MONEY BASICS WITH MARTIN HESSE
If you are a salaried employee, you are probably contributing to an employer-linked retirement (pension or provident) fund. The fund may specifically serve your organisation or it may be an umbrella fund operated by a financial services company, which houses many employers under one “umbrella”.
There are essentially three parties involved: you, your employer and the retirement fund. (A fourth party, in the form of an administration company, appointed by the retirement fund, takes care of the day-to-day administration of the fund.)
Your employer deducts your contribution from your remuneration and pays it, together with any contribution your employer makes above that, over to the fund. Most of the money goes towards your retirement savings, which builds up over your years with the company. A small portion (10% or so) goes towards an insurance premium that covers you for death or disability, known as group risk cover. While the premium is quite low compared with private life cover, the benefit can be substantial: the life benefit would be a lump sum of three or four times your annual salary, and the disability benefit would typically pay you 70-75% of your salary until retirement age (you can check what your fund offers with your HR department).
Finally, the fund takes an administration fee, which may be in the region of 2.5%.
For the system to work properly, each party has certain obligations:
1. You as a fund member need to ensure that your contributions are being deducted and are going to the fund. You need to ensure that the group risk cover is in place and to monitor your savings balance in the fund.
2. Your employer must ensure that the full contribution amount is paid over each month to the fund. If the fund doesn’t receive the money, not only will it affect your retirement savings, but importantly, it will affect your group risk cover. If the insurer providing the cover does not receive the premiums, you may lose your cover, just as you would on a personal insurance policy. This means that if you died in service, or if you were permanently disabled and no longer able to earn an income, your family will not be looked after adequately. They will receive your accumulated pension or provident fund savings but they might not receive an insurance payout.
3. The retirement fund (and the administration company) must ensure that the contributions are received from the employer and the money is allocated correctly. It is also obliged to communicate regularly with you on the state of your savings and your risk cover.
The most common thing to go wrong along the chain is that your employer deducts the amount from your salary, but owing either to pure negligence or to a cash-flow problem, does not forward the money to the fund.
As an employee, you wouldn’t immediately know this, because you would still see the deduction on your salary slip each month. It’s only if you received a statement from the fund itself, and studied it closely, that you would realise something was wrong.
In instances where employers fall into arrears in paying over their employees’ contributions, funds are required to take steps to get the money and to report the employer to the Registrar of Pension Funds and, ultimately, to the Attorney-General. The fund is also obliged to report the non-payment of contributions to the affected members.
Unfortunately, the non-payment of contributions to retirement funds is all too common in South Africa. The Pension Funds Adjudicator, Muvhango Lukhaimane, who deals with these cases all the time, told Personal Finance: “The situation is endemic and municipalities are the worst – we currently have cases all over the place. The death benefits issue has been coming on for a while because once the contributions are not made, then the cover falls away. It is not only municipalities though – you have employers in the metal and engineering sector, in the transport sector, and some of the state owned entities.
“Unfortunately the employees continue to see a deduction on their salaries and are mostly unaware that no payments are being made to the fund, which in turn cannot pay the insurer in instances where the benefit is underwritten. However, even where the fund self-insures, they fail to tell members that if contributions are not up to date, certain benefits will not be paid, mainly death benefits.”