Q I don't go into my bank very often as I do most of my banking online, but, recently, I went into my local branch to deposit a cheque. When the teller brought up my details on her screen, she said: "Ooh, you've got a good balance in your KiwiSaver you must have joined right at the start." I was taken aback that she should talk about it in public. The counters are all very open these days and it's hard not to be overheard. Do you think it's a good idea for bank staff to be able to see how much I have got in my KiwiSaver account?
A. As a KiwiSaver adviser I must admit I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the banks. Due to steady foot traffic, their staff members are well positioned to encourage customers to join KiwiSaver, and they have taken full advantage of that. Westpac is one of the largest KiwiSaver providers and is in fact bigger than some of the default providers who are automatically allocated many of the new members. Thanks to the efforts of bank tellers many people have joined KiwiSaver who might otherwise not have done so, and are now better off because of it.
On the other hand, bank staff are known to have demanding sales targets and performance-linked bonuses. Anyone who crosses their threshold is fair game. You have to be on your guard to fend off questions about everything from your home mortgage to life insurance. You are not even safe buying stamps from an NZ Post outlet - if they are wearing their Kiwibank hat they may well try to sell you their latest financial product.
In your case, the bank teller breached confidentiality by commenting on your KiwiSaver balance, as you did not go into the bank to talk about that. The bank will have a code of conduct for employees setting out standards of professionalism, honesty and integrity. All banks have a complaints process and you could lodge a complaint. Most people will only complain if they feel they haven't been treated fairly but we should probably complain about these other situations where we suffer no loss or inconvenience but it troubles us just the same. Our banks are large, powerful and mostly foreign owned, so as customers we should make sure they are looking after us and not just exploiting us for profits.
Banks have been encouraging their customers to switch their KiwiSaver accounts to them, using the argument that "You will then be able to see your balance online with your other accounts". How strongly can I emphasise that, on its own, this is not a good reason to switch. Performance, fees, asset allocation, investment strategy and quality of reporting are all more important. Most KiwiSaver managers offer online access to account balances. How often do you want to look at your KiwiSaver balance anyway? It is a long-term investment which you can't access in most cases until you turn 65. There is no strong argument for viewing your balance on a daily basis.
Bank staff are able to see all your accounts, and it is up to them to interact with customers in an appropriate, discreet and professional manner. If you don't lay a complaint yourself, perhaps the bank in question will read this column and take the time to remind staff of the importance of client confidentiality.
Shelley Hanna is an authorised financial adviser FSP12241. Her disclosure statement is available on request and free of charge by calling 870 3838. The information contained in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to provide personalised advice. If readers have any KiwiSaver questions they would like answered please go to www.peak.net.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org.