Malaysia’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) stands as a cornerstone institution for retirement savings in the country, but not all Malaysians have equal access to comprehensive retirement planning. In this context, making informed decisions about investment options is crucial for securing a comfortable future. Jessica Sin Sook Kuan, a financial markets analyst and an international broker Octa, evaluates the pros and cons of EPF investments and explores alternative investment paths.KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – Media OutReach Newswire – 31 January 2024 –
Retirement Gaps and Hurdles
Despite the availability of private and public avenues for Malaysians to invest for retirement, there are considerable gaps in citizens’ coverage.
The formal system in Malaysia covers only about 60% of the labor force, and many within this group have insufficient retirement savings. The recent early withdrawals to cope with financial hardships because of COVID-19 have exacerbated the issue. Combined with high levels of debt and growing life expectancies, it left many workers ill-prepared for retirement. Malaysia’s central bank warned that the average Malaysian is at risk of running out of retirement savings 19 years before their death.
The remaining 40% of the workforce is yet to be covered by mandatory savings, and this figure may increase as more individuals enter self-employment and engage in the gig economy. Recognizing the severity of this problem, the Securities Commission of Malaysia acknowledges that addressing retirement security requires collaboration between retirement stakeholders on various fronts, including policy development, product innovation, and investor education.
EPF, known locally as KWSP (Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Pekerja), is a statutory retirement savings scheme that serves as a fundamental pillar of Malaysia’s social security system, with contributions mandated for both employees and employers. It is designed to provide financial stability to Malaysian citizens in their golden years. EPF investments are professionally managed by the EPF Board.
Benefits of investing in EPF:
- Long-Term Stability. EPF focuses on preserving capital and providing a reliable source of income in retirement. It offers a guaranteed annual dividend of 2.5%, leaving contributors with peace of mind because they know their savings will grow steadily over time.
- Diversified Investment. EPF invests members’ contributions in a diversified portfolio of assets, including equities, bonds, and real estate. This diversification helps spread risk and potentially enhances returns.
- Tax Benefits. Contributions to EPF are eligible for tax deductions. This provides an immediate financial incentive for individuals to save for retirement through EPF.
Cons of EPF:
- Limited Control. Fund’s investments are made on members’ behalf. The EPF’s Members Investment Scheme (MIS) offers more investment choices, but it still limits them to some extent.
- Lack of flexibility. EPF has certain withdrawal restrictions in place, though dipping into retirement savings became easier during COVID-19. This lack of flexibility in accessing funds can be a drawback, especially during unexpected financial crises.
Limited returns. The returns earned on EPF savings are predictable but modest. Over the long term, they may not provide the same level of wealth accumulation as less conservative investment options.
Exploring Alternative PathsAs I already mentioned, traditional methods of retirement savings may prove insufficient to achieve a comfortable standard of living in old age. Except in cases of financial institution crises, a diversified investment portfolio will help preserve wealth at a certain level.
Investing Through Funds
These options generally imply that your assets are managed by professional investors who make decisions on your behalf in return for management fees. They analyze market trends, select assets, and adjust the portfolio. In addition, funds often include risk management features such as diversification and regular rebalancing. It’s a relatively easy way to save for retirement, as you don’t need specialized knowledge to invest.
Retirement Savings Schemes
Private Retirement Savings Schemes (PRS) in Malaysia are voluntary long-term savings and investment programs designed to complement the country’s existing system. PRS are managed by licensed providers, which are financial institutions approved by the Securities Commission Malaysia. They offer a variety of funds with different strategies and asset allocations.
Pros: greater flexibility, as well as potential for higher returns. PRS contributions are eligible for tax deductions.
Cons: have to pay fees and charges. Investment performance may vary based on fund managers’ expertise. Restrictions on withdrawals are still in place.
Unlike PRS, mutual funds are not designed exclusively for retirement but can be customized to meet specific financial objectives. They allow you to “mutually” pool money with other investors to buy a variety of assets.
Pros: greater flexibility and customization, as well as potential for higher returns. Generally high liquidity with easy access to investments, entry and exit.
Cons: have to pay fees and charges, risk of poor performance, in general less tax advantages.
Index and ETF funds
Index investing involves buying shares in funds that aim to mirror the composition and returns of a market index. In Malaysia, the FBM KLCI is one of the most widely followed indices, representing top 30 companies listed on Bursa Malaysia. Index and exchange-traded funds provide investors with exposure to a diversified portfolio of stocks without the need for active management.
Pros: typically lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds, full transparency as the holdings are publicly disclosed, liquidity.
Cons: little room for customization, no outperforming the market, risk of poor performance.
DIY investors can build and tailor their portfolios to meet unique objectives, avoiding management fees. However, investing on your own requires a solid understanding of financial markets and spending time on researching, analyzing and adjusting your portfolio. Still, the average consumer in Malaysia has already become much more financially literate and utilizes proven investment tools to ensure a comfortable retirement.
Recent research has shown a declining inclination in Malaysia towards traditional investment assets. The number of people who invested in Forex in Malaysia has surged by 41% in the past year, according to a study by international broker Octa, growing from 1.6 million to 2.2 million.
Forex trading is selling one currency and buying another to earn on varying exchange rates. For potential investors, the Forex market offers the opportunity to use various instruments and strategies, such as automated trading systems or copying the approaches of experienced traders.
Pros: high potential returns and liquidity, 24/5 market access, copy trading available.
Cons: high volatility, varying degrees of regulation in different countries.
Despite the growing popularity of non-conventional options, traditional asset classes are still in demand and allow for more safety and efficient portfolio diversification.
Individuals can purchase Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other digital currencies on crypto exchanges, hold them in digital wallets, or invest in cryptocurrency-related products,
Pros: high potential returns, 24/7 market access, direct ownership and control over their assets with no intermediaries, global access.
Cons: very high volatility, regulatory uncertainty, lack of security and consumer protection, and substantial risk of loss.
Fixed-income securities are debt instruments (bonds being the most common type) issued by governments, corporations, or other entities to raise capital. Investors lend money to the issuer in exchange for periodic interest payments and the return of the principal amount at maturity.
Pros: a predictable stream of interest income; less volatility than in case of equities, which makes bonds suitable for capital preservation; manageable default risk.
Cons: lower potential returns compared to stocks, possibility of losing part of the invested capital in case interest rate rises or the issuer’s financial health degrades, inflation risk.
Investing in real estate involves purchasing residential or commercial properties, land, or real estate investment trusts (REITs) with the expectation of generating rental income and/or benefiting from property appreciation over time.
Pros: a steady stream of rental income, which is crucial for retirement. Real estate can act as a hedge against inflation since property values often rise with time.
Cons: less liquidity compared to stocks and bonds, substantial upfront costs in case of purchasing real estate, property-related expenses.
Investing in equities involves buying ownership shares in publicly traded companies. You become a shareholder and have the opportunity to benefit from the company’s growth and profitability.
Pros: potentially higher average returns over the long term compared to other asset classes, high liquidity. Some stocks (Microsoft as one example) also provide regular income in the form of dividends, which is perfect for retirement investing.
Cons: specialized knowledge is required, higher volatility because of fluctuations driven by economic, political, and market sentiment factors, and risk of loss, respectively.
Tips for Selecting Investment Strategies
When choosing investment strategies for retirement planning:
- Assess Financial Goals: Determine your retirement income needs and set clear financial goals. Consider factors like desired lifestyle, healthcare expenses, and potential legacy planning.
- Understand Risk Tolerance: Assess your risk tolerance in greater depth, considering factors such as age, financial stability, and investment horizon. It is crucial for aligning your investments with your comfort level.
- Diversify Your Portfolio: Spread your investments across multiple asset classes. Always combine more volatile options with stable ones. This reduces risk and enhances potential returns, as different assets may perform well under varying economic conditions.
- Understand Malaysian Tax Implications: Familiarize yourself with the tax rules, including any tax incentives for retirement savings. Efficient strategies can help maximize your after-tax returns.
- Stay Informed: Continuously educate yourself about investment options, market trends, and economic conditions. Stay updated on changes in regulations that may impact your investments.
- Prepare an Emergency Fund: Maintain an emergency fund with enough liquid assets to cover unexpected expenses, ensuring that you don’t need to tap into your retirement savings prematurely.
- Seek Professional Advice: Consider consulting with financial advisors or investment experts. They can provide guidance tailored to your financial situation and goals.
While EPF remains a vital component of retirement planning, exploring alternative investment paths can provide opportunities for diversification and potentially higher returns. However, it’s essential to balance risk and reward. By doing so, Malaysians can actively shape their financial futures and ensure a more comfortable life after retirement.
The issuer is solely responsible for the content of this announcement.
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