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High cost of living, unemployment and debt are just some of the difficulties South Africans are facing that greatly impact their ability to save or invest. This National Savings Month, Investec experts Rene Grobler and Ebeth van Heerden unpack the differences between savings and investment and share practical ways to improve your financial health. It’s a must-listen for those starting out on their wealth creation journey.
The absence of a culture of saving in South Africa owes its roots to a cocktail of factors including: the high cost of living, widespread unemployment, unsustainable debt, societal pressures to maintain appearances, and a dearth of financial literacy and awareness about saving and investing avenues.
This situation, facing millions of citizens, was discussed at length on the latest episode of Investec’s No Ordinary Wednesday podcast featuring guests René Grobler, Head of Investec Cash Investments, and Ebeth Van Heerden, Head of Distribution for Investec Investment Management at Investec Wealth & Investment.
Grobler says income levels undeniably dictate the state of a nation's savings culture, and the South African case is no different.
With many citizens caught in the jaws of poverty and struggling to afford necessities, the idea of saving becomes an alien concept. While saving 20% of income is a good benchmark, personal circumstances differ significantly, hence, the need for tailored professional financial advice.
She says recent hikes in interest rates might seem like a step towards encouraging savings for those privileged with disposable income, but the grim reality is that it further squeezes those with existing high debt levels.
A rational financial strategy would be to first eliminate high-interest debt before embarking on saving. Unfortunately, it is common to find individuals juggling debt and savings simultaneously, an approach that is far from financially optimal.
Grobler believes that when it comes to exploring savings opportunities, it boils down to an individual's risk tolerance and liquidity needs. South Africa currently presents attractive interest rates on low-risk savings options like fixed deposits or notice accounts. However, the choice of the most suitable savings vehicle should hinge on an individual's risk appetite, time horizon, and savings goals.
As Einstein said, 'Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn't, pays it'. And really it is about saving early.
When to save and when to invest
Van Heerden says saving and investing are two sides of the same coin, each vital. Savings are short-term oriented, ensuring fixed returns and capital stability. Investing, conversely, is a long-term game and involves higher risk growth assets such as equities. It is essential to have a well-diversified, professionally managed investment portfolio tailored to your specific goals.
When are unit trusts or cash a good idea?
Van Heerden believes that unit trusts have emerged as a gateway for average investors into the financial markets. They offer an opportunity to invest in professionally managed portfolios, aligning with specific investment objectives. The accessibility and flexibility of unit trusts make them a viable option for a broader spectrum of investors.
And where does cash fit into the equation? Both concur that cash, though a perfect cushion for short-term liquidity needs, is a poor long-term store of value. Inflation invariably chips away at the purchasing power of cash, making it ill-suited for long-term wealth accumulation. Cash should serve as a liquidity buffer, emergency fund, or a means to achieve short-term savings goals.
How to boost your savings
Grobler says the ability to save is a dance with a range of factors: economic conditions, interest rates, and personal financial circumstances. With the associated investment risks of market volatility and investor behaviour, it is prudent for new investors to establish a financial plan, keep a cash buffer, consider tax-efficient investing options, and maintain a consistent investment strategy. Again, professional financial advice comes in handy.
A good investment portfolio is well diversified. It's managed by a qualified, experienced and professional investment management team and, very importantly, it is managed according to every investor's specific individual investment goal.
Van Heerden says that when it comes to offshore investments, it is critical to factor in the diversification benefits and access to global markets. Although the fluctuating exchange rate of the South African rand against the US dollar may seem daunting, focusing on broader investment goals is the key.
The main incentive for investing offshore should be to gain exposure to different regions and sectors outside the local market. The suitability of offshore investment is best determined by professional financial advice tailored to an individual's circumstances and goals.
Both believe South Africa needs to brace itself for a savings culture overhaul, catalysed by improved financial literacy and a commitment to adopt sound financial practices. Investing for the future should become part of our lives - a culture handed down from generation to generation. Only then can we start seeing a positive shift in our national savings health.
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