KiwiSaver investment fund managers profited as markets plummeted during COVID-19 lockdown

KiwiSaver investment fund managers made money out of the COVID-19 pandemic - and they took it from Kiwis.

The fees they charge went up by 12 percent as investments lost ground. For the first time in history, returns took a downward dive.

Pramodya De Alwis doesn't have much money left in his KiwiSaver account - he used all $15,000 to help him buy a house with his fiancee in west Auckland. 

"It's money well spent," he told Newshub. 

He's one of many KiwiSavers who, together, withdrew more than $1 billion to buy their first home in the year to March, according to a report just released by KiwiSaver watchdog, the Financial Markets Authority (FMA). 

Over a billion bucks was also taken out by Kiwis turning 65 - all at a time when markets were in pandemic panic mode.

KiwiSaver providers say funds took a big hit with Frank Jasper, the chief investment officer of Fisher Funds, saying it was a "panicked environment".

In the year to March, KiwiSaver investment returns turned negative for the first time ever. At the same time, the amount investors charged in fees went up.

Jasper says it's a part of business.

"Yeah we were making money when markets were falling, we still have people to pay and we've got to keep the lights on."

But Liam Mason, the head of regulation at the FMA, says something's gotta give.

"We would like to see fees come down faster given the growth of KiwiSaver."

The FMA has issued a plea for an explanation to those charging too much. 

"We're asking some providers to come to us and explain what they're doing to provide value for money,” says Mason.

And it's certainly getting valuable - despite the drops, KiwiSaver is now worth $62 billion.