Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Which retirement scheme do I prefer?

In my previous post, I gave an overview of my Superannuation in Australia and Central Provident Fund (CPF) in Singapore. This post will be about my personal opinion on which retirement scheme I prefer. It's important to note that Superannuation and CPF serve as retirement funds in Australia and Singapore respectively where the cost of living, tax rates, lifestyle etc are different.

It can be difficult to compare these two retirement schemes on a level playing field. This comparison might not be fair but it will be based on my experience and views. At the very least, isn't it interesting to read about how different retirement schemes measure up against each other?
Employer Contributions 

The purpose of retirement schemes is to provide you with income in retirement. The more funds you have in the retirement schemes, the more income you will receive when you retire and stop working. Employer contributions can go a long way in building up these funds especially when you can't make as much employee contributions.

The current employer contribution rate is 9.5% for Superannuation and 17% for CPF. However, there is a monthly Ordinary Wage (OW) ceiling cap of S$6,000 for CPF i.e. the employer only needs to contribute 17% of your monthly salary up to S$6,000. The employer does not need to contribute 17% of your excess salary above S$6,000. I don't think there's such a cap on employer contributions for Superannuation.

This probably only makes a difference when you are a high income earner in Australia or Singapore. Given I have only been working for a few years in each country, this point goes to CPF for me since I had more employer contributions on an average salary.

Employee Contributions

There is no mandatory employee contribution for Superannuation but the mandatory employee contribution rate for CPF is 20%. I like how the Singapore Government is essentially forcing each employee to save for his/her retirement by contributing to the CPF. It might not be a bad idea since I chose not to make any contributions to my Superannuation.

However, it would be nice to have the choice of my employee contribution rate to CPF. After all, I might decide that having the cash on hand is more useful at the start of my career when I am anticipating future significant expenses. Although I agree that the Government should encourage employees to contribute to their CPF, I don't agree with the current paternalistic approach to mandate a rate of 20%, which is even higher than the employer contribution rate. This point goes to Superannuation for me.

Flexibility of use

Superannuation can be used to cover life, disability, and income protection insurance premiums but there are not many other uses. CPF can be used for a variety of purposes - housing, investment, education, insurance and medical expenses. By allowing for greater flexibility in using CPF, this offsets the disadvantage of me having to make mandatory contributions to CPF.

Although you could make an argument that having so many uses for CPF detracts from its main purpose as a retirement fund scheme, it does come down to how you manage your CPF.

Superannuation is difficult to understand at the start but easy to manage once you get the hang of it. Once you start working after graduation and select a superannuation fund, ensure that the investment option is balanced or aggressive and the monthly contributions will take care of the rest.

The problem with CPF is that you really have to monitor how much of the OA you are using for housing, how much you can contribute to the SA and how much MA you have left for medical expenses.

Nevertheless, this point goes to CPF for me because it's better to have more options of use for the retirement fund schemes. After all, you can always decide not to use your CPF for anything and just allow the balances to build up.

Growth of funds

This one is tricky. Superannuation works by dollar cost averaging into the units of a fund on a balanced or aggressive investment option i.e. growth by exposure to equities. You could replicate this by using the CPF Investment Scheme, which allows you to invest your OA and SA in a wide range of investments to enhance your retirement funds.

Both schemes require you to not attempt market timing by changing the investment options for Superannuation funds or buying & selling the investments for the CPF Investment Scheme.

I guess where CPF takes the point for this is that the interest rate on the SA can reach 4% to 5%. Even by not using the CPF Investment Scheme, effective utilisation of the SA can enable your retirement funds to build up quickly over time without taking on much risk.


Superannuation funds charge fees for maintaining your retirement balances and CPF don't charge fees for the same service (unless you are using the CPF Investment Scheme). You could argue that Superannuation funds have to execute more monthly transactions (i.e. buying and selling of units) to justify the fees.

After all, CPF doesn't have as many monthly transactions since interest only gets paid at the end of the calendar year. You do have withdrawals for other purposes such as housing and insurance but those can be automated and require less monitoring.

My view is that fees eat into the returns of all funds and CPF takes the point for charging little to no fees.

Access at retirement

This generally refers to when and how you can access the Superannuation or CPF. The conditions of access can be complex for both Superannuation and CPF. For a simple comparison, Superannuation can be fully accessed at age 60 but CPF can be partially accessed at age 55 and fully accessed at age 65. More importantly, the entire amount of Superannuation can be withdrawn but CPF can only be withdrawn as a monthly payout once you hit the preservation age.

FYI, my view is that the preservation age for retirement schemes in most countries are likely to get higher over time. I would think this applies to both Superannuation and CPF i.e. I have no idea how old I would have to be to access my retirement funds.

As much as I think it's a good idea not to allow for retirees to withdraw the entire amount of CPF at one time, this should be a choice that they have. Again, I don't agree with the paternalistic approach that the Singapore Government has taken on restricting retirees' access to their own retirement funds. Hence, point to Superannuation for me. It might be a better approach for more personal finance education in schools and companies to empower everyone with the ability to make good financial decisions.


I must emphasize that you could reach a different conclusion even after assessing the same factors. In my case, I find that CPF is my preferred retirement scheme. It allows for me to build up retirement funds quickly from higher employer and employee contributions. This is especially effective when I have not been working in Singapore for the initial few years of my career. CPF also gives me more options in utilising the funds for other purposes and I find the flexibility useful as long as I have the self-discipline and knowledge to manage this. 


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  2. An interesting read. As a Singaporean who recently migrated to Australia with my wife, I very much relate to the points you have made in your comparison of CPF with superannuation. I too prefer CPF as the outsourcing of super to industry and retail operators has led to high fees and too much choice leading to much confusion for the average Australian. I was overwhelmed by the number of super funds on offer. It's also unfair that some funds are closed and only available to employees in certain industries like the university and public sector. I guess it's a result of government having to negotiate with trade union interests when super was created during the Keating era. The advantage of super is that it offers members the option to invest in well diversified pre-mix portfolios while CPF at the moment only has the CPF investment scheme, which is limited in terms of offering such options. However, the new CPF lifetime retirement scheme that is being developed should address this issue. By the way, just thought you might like to consider switching to Australian Super, which has an indexed diversified investment option that uses vanguard funds. Management fee is currently 0.12% plus 78 dollars membership fee a year.