InvestNow Foundation Series review – What’s the catch with their 0.03% fee?

Foundation Series is InvestNow’s house brand of managed funds which has been offering their competitive (and perhaps underrated) Growth and Balanced funds for a couple of years now. In November 2022 they expanded their offering with their US 500 and Total World index funds, two ultra low-cost options with a respective 0.03% and 0.07% management fee. This review takes a look into Foundation Series’ funds, what they invest in, and how they compare with competing fund options. Is there any catch with their market leading low fees?

This article covers:
1. What’s on offer
2. What do their funds invest in?
3. Other considerations
4. Foundation Series vs competing funds

1. What’s on offer

Foundation Series is a range of four (mostly passively managed) funds launched by InvestNow, designed as simple, low cost products to be the “foundation” or core of one’s investment portfolio. The funds are available exclusively on the InvestNow platform.

Further Reading:
InvestNow review – The most efficient way to invest?

Their funds on offer fall into two categories:

Diversified funds

Foundation Series offers two diversified funds, investing into a mix of different asset classes. They’re available as non-KiwiSaver funds, as well as part of InvestNow’s KiwiSaver scheme:

  • Foundation Series Growth Fund – Invests 80% into NZ and international shares, and 20% into bonds and cash.
  • Foundation Series Balanced Fund – Invests 60% into NZ and international shares, and 40% into bonds and cash.

Both funds have a management fee of 0.37% p.a. There’s also a spread that applies when buying or selling units in these funds. This covers the transaction costs of the fund, and work by applying a premium or discount to the fund’s unit price. For example, if a fund’s buy spread is 0.10% you’ll buy units in the fund at a 0.10% premium to the current unit price, and if a fund’s sell spread is 0.11% you’ll sell units in the fund at a 0.11% discount to the current unit price.

Buy spreadSell spread
Growth Fund0.10%0.11%
Balanced Fund0.08%0.11%

Otherwise there’s no other account or transaction fees associated with these funds.


Share funds

Foundation Series also offers two funds that invest only into international shares. They’re currently only available outside of KiwiSaver:

  • Foundation Series US 500 Fund – Tracks the S&P 500 index, investing in the 500 largest companies listed in the United States.
  • Foundation Series Total World Fund – Invests in over 9,000 companies from over 40 different countries including the US, UK, Japan, China, Canada, and Australia.

The US 500 Fund has a management fee of 0.03% and Total World has a fee of 0.07%. That’s incredibly low, being the cheapest index funds you’ll find here in New Zealand, and even being on par with their American Vanguard equivalents. It’s likely InvestNow are running these funds at zero or very little profit, to attract more customers to the platform.

However, the funds also have a 0.50% transaction fee to buy or sell, which covers the costs of brokerage, foreign exchange, and general fund running costs. That deviates from all other funds on the InvestNow platform which do not have transaction fees. More on this fee and how it compares with competing funds later in this article.

2. What do their funds invest in?

Investment mix

Here’s a little more detail on what each fund invests in:

Diversified funds

Each diversified fund invests across five asset classes, with the Growth Fund having a higher allocation to shares, and the Balanced Fund having a higher allocation to bonds:

Asset ClassGrowthBalanced
NZ shares26%20%
International shares54%40%
NZ bonds3%12%
International bonds15%26%
Cash2%2%

The NZ and International shares portion of each fund is passively managed, while the NZ and International bonds are actively managed.

Share funds

Foundation Series’ share funds work by investing into US-listed Vanguard ETFs as their sole holdings:

Both are diversified across many companies and industries, though the key differences between the US 500 Fund and Total World Fund are:

  • US 500 only contains US-listed companies, while Total World invests beyond the US, with investments into companies from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and beyond.
  • US 500 only invests into large companies, while Total World also contains mid and small cap companies. That provides a better overall representation of global sharemarkets compared to the S&P 500, but the vast number of companies it contains (over 9,000) is arguably overkill in terms of diversification.

There’s little reason to invest in both, given US shares are already heavily represented in the Total World Fund, making up approximately 60% of the fund.

Further Reading:
What do NZX 50, S&P 500, and Total World index funds actually invest in?


Who are these funds best suited for?

Diversified funds

With their investments into multiple asset classes, the diversified funds are like a one-stop shop for putting together an investment portfolio. Great if you’re looking to invest, but want something incredibly simple and hands-off as we covered in the article below:

Further Reading:
4 steps to create an incredibly simple long-term investment portfolio

Generally the Growth Fund would suit long-term investors (with it’s high allocation to shares), while the Balanced Fund would better suit medium-term investors or those wanting a slightly less volatile investment (with its higher allocation to bonds).

However, there’s a couple of gaps in Foundation Series’ offering:

  • No Conservative or Cash fund – Neither of the diversified funds have a high allocation to bonds/cash, making them unsuitable for shorter-term investors. However, there are other funds available on the InvestNow platform that can fill this gap.
  • No Aggressive fund – The Foundation Series Growth Fund contains 80% shares and 20% bonds/cash, but some long-term investors prefer Aggressive funds which contain an even higher allocation towards shares (and therefore higher potential returns). However, their share funds (or the other funds on InvestNow) go some way in addressing this gap.

Share funds

Foundation Series’ share funds are less diversified, each investing only in a single asset class. But they’re still handy building blocks for an investment portfolio, for example, by using them to complement a NZ shares fund to diversify your portfolio internationally.

The Total World Fund in particular provides an easy way to get exposure to a wide range of geographies in one go, with its investments spanning over 40 countries. Though it’s often argued that the S&P 500 is an adequate substitute for a global fund – just keep in mind it only invests in companies listed in a single country.

3. Other considerations

Minimum investment

The minimum lump sum investment into Foundation Series’ funds is $250 per fund. But if you set up a Regular Investment Plan on the InvestNow platform, the minimum investment drops to $50 per fund. 

Tax treatment

All Foundation Series funds are NZ domiciled and are structured Multi-Rate PIEs so are taxed at your Prescribed Investor Rate. This includes their US 500 and Total World funds which aren’t considered FIFs even though they invest solely into US Vanguard ETFs.

Each fund calculates your tax obligations for you, which is payable either:

  • After the end of every tax year (31 March), at which point you’ll be required to deposit the necessary funds into your InvestNow account to settle your tax liability. Or,
  • Whenever you sell units of a fund, at which point your tax liability will be automatically deducted from the sale proceeds of your fund.

Further Reading:
Tax on foreign investments – How do FIF and Estate Taxes work?

Tax efficiency

Foundation Series’ funds are generally tax efficient, with no major tax leakage issues. The exception is their Total World Fund which is slightly tax inefficient, given it invests in non-US shares through a US domiciled ETF. In short, NZ investors can’t claim the tax credits relating to the dividends paid by those non-US shares, resulting in an extra tax impact of about 0.12% p.a.

Distributions

Foundation Series’ funds do not pay distributions. Instead any interest or dividend income the funds receive are automatically reinvested and reflected as an increase in the value of the funds – So you’re no better or worse off compared with a fund that does pay distributions.

Currency hedging

Foundation Series’ Growth and Balanced funds are partially currency hedged:

  • The international shares portion of these funds are 50% hedged to the NZ dollar.
  • The international bonds portion of these funds are 100% hedged to the NZ dollar.

Both US 500 and Total World funds are unhedged.

4. Foundation Series vs competing funds

S&P 500 funds

The Foundation Series US 500 Fund is almost identical to other S&P 500 options out there, tracking the same index and investing in the exact same companies. Here’s the main competing options, and their management fees:

Foundation Series’ management fee is on par with Vanguard, and cheaper than that of Smartshares’ and Kernel’s funds. But management fees don’t tell the whole story here, as there’s other key factors to consider such as:

  • Transaction fees – While Foundation Series and Vanguard funds have low ongoing management fees, they have high one-off costs (transaction and foreign exchange fees). Therefore you’d need to commit to buying and holding these funds for at least 3-4 years for the low management fees to offset the high one-off costs, and be worth it over the Smartshares/Kernel options.
  • Tax treatment – All funds are structured as PIEs, except for Vanguard which is a FIF. There’s no definitive best out of the two, though keep in mind that FIFs require a little bit more admin work. A smaller difference is that the Smartshares fund is a listed PIE (taxed at 28% regardless of your PIR), while the Kernel fund is a Multi-Rate PIE (taxed at your PIR).
  • Currency hedging – All funds are unhedged, except for Kernel’s S&P 500 Fund which is 100% hedged to the NZ dollar.
  • Account fees – Kernel charges a $5 per month account fee if you invest $25,000 or more into their non-KiwiSaver funds. This effectively adds a fee of up to 0.24% p.a. onto their funds.
  • KiwiSaver – Smartshares’ (via SuperLife) and Kernel’s funds are available as KiwiSaver funds. Foundation Series’ and Vanguard’s funds are not.

Taking the above factors into consideration, let’s see the results for each fund after 10 years, assuming we have an initial $30,000 to invest and will contribute an extra $500 per month. We’ll also assume that our marginal tax rate is 33%, our PIR is 28%, and that each year we’ll get 7% in capital growth plus 2% in dividends.

Fund/PlatformResult after 10 years
Smartshares USF (purchased via InvestNow)$150,095
Smartshares USF (purchased via Sharesies)$149,497
Foundation Series US 500$152,287
Kernel S&P 500$150,459
Vanguard VOO (purchased via Interactive Brokers)$153,445
Vanguard VOO (purchased via Sharesies)$152,334
Vanguard VOO (purchased via Hatch)$151,806

While Foundation Series delivers the best result out of the NZ domiciled funds, the US-listed Vanguard ETF (VOO) comes out on top thanks to some tax advantages it has (by being able to apply the de minimis exemption and CV method when calculating your taxable income). However this result requires you to invest through a foreign platform (Interactive Brokers/IBKR) and deal with the FIF tax rules, which not everyone is keen on.

It’s also important to note that the above results will differ from person to person (depending on things like tax rate and amount you’re investing), given there’s so many variables. You can check out the below article for a more comprehensive comparison between the above S&P 500 index funds, including a link to a spreadsheet to do your own comparison.

Further Reading:
What’s the best S&P 500 index fund in 2022?


Global funds

The Foundation Series Total World Fund competes with a number of other global share funds including:

The set of factors to consider are similar to that of the S&P 500 funds:

  • Transaction fees – Foundation Series has a lower ongoing management fee, but higher upfront costs. You’d need to commit to holding the fund 3-4 years to recoup that 0.50% transaction fee. Potentially add on more time if you’re switching from another fund, as you may also need to recoup the spreads/transaction costs associated with selling out of your old fund.
  • Tax treatment – All funds are structured as PIEs, except for Vanguard which is a FIF.
  • Currency hedging – Smartshares, Russell, Kernel, and Vanguard offer both currency hedged and unhedged versions of their funds, while Macquarie’s fund is 69% hedged to the NZ dollar. Foundation Series’ Total World Fund is only available as an unhedged fund.
  • Account fees – Kernel charges a $5 per month account fee if you invest $25,000 or more into their non-KiwiSaver funds.
  • KiwiSaver – Smartshares’ (via SuperLife), Macquarie’s (via InvestNow KiwiSaver), and Kernel’s funds are available as KiwiSaver funds.

Plus there’s a few extra important considerations when choosing between these global funds:

  • Index tracked – Most of these funds track a different index to each other, therefore have a slightly different set of underlying investments. Unfortunately there’s no way to tell which one will perform the best unless you had a crystal ball.
  • Tax efficiency – These global funds have varying degrees of tax efficiency, with Foundation Series, Smartshares, Macquarie, and Vanguard funds all facing some tax leakage issues.
  • Spreads – A few funds also apply spreads when buying into or selling out of the fund:
    • Smartshares: ~$0.005
    • Macquarie: 0.07%
    • Russell: 0.13% – 0.20%
    • Vanguard: 0.07% – 0.09%

Taking the above factors into consideration, let’s see the results for each fund after 10 years, assuming we have an initial $30,000 to invest and will contribute an extra $500 per month. We’ll also assume that our marginal tax rate is 33%, our PIR is 28%, and that each year all funds deliver 7% in capital growth plus 2% in dividends (though in reality all funds will deliver a slightly different return due to tracking different indexes).

FundResult after 10 years
Smartshares Total World$148,063
Foundation Series Total World$150,537
Macquarie All Country Global Shares$148,763
Russell Sustainable Global Shares$149,743
Kernel Global 100$150,406
Vanguard International Shares$149,801

In this case, Foundation Series comes out on top, followed very closely by Kernel, which is quite impressive considering their management fee is much higher than Foundation Series’ fee. Though another option could be to invest directly in Vanguard’s Total World ETF (VT) listed on the US sharemarket, which could deliver even better results than Foundation Series in some instances.

Again it’s important to note that the above results will differ from person to person. You can check out the below article for a more comprehensive comparison between the above global share index funds, including a link to a spreadsheet to do your own comparison.

Further Reading:
What’s the best global shares index fund in 2022?


Diversified funds

Foundation Series’ Diversified funds compete with the following providers who also mainly offer passively managed, low cost funds. These are all available as KiwiSaver and non-KiwiSaver funds:

  • Simplicity – Offers Growth, Balanced, and Conservative funds, each with management fees of 0.31% p.a.
  • Kernel – Offers Aggressive/High Growth, Balanced, and Cash funds, all with management fees of 0.25% p.a.
  • BNZ – Offers funds ranging from Growth to Cash, with management fees between 0.30% and 0.45%.
  • SuperLife – Offers funds ranging from Aggressive/High Growth to Cash, with management fees between 0.20% and 0.63%.

Once again there’s a lot more to consider than just fees:

  • Investment mix – The types of funds on offer differ between providers, for example, only kernel and SuperLife have an Aggressive option, and only Simplicity, BNZ, and SuperLife have a Conservative fund option:
AggressiveGrowthBalancedConservativeCash
Foundation SeriesNoYesYesNoNo
SimplicityNoYesYesYesNo
KernelYesNoYesNoYes
BNZNoYesYesYesYes
SuperLifeYesYesYesYesYes
  • Alternative investments – Simplicity’s funds invest into a few alternative assets including mortgage lending, build-to-rent housing, and private equity. Some people love these investments as they aim to make a positive impact on society, for example, by providing stable housing. Others don’t like them as they can be seen as gimmicky side projects that detract from what otherwise could be simple, passively managed funds.
  • Ethical considerations – Simplicity and BNZ funds exclude investment into a number of industries including tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment, and weapons. Other funds have no (or very limited) ethical exclusions.
  • Tax efficiency – Simplicity and SuperLife funds have tax leakage issues, effectively making their funds more expensive that what their management fees initially suggest. The good news is that Simplicity are looking to fix their tax leakage issue in the coming months.
  • Account fees – Kernel charges a $5 per month account fee if you invest $25,000 or more into their non-KiwiSaver funds. SuperLife charges a $1 per month account fee for their non-KiwiSaver funds, and $2.50 per month for their KiwiSaver funds.

Further Reading:
What’s the best low cost Growth/Aggressive KiwiSaver fund?
InvestNow Foundation Series vs Simplicity funds – Tax leakage an issue?

Conclusion

We’ve always been fans of Foundation Series’ diversified funds, whether it be for KiwiSaver, or non-KiwiSaver investments. They provide a one-stop shop for building a portfolio, and while they don’t have the absolute cheapest fees, they’re still competitive against the likes of Simplicity, especially when you consider the latter currently has tax efficiency issues. However, they’re missing Cash/Conservative and Aggressive funds, so won’t be suitable for everyone.

But probably of higher interest are Foundation Series’ share funds which allow you to get exposure to the S&P 500 or global shares for an ultra low management fee. A lot of Kiwi investors will already have similar funds in their portfolio, and will be considering switching to Foundation Series to take advantage of the market leading 0.03%/0.07% fee.

However, the catch is the 0.50% transaction fee required to buy or sell these funds. You’d need to commit to investing for at least 3-4 years to recoup this transaction fee and make the ultra low management fee worth it over competing funds. That may seem easy, but who knows what’ll happen during that time. Perhaps Foundation Series’ funds will encourage other fund managers to lower their fees and release an even cheaper/better fund – constantly jumping between funds trying to chase the cheapest option probably isn’t a great habit, and could leave you worse off due to all the spreads and transaction fees you’d incur. And even if you do manage to hold one fund for the long-term, the difference in results between the competing fund options isn’t massive.

Overall Foundation Series’ four funds are great products and are well worth considering, especially if you’re implementing a new investment portfolio. But if you have an existing portfolio and are contemplating switching to Foundation Series’ new funds, it’s not a decision we’d rush into (remember you may incur fees from selling out of your old fund as well). Perhaps you may eek out a few hundred dollars in returns over the long-term, but the switch could be more trouble than it’s worth.

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Disclaimer

The content of this article is based on Money King NZ’s opinion and should not be considered financial advice. The information should never be used without first assessing your own personal and financial situation, and conducting your own research. You may wish to consult with an authorised financial adviser before making any investment decisions.


Comments

  1. Thanks for the update! How do we work out if its worth selling out of one fund (i.e Vanguard International Shares) and buying into the new Foundation Share Funds?
    I have no idea if its worth doing.

    1. That’s a little bit trickier to calculate but we can do so by making some modifications to our Global Shares fund comparison spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VnQoQk4kiAryX1awhhplgMHE-eNLUtzKwNNb4b43ogs/copy

      Let’s assume your Vanguard fund is currently worth $30,000, you plan to invest $500 per month for 10 years, your tax rate 33%, and PIR is 28%.

      First we need to calculate how the Vanguard fund would perform if you’d kept it over those 10 years. We need to modify the spreadsheet by removing the buy spread from the $30,000 you already have invested (given you’ve already paid that spread). After that the spreadsheet gives a result of $149,843.13.

      Next we need to calculate the result if you were to sell off your Vanguard fund and buy into the Foundation Series Total World fund for 10 years. Selling off the Vanguard fund comes with a 0.07% spread, so after selling you’d be left with $29,979.00 to reinvest into your new fund. Plugging that number back into our spreadsheet gives a result of $150,494.79 under the Foundation Series fund.

      So it may be worth switching in this scenario (though the results aren’t vastly different), and keep in mind that results may differ depending on how long you’re investing, the amount you’re investing, tax rates, and so on. Plus you also have to consider the fact that the funds track slightly different indexes and have slightly different underlying investments.

  2. Excellent article. Always look forward to read from moneykingnz every week 🙂 Keep up the wonderful work. Learning heaps from you.

    Cheers.

  3. Thanks for a timely and comprehensive article; we are in exactly the position of holding these Vanguard funds directly but wrangling with FIF, so it’s very useful to have the bigger picture drawn so clearly!

    Really appreciate the Kiwi perspective you bring 👍🏻

    1. Hey James, comparing those two funds is like comparing apples with oranges. They’re quite different products.

      Firstly, the Milford Active Growth Fund invests in a diversified mix of assets including NZ and international shares as well as bonds. It’s like a one-stop shop for creating an investment portfolio, and you could easily have it as your sole investment. On the other hand VOO only invests in US shares. You probably wouldn’t have that as your sole holding in your portfolio unless you had good reason to only want to invest in US companies.

      Secondly, Milford is an active fund manager who attempts to outperform the market. They charge higher fees as well as a performance fee whenever they exceed their performance benchmarks. VOO is a passively managed fund which attempts to match the performance of the market, but charges much lower fees.

      So it isn’t really a question of which fund is better, but rather which fund best aligns with your investment goals and preferences.

  4. Thanks, I was referring to performance fees,
    15% Performance fee earned – 15% of any return above their target Is this common knowledge?

    1. Yes, it’s fairly common knowledge (and clearly stated on a fund’s Product Disclosure Statement) that some actively managed funds charge performance fees. Passively managed funds like VOO don’t charge such a fee.

  5. Another great article!
    How does it compare if I leave money in monthly investment plan with Investnow for smartshares USF & TWF ETF instead of moving the investment to the two new foundation series options, till I need it (probably 10+ years) & start new regular plan in the mentioned foundation series US & total world etf fund.

    1. Hey Viv, that scenario is somewhat similar to Mel’s comment above. Generally leaving money in the Smartshares funds would leave you several hundred dollars worse off, given the higher management fees. So if you are already firmly set on switching to the Foundation Series funds (and are planning to stick with those funds for at least several years), perhaps you might as well switch sooner rather than later to benefit from the lower ongoing management fee.

  6. Thanks for the detailed review and the modelled example. I’m selling my Australian Vanguard fund now and about to buy into the Foundation SP 500 fund, primarily because the FIF tax rules scared me senseless and I didn’t like paying tax I hadn’t budgeted for at the end if the year.

    1. Thanks Katrina. Just note that you’ll still have to pay tax at the end of the tax year with these Foundation Series funds – though it’s less scary than FIF as InvestNow calculates your tax obligations for you. Plus you can always sell down your holdings to pay the tax.

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