The weakened interest rate environment, coupled with central banks increasing monetary support, has led to interest rates for savings accounts being revised downwards drastically.
As banks depend on interest revenue from loaning out monies deposited into savings accounts, it is difficult for banks to sustain the interest rates they have advertised in the past: OCBC 360 underwent two downward revisions (as of June 2020), while Standard Chartered Bank Jumpstart has undergone one revision.
Many of us are frustrated with the rate of adjustment and the many different criteria that we need to meet to get the bonus interest associated with high-interest savings accounts.
To ensure that our cash savings are kept in a liquid account that gives a competitive interest rate without the frustration, there is no better time than now to explore alternatives, one of which would be a money market fund.
What is a money market fund?
A money market fund (MMF) is a unit trust that invests only in highly liquid instruments such as cash-equivalent securities, high-quality institutional fixed deposits and ultra-short-duration fixed income instruments.
It is highly liquid and low risk, which is why it is often compared against high-yield savings accounts. Similar products include cash funds (lower risk) and short-term duration bonds (higher risk).
What is a high-interest savings account?
A high-interest savings account (HISA) is a bank account that offers higher rates of interest on your deposits than traditional savings accounts do. Some have requirements for a minimum balance or other criteria in order to maintain the interest rate that you can earn.
Some examples of high-interest savings accounts include the DBS Multiplier, BOC SmartSaver, and OCBC 360 accounts.
Here is a comparison between money market funds and high-interest savings accounts:
Similarities: Higher interest, minimal risk
Both have higher interest rates than regular savings accounts
Interest rates for regular savings accounts in Singapore start from 0.05% per annum. Money market funds (MMFs) and high-interest savings accounts (HISAs) can give anything from 1.0% up to 3.68% per annum. That is significantly more than for similarly low-risk current account deposits.
Both have minimal investment risk
Because the underlying investment products of money market funds are ultra-low-risk products issued by high credit quality companies (think DBS), there is minimal risk involved. For example, the Fullerton SGD Cash Fund holds Singapore dollar (SGD) fixed deposits with high-quality financial institutions that are due within a year. Due to this restriction, investors in money market funds are exposed to minimal risk.
This chart shows the stable returns of the Fullerton SGD Cash Fund:
High-interest savings accounts are risk free because most financial institutions that take deposits in Singapore are members of the Deposit Insurance (DI) Scheme. Under the scheme, if the financial institution fails, up to S$75,000 per account will be covered by the Singapore Deposit Insurance Coverage (SDIC).
Differences: Investments, fees, rates
Money market funds' projected interest rates are purely variable
Generally, high-interest savings accounts — including the likes of OCBC 360 and Standard Chartered Jumpstart — give a "fixed and guaranteed" interest rate, as long as:
- You meet their bonus criteria (credit salary, meeting minimum credit card spend requirement are common requirements), and
- The interest rate environment remains the same.
Typically, any changes to interest rate for HISAs tend to be effective around one to two months after the announcement. It can be very inconvenient for individuals to switch their salary crediting and credit card spends to another bank in response to such changes.
You may earn a $50 or more worth in interest each month when you switch between bank accounts, but in the process, you will also have to switch over all the criteria that need to be met for the new bank account, such as your salary crediting, credit card spends, bill payments, and so on.
Meanwhile, interest rates for money market funds are dynamically priced in. The advertised interest rates may not always be reflective of the latest actual rates, because MMF interest rates are dependent on the fund's price (which can shift up or down) as well as the fund manager's ability to reinvest at the projected yield.
Money market fund investments have fees involved
As mentioned above, MMFs are managed by fund managers who invest and manage the underlying assets. The fund expenses, at around 0.15% per annum, are very low as compared to equity funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). This cost is inclusive of the trailer fees paid to the distributors or the platform service providers.
However, retail investors are unable to directly invest in money market funds. You would have to buy it through an intermediary, such as a financial advisor or an online platform. These platforms often charge a platform fee to cover their operational cost. Overall, while the fund management fees and platform fees are low, it can significantly impact the projected net interest paid out, because of the lower returns of MMFs.
High-interest savings accounts do not charge any fees at all, unless your deposits fall below their stipulated minimum amount, in which case they will charge a fall-below administrative fee.
Money market funds are purely for investments
You can use HISAs for other purposes besides keeping your cash savings or emergency fund, such as bill payments, cash transfers, or salary crediting. These are all part of the services that we get from using banking services.
However, for MMFs, the platform that they are based on is purely for investment purposes. Their range of functions is limited, as compared to what a bank account can offer.
Money market funds have no investment limit
The bonus interest for HISAs is often capped (usually ranging from the first $35,000 to $60,000). This helps the bank to manage interest expenses that can be hefty, especially if they are paying 3.68% interest.
However, MMFs have no cap on investment amounts, as these funds are directly invested in safe deposits and other fixed-income products to generate a return. There is no "promotional rate" per se to acquire clients, because MMF fund managers are merely investing the money on your behalf to get a higher yield.
Ultimately, money market funds and high-interest savings accounts have the same key features, including high liquidity and low risk.
While HISAs have had their run in providing higher interest rates, these higher rates are a marketing effort from the banks to encourage their customers to use various bank services and products more.
With greater technological innovation and its associated cost efficiency, MMFs might one day rival the features and ease of use of HISAs, and provide the masses with a fuss-free alternative to growing their money safely.
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Read the next article in the curriculum: How to manage debt well before investing
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