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IPS forum on CPF: Behavioural perspectives on the CPF.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The morning session's last speaker was Mr. Donald Low who is an Associate Dean and Senior Fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Mr. Low's training is in Behavioural Economics and something he said confirmed a suspicion of mine which is, left to their own devices, most people will not save for their retirement. When it comes to saving for retirement, there has to be a degree of compulsion as a vast majority will give in to present day wants and prefer immediate gratification.


Mr. Low also said that people overestimate their own abilities and are often overly optimistic. He feels that lump sum withdrawals increase the risk of monetary loss and that an annuity payment like the CPF Life is better.

He said many things about the genesis of the CPF and the huge political loss of 1984 and why raising of the withdrawal age (from age 55) was never mentioned again, why this led to the minimum sum being formed and how it is in effect a backdoor to the raising of the withdrawal age.

Two things Mr. Low said which I feel should be considered and, in fact, implemented:

1. People are definitely living longer. Why should not the withdrawal age be raised? Raise it not for everyone but for future cohorts of workers. Make the process automatic and transparent. So, for example, in every 3 years, increase the withdrawal age by 1 year for the next cohort of workers.

Life expectancy improves 2 or 3 years in every decade. Peg the withdrawal age to life expectancy. I think this makes a whole lot of sense.

2. What the government should also do is to help people better visualise what it is like to age. People tend to think that they are invulnerable when they are younger. If we can help them visualise what it is like to be much older with all the implications, they could become more pro-active in retirement planning. This gels with my idea that more could be done to educate Singaporeans on retirement planning and how the CPF should be a cornerstone of their efforts.


People sometimes wonder why I do not maximise returns by investing all the CPF-OA I am allowed to invest with. In fact, to some, they are puzzled why I am contented to receive 2.5% per annum in interest rate.

My usual explanation is that I do not know everything but I do know that the CPF-OA pays me a risk free rate and because the interest paid is not withdrawn, 2.5% per annum compounded becomes a rather powerful force.

As Mr. Low pointed out, people are usually over-confident of their abilities and the more educated they are, the more optimistic they are. They will take more risk.

Perhaps, my approach of staying invested for income but always having a war chest ready (and I have said before that my CPF-OA money is one such war chest) shows that I am a little less confident of my own abilities.

Aiyoh, who threw a shoe at me? Who? Who?

See slides: here.

Related posts:
1. AK attended forum on CPF.
2. We do better managing our savings than the CPF does.

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