings of this survey, it would certainly be a legitimate question to ask."

However he warns such a move would inevitably come up against popular pressure, despite the low tax base in the region. "There is a growing tax burden in Hong Kong, and a rise in MPF contributions, on top of a rising sales tax, could be just too much for some people to swallow," he says.

At the moment, contributions to the MPF are split between the employer and employee, both paying 5% of the salary into the five-year old fund.

However fears are growing that this might not be sufficient to cover the growing cost of retirement, a state of affairs illustrated most clearly by the findings of Fidelity's survey yesterday.

The survey, which focuses on general retirement planning issues, found a serious lack of savings and knowledge about retirement planning. It found 66% of Hong Kong citizens having no retirement goals, while 73% per cent of respondents had insufficient pension arrangements to see them through retirement. It also revealed that expected monthly spending after retirement is 44% of current income, which on average equates to just HK$8,000.

According to Rogers, the survey should "serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers, employers and the thousands of employees who have so far made insufficient provision for their retirement". On average, Hong Kong citizens expect to retire at age 57, which is Rogers says was "an unrealistic aspiration". Nearer 65 would be a more reasonable age, he adds.

Hong Kong residents have been hit by a triple whammy of changes in the last tens years which have exacerbated the pensions situation: the move from defined benefit to defined contribution pension schemes, a growing trend to longer lives, and a shrinking family size meaning retirees can no longer rely on their children for support.

Fidelity's survey was carried out by international research group AC Nielsen between the 19th of October and the 12th of December last year. It targeted full-time employees with a pension scheme aged 25 or older. The sample size was 659.

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