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Championing your finances for 21 years

Personal Finance

Personal Finance turned 21 this week, but we have long since come of age. In March 1996, former editor Bruce Cameron started penning articles that became much loved by the consumers he championed – but hated by those whose wrongs he exposed. As each new member joined the team, the publication grew stronger and the reach of the topics we covered grew.

Cameron has since retired, but his dedication to fighting the consumer’s cause lives on in the team that is now Personal Finance.

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Over the past 21 years, the issues we have highlighted include:

• Retirement saving 

Tirelessly, we have alerted you to the issues of which you need be aware when saving for retirement.

With the massive move away from defined-benefit retirement funds, which provide a pension based on your final salary, to defined-contribution funds, which provide a pot of money once you reach retirement, the risks of not saving enough are yours alone.

So we have highlighted the risks of not preserving your savings when you leave a job, of not saving enough or for long enough, and of not knowing the income your lump sum can provide.

We’ve red-flagged the costs of retirement-savings products, as well as those financial advisers who sell retirement annuities (RAs) that tie you into paying contributions until you turn 55, whereas you are obliged only to remain invested until age 55.

Cameron’s long crusade in these pages against the penalties imposed by life companies when RA members stop or reduce their contributions was bolstered when the then Pension Funds Adjudicator took up the issue in 2004 and 2005.

Cameron’s campaign no doubt contributed to former finance minister Trevor Manuel’s decision to get the life assurers to agree to pay back about R3 billion to members of RA funds and other policies to which surrender penalties had been applied.

In 2014, it was proposed to ban the commission payments that give rise to the penalties. The proposal is part of the Financial Services Board’s Retail Distribution Review, which is still under way.

With the big move from standalone retirement funds to umbrella funds, we have alerted employers and employees of companies using these funds of the conflicts of interest and lack of member representation, as well as some solutions to these problems.

• Retirement income 

We have highlighted the problems associated with providing an income in retirement. The focus has been on the pro s and cons of guaranteed annuities, which provide a pension for life, with-profit annuities, which provide a pension for life with increases linked to investment markets, and investment-linked living annuities, where you draw a pension from your investments.

• Financial advisers 

We’ve loved and hated them, suggesting that your best bet is often to partner with the best financial advisers, but to avoid the bad ones, who fail to do a due diligence on the products they recommend, or are motivated by perverse incentives.

We’ve seen the advent of the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) Act and reported on the key rulings of the FAIS ombud, such as the one that confirmed your right to choose credit life insurance from a provider other than the credit provider lending you money.

• Investments

We’ve dedicated many column centimetres to how to avoid investment scams, which are characterised by promises of unrealistically high and unsustainable returns.

We have advised you how to make wise investment decisions that will reward the patient.

We’ve shared the launch of South Africa’s first exchange traded fund and the growth of the industry and how it has morphed from pure index-trackers into smart beta funds. Hedge funds, structured products, smoothed bonus policies … we’ve unpacked the pros and cons of them all.

In the hey-day of property syndications, we warned of the dangers of these schemes and recorded how they later collapsed and what investors could do to obtain compensation.

• Debt 

Reckless lending, poor disclosure and exorbitant interest rates were far too prevalent before the National Credit Act was signed into law in 2005. But many problems remain, and we continue to highlight abusive practices, while encouraging responsible borrowing.

• Healthcare cover

Since the Medical Schemes Act was passed in 1998 we have covered the issues that affect your healthcare cover, including spiralling costs, and have informed you of your right to, for example, minimum benefits.

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