Saturday, 12 November 2011

Financial literacy vital when investing in funds

Maybank Tower in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

By LEONG HUNG YEE hungyee@thestar.com.my

 It pays to be updated on investment knowledge

LOOK before you leap. That's the advice experts in the unit trust industry have given to investors, either old or new, when deciding to put their money into any fund.

Their reasoning behind it is that the products being offered to investors are no longer simple and basic. With the ever growing diversity and sophistication of unit trust products, consumers have to continuously enhance their knowledge and capabilities to maximise as well as protect their investments.

Fund managers say unit trust funds offer an option to retail investors especially those looking at the possibility of earning higher returns compared with conventional savings like fixed deposits.

However, a lot of investors do not really have a good understanding on what they are investing in and they think they can simply park the investment in some funds and let it grow.

 

Lim Hong Tat says it is a challenge for investors to stay informed on market movements in today’s environment.

“Over the long term, education on the basics of financial planning was important for the growth of the unit trust industry,” a fund manager says.

MAAKL Mutual Bhd CEO Wong Boon Choy opines that more can certainly be done in investor education. “I am sure the Federation of Investment Manager Malaysia would have probably started working with all relevant parties who are involved in promoting financial literacy.”

Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) deputy president and head of community financial services Lim Hong Tat points out that one of the issues it is facing is educating its customers on unit trust investment.

He says it is a challenge for investors to stay informed on market movements in today's environment.

Educating our customers on unit trust investment is one of the key areas the bank is embarking on. Unit trust investments are meant for a medium to long-term investment horizon, and generally provide better returns according to the risk that accompanies the investment,” Lim says.

The dollar cost averaging concept, he says, is another focus where the bank is highlighting to customers, such as to invest the same amount of money over a period of time, especially now when market volatility is high.

“By doing so, investors avoid entering the unit trust funds at the peak or bottom of the market cycle, and hence spread out the risk,” Lim says.

HwangDBS Investment Management Bhd (HwangDBS IM) chief product officer Steve Lim says that despite the growth of the unit trust industry over the past 10 years, there is still a need to increase investors awareness and understanding about unit trusts and its benefits.



Good returns

“Many of them expect good returns, for example double-digit returns, within a year, hence defeating the purpose of investing in such instruments for retirement and financial planning. Since they have a short-term investment outlook, they tend to time the market. Many of them have a herd mentality and will continue to sell and redeem when bad news flows in.

“Also, mis-selling and lack of product understanding have been the bugbear of our industry,” Lim says.
 
He adds that this had resulted in losses by many investors and a prevailing misconception that unit trust investing as a whole is a highly risky and complicated venture.

“Nevertheless, we believe that with the right financial education, we will be able to address the unit trust industry issues and misconceptions as well as contributing to the growing confidence and popularity of the industry segment.”

Steve says the level of personal financial literacy today is low and with growing consumerism as well as changing customer expectations, there is a need to reinforce greater financial literacy to help people better manage their personal finances. Proper consumer education is needed if new growth engines, such as private pensions, wealth management and asset management, with their more complex and sophisticated products, are to take off.

While industry players are advocating a greater need to increase investor education, some investors do not really have a basic grasp of what a unit trust is or even why they should invest in unit trust.

Lee Khee Chuan, a Securities Commission-licensed financial adviser representative, says unit trust as an investment vehicle has distinct advantages over other asset classes of investment.

He says, for example, unit trust has better liquidity compared with land banking products.

Wide selection

“It (unit trust) can start with a minimum capital of RM1,000 but it is impossible with property or blue chip shares. Unit trust also offers a wide selection ranging from bond funds to aggressive equity funds; furthermore it gives investors exposure to multi regions. It also allows investors to invest regularly using the dollar cost averaging method with a minimum capital as low as RM100 per month through bank account deductions,” Lee says.

Lee cautions that investing in unit trust does carry investment risk; the price of units may go down as well as up.

“It is still prudent to diversify among unit trust funds with differing fund objectives even though unit trust fund sales agents may tell you that unit trust is diversified among different stocks or stock markets.

“One can also check out value-added services provided by some licensed financial advisory companies in Malaysia which offer a model fund portfolio which is effectively diversified to clients because they have an in-house fund manager to construct and monitor the portfolio of unit trust funds,” he adds.


Related Post:

Investing in Malaysian unit trust industry

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