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Our story

Establishing a global investment fund from scratch and running it from New Zealand has been a significant achievement.

About the Fund

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund was created in 2001 after extensive public and parliamentary debate.

As a Sovereign Wealth Fund, we invest the government’s money to grow it over the long term to make future superannuation costs more affordable.

It's important we save now because New Zealand's population is getting older, and with more people aged 65 and older the cost of NZ Super payments will increase.

The legislation creating the Fund was sponsored by the then Minister of Finance, Sir Michael Cullen. For a long time, we were known colloquially as the “Cullen Fund”.

The Fund is managed by the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, which is an Autonomous Crown Entity that operates independently from the Government of the day.

This means that, although we are still accountable to the Government, we have operational independence regarding investment decisions and are, instead, overseen by an independent Board.

Withdrawals from the Fund commenced in 2020 but substantial draw-downs will not begin until the 2050s.

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Growing the fund

After a start-up period, the Fund began investing in 2003. We started with six Board members, with David May appointed the Chair. Tim Mitchell became our first employee, joining at the same time as our first Chief Executive, Paul Costello.

We started with an initial contribution from the government of $2.4 billion on 30 September 2003.

At first, we used external managers to invest the Fund’s money. Over time, we have grown our own team and now manage investments in listed and unlisted markets in-house.

From the beginning, we chose a relatively high risk portfolio – reflecting our purpose and long time horizon. We knew this would bring some bumps along the way, which is why we have always encouraged measuring our performance over the long term.

Government contribution so far $23.0 billion*

* as at 30 September 2022

A long term and global investor

One of our biggest advantages is that we can look through market ups and downs. Because we have a long time frame, we can buy low and sell high, and invest in assets that are difficult to sell quickly.

While the Fund is a major investor in New Zealand, most of it is invested overseas. To enable the Fund to make as much money for New Zealanders as possible, without taking too much risk, we invest in a wide variety of investments in New Zealand and globally.

The Fund is worth $54.3 billion*

* as at 30 September 2022

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Challenges

In September 2008, the failure of Lehman Brothers bank heralded a credit crunch that turned into a global financial crisis.

With world equity markets plunging daily, our ability to invest for the long-term meant it was an opportunity for us to buy assets cheaply. Our constant risk appetite paid off.

We didn’t let a crisis go wasted. To make the most of the opportunities available to us we increased our internal trading capabilities, established our Portfolio Completion team and began strategic tilting – adding value by buying when others want to sell, and selling when others want to buy.

Investing innovatively

We think that the best way to achieve our purpose is to have a growth-oriented, diversified portfolio. Our strategies play to our natural advantages such as our long time horizon and our liquidity tolerance.

We make decisions about how much money to put into each investment by spreading the overall level of risk our Board is comfortable with across baskets of ‘like’ investment opportunities.

 

Reference portfolio

We use a ‘reference portfolio’ to measure how much value we’re adding to the Fund, compared to the overall investment market.

The reference portfolio is set by the Guardians’ Board, to benchmark the performance of our actual investment portfolio and the value we are adding through our active investment strategies.

By itself, the reference portfolio could achieve the Fund’s goals, but we believe we can do better than that. This is because of our advantages as a long-term investor – certainty over our cash flow, operational independence and our sovereign status. That's why we also make active investments.

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Responsible investing

When we invest we do so in a manner that does not damage New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible member of the world community. Our Responsible Investment Framework was developed in 2007 – informed by the views of the people of New Zealand, as expressed in our laws, relevant international laws and major New Zealand government policies.

We were one of the first investors in the world to sign the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment in 2006 and are recognised as a leading responsible investor globally.

We believe that environmental, social and governance issues affect long-term financial returns.

We take these factors into account when we identify new investment opportunities, analyse companies, engage managers and act as a shareholder.

People

We have always invested significantly in our people and remain true to our values: we stand strong, we support each other, future focused and team not hero. These efforts have been recognised when we were awarded a New Zealand public sector award for leadership excellence in 2016, and we've continued to make improvements since then.

People are a top priority to the Guardians, with our team having grown over the years. This has included many high-performing expats coming home to New Zealand to work for the Guardians, as well as ongoing dedicated locals and newcomers from all over the world.

Our focus is on creating a constructive workplace culture where staff feel supported, while free to challenge decisions and debate questions.

We are committed to building a diverse workplace of skilled staff and want to make sure that all of our team feel comfortable to be themselves at work, and support our vision of an inclusive team creating a better future through investment excellence.

 

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