Billions in funds still locked away

It may be the beginning of a new dawn but the financial crisis is far from over for the many investors who still have their retirement savings frozen in mortgage and property funds.

Investors are still unable to access approximately $25 billion of their savings that are fully or partially frozen.

Many funds froze withdrawals in October last year, at the height of the global financial crisis, and then the Federal Government introduced a guarantee on bank deposits which excluded the funds.

Positive changes to hardship withdrawals

Last month the Australian Securities and Investments Commission made changes to hardship withdrawals for people hit by the freeze.

Research group Morningstar has established that more than 70 funds still have restrictions in some form. Due to the changes made by ASIC fund members are now able to access a $100,000 a year from their accounts, instead of the $20,000 four times a year.

Michael O' Neill, chief executive of National Seniors has stated that the changes are necessary and overdue. Mr. O'Neill further added that many retirees have not been able to access their life's savings and that they have had to survive on limited income.

These changes to existing relief provisions have increased flexibility for operators, which have made it more convenient for consumers to access their funds should they meet the hardship criteria.

3 to 4 years until assets will be unfrozen

The Government and industry really need to unfreeze assets as soon as possible. The Investment and Financial Services Association has stated that it could take another three or four years before all affected assets are unfrozen.

Unfortunately there aren't many options available to investors. They can wait until the funds offer a withdrawal which would only be in a small percentage of their investment or they could go to Centrelink or sell their units to investment trusts that have been set up to take advantage of distressed investors.

Many investors have been hard hit as a result of frozen mortgages and property funds not being covered by the Federal Governments scheme for bank deposits.

Should the bank guarantee be turned off then the Government is concerned there will be consequences for the whole economy with the expected outflow of foreign investment.

Mortgage trusts are a different kettle of fish as they are unlikely to come off freeze until the bank guarantee is lifted or they liquidate. Most of the funds which have frozen redemptions still won't allow investors to redeem all their money at once, but many have moved to put something in place to allow some redemption.

Published on September 9-th, 2009 in Financial Planning
Damon Rasheed is the CEO of Rate Detective, an Australian financial service comparison sites specialising in Life Insurance, Income Protection Insurance and home loans. Damon holds a Master's Degree in Economics from the University of Melbourne and has been involved in many start-up internet businesses.