$190m of KiwiSaver funds invested in weapons, figures show

16th June 2022

Figures from Mindful Money show $190 million of KiwiSaver funds are invested in companies involved in the manufacture of weapons like firearms, missiles and ammunition.

This article originally featured on RNZ and was written by Louise Ternouth. 

Figures from Mindful Money show $190 million of KiwiSaver funds are invested in companies involved in the manufacture of weapons like firearms, missiles and ammunition.

That is despite over 80 percent of New Zealanders saying they do not want to invest in these companies - according to their latest survey.

Most people Checkpoint spoke to did not know where their funds were actually going.

"No I don't have enough to worry about it, " one person said. "Sort of not really," another said.

There was mixed reaction on the streets to Mindful Money's latest figures which show $190m is being invested into companies that profit from making weapons.

"Oh, that surprises me," one person said.

"$190m sounds like a lot and I don't earn that much but compared to the rest of KiwiSaver it's probably chicken feed," said another.

Mindful Money chief executive Barry Coates explained there was still a dangerously grey area for weapons investment.

"They didn't exclude other weapons groups, in particular, they didn't exclude companies that produce nuclear weapons and they didn't exclude firearms. The weapons industry sells weapons to whoever and their weapons can end up in some of the worst battlefields in the world."

That was despite Mindful Money's survey, which showed 81 percent of people did not want their money invested in any kind of weapons at all.

Coates said nuclear weapons were an example to follow, as investments had drastically decreased over the last five years from $100m to less than $5m.

Providers urgently needed to shift their thinking, especially if they wanted people to contribute more, he said.

"Once upon a time, finance wasn't about what harm is our money causing or what benefits can we get from our investment it was just about the amount of return you get from your money or the amount of risk, there's a big change from the finance world around not just thinking of dollars and cents, and to understand where you invest your money has consequences."

Financial platform The Curve co-founder and Devon Funds portfolio manager Victoria Harris was concerned by the figure.

"Having a figure like that and then on top of that ... knowing that KiwiSaver funds still invest in firearms was quite shocking and particularly with what's going on you know, in the US most recently."

Harris was echoing the call for KiwiSaver funds managers to be held accountable, but said that starts with investors.

"The more people [that] can voice their concerns by reaching out to their KiwiSaver providers is great ... they'll reach a moment where they'll go hang on we actually have to do something about this."

Financial Markets Authority director of investment management Paul Gregory said while a lot of weapons had been banned for investment there were still a lot of weapons that fund managers could invest in legally.

"In terms of anything else, like missiles or planes or helicopters, or other types of firearm or ammunition, or shops that sell that kind of stuff which there are of course in the US, it is very much up to the decision of the investment manager."

But they did have the choice not to and if fund managers said they excluded those things they needed to provide the proof.

Gregory said in the future, other weapons could be taken off the investment list and providers would need to keep a close eye on things.

"I think you look at at the US and at some point there has to be some changes there, you need to be aware of what's happening in the world and what's being banned and what international treaties New Zealand is signing and what New Zealand has got on its own firearms agenda in terms of what it's looking to make illegal or prohibited."

In a written statement, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs David Clark said: "The wide range of KiwiSaver funds available enable investors to align their choices to their values. Last year the government chose new default providers and made changes which mean they can't invest in fossil fuel production or illegal weapons. The government will continue to consider suggestions for possible improvements to KiwiSaver."