Post Retirement – Time to Focus on the Endgame
Key risks for retirees
There are two principal financial risks faced by retirees during their drawdown years:
- Longevity risk1 – the risk of outliving their retirement benefit capital or suffering a substantial fall in living standards as a result of drawdowns being too large relative to the length of time in retirement.
- Investment risk – fluctuations in retirement income stream as a result of unexpected investment earnings (particularly on the downside) impacting the capital.
To some extent these two effects are inter-related.
The typical approach to post retirement income generation involves some form of allocated pension invested via a “balanced” or slightly more conservative investment option. An alternative strategy is the use of a number of years (2-5) expected drawdowns in cash with the rest invested in the balanced type option. While assets can also be moved to progressively more conservative options over time, for the most part traditional pre-retirement options are the mainstay of post-retirement investment risk.
There are several problems with this approach.
- By not segregating post-retirement asset pools from pre-retirement asset pools the differing tax treatment is not being considered resulting in potentially sub-optimal outcomes.
- The risks for retirees from investment fluctuation significantly exceed those for pre-retirees as the opportunity to continue in employment (however unpalatable) in many cases does not exist.
- Path dependency of returns in the drawdown phase can lead to very poor outcomes even if “average” returns are achieved over the investment period.
As a result, it is critical that funds independently consider their approach to providing products for their members in post-retirement. In particular the focus needs to be on the actual outcomes achieved and how best to maximise those outcomes across the entire post retirement membership base.
In short, the industry needs to focus on the endgame – actual outcomes for individuals are all that matter.
Benefits for superannuation funds
For superannuation funds there are significant potential benefits that come from taking on the role of post retirement income provider:
- It increases the longevity of the existing asset book with potential benefits in terms of increased scale and the ability to take a longer term investment time horizon.
- Post-retirement solutions are generally longer term than pre-retirement solutions (albeit ultimately the two need to be integrated).
- Greater predictability of asset flows (and hence business planning on the part of the superannuation fund).
- Reduced administration costs as member transfers are reduced, and scale increased.
With the number of members moving from pre-retirement to post retirement increasing substantially in future years the potential benefits to a superannuation fund of developing appropriate post-retirement solutions are significant.
Compounding and path dependency
Two particular issues that constructors of post retirement strategies need to consider are:
- The effect of compounding on returns; and
- Path dependency – how the order in which returns are achieved can influence the actual outcome.
Both of these are particularly relevant in an environment of sustained high volatility and lower realised returns than was typically the case in the previous three decades.
On the issue of compounding, the cumulative impact of what appears to be a relatively small differential in return can amount to a relatively large difference in outcomes over time.
Consider, for example, an individual who retires and takes a 7% drawdown from their accumulated balance (i.e. if the accumulated balance is $500,000 the initial drawdown is $35,000 in year 1). Based on an initial balance of $500,000 and indexation in the drawdown of 3% p.a. we can see from Table 1 that relatively small differences in earning rates add up to substantial differences in end value or length of the income stream.
|Earning Rate||% increase in value from change in earning rate|
|6.0%||7.0%||8.0%||6% to 7%||6% to 8%|
|Balance after 10 years||358,361||419,159||486,136||17.0%||35.7%|
|Balance after 15 years||190,573||291,802||410,946||53.1%||115.6%|
|Years income stream||18.7||21.1||24.5||12.8%||31.0%|
|Income stream for 20 years*||34,337||37,505||40,816||9.2%||18.9%|
Source: Schroders. Assume $500,000 starting balance, 7% drawdown indexed at 3%p.a. Annualised earning rates as per the table.
*Represents the initial drawdown that could be withdrawn annually after indexation at 3% p.a. to last 20 years. While historically investors may have become used to earning somewhat higher rates of return and optically the difference between two relatively low rates may appear small, the compounding effects of this over time can be significant.
Put another way, in a persistent low return environment every basis point counts. Additionally, any such analysis of compounded returns should take account of fees and taxes which can have a significant impact on the outcome.
The second issue for portfolio constructors to consider is path dependency. As an industry we typically report “average” returns, particularly for multiple year time periods – referred to as the time-weighted return. However, most investors do not get the average return. Given that either contributions are made or draw-downs occur the “capital” value of an investors’ account typically changes through time. It is on this capital value that the rate of return will apply. That is, investors receive money-weighted returns.
To illustrate, consider the example shown in the Chart 1 of an individual in drawdown for 20 years with a starting balance of $600,000 who withdraws $40,000 p.a. indexed at 2% p.a. In scenario A the investor earns 8% p.a. for 10 years then 4% p.a. while scenario B the return series is reversed. The average annualised return of both scenarios is the same at 5.98%p.a., however the end result for the investor under either scenario is very different given the drawdown that occurs.
Given what has been discussed above in terms of investment objectives and the effects of compounding and path dependency, we now turn to the challenge of selecting an appropriate investment portfolio for retirees.
The track record isn’t great
One of the significant issues faced by investors over the last few years has been the poor total returns achieved by traditional strategies. Chart 2 highlights the rolling ten year post-fee post inflation (but pre-tax) returns earned by a traditional “balanced” investment (as measured by the Morningstar Median Growth Manager, adjusted for inflation) versus the typical objectives of these strategies which we have taken to be CPI+3.5 to 6.5%.
In a nutshell, the industry has not done a good job in meeting its stated investment objectives over the last decade. Additionally, the volatility of the outcomes has been significant.
Issues with the existing model
The existing model for investment is largely predicated on a broadly fixed strategic asset allocation. This model implicitly assumes that a) the level of growth assets (equities) is a reasonable proxy for risk, b) equities will outperform bonds over the medium term and c) the difference in risk between equity and bond returns is sufficient to warrant holding a substantial exposure to equities at all times.
This assumption though has been severely tested over the last 2 decades. In fact, contrasting the realised efficient frontier of the 1980’s with that of the 1990s and 2000s a stark reality emerges. In the chart below we show the realised efficient frontier for a portfolio of Australian equities and fixed interest over the 1980’s and the 1990s/2000s. For simplicity we have identified 3 portfolios of 40:60 (40% equity/60% bonds), 60:40 and 80:20 to reflect varying risk profiles.
While this analysis is based purely on the actual results for an Australian equity (S&P ASX 200) and bond (UBS Composite) portfolio, the inclusion of a more diversified portfolio of international equities and bonds would not materially improve the results given the relative underperformance of international equities in the 2000s (at higher risk).
Our observations from the above are that:
- the difference between expected and realised returns in equities relative to bonds has been substantial – both in magnitude and direction; and
- investors would have been better served by owning more bonds than equities (even before any allowance is made for risk in the last 20 years).
The end result was that investors held both too much equity and too few bonds, leading to substantial underperformance against objectives for many investors.
Balanced for the long term
While one could argue that the above results are time-dependent (of course they are), most retirees don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement for 10 or 20 years until the outlook for markets is better. This raises the more general case of is a balanced fund the right strategy at all?
Given the comments and our analysis above around path dependency, we have analysed whether historically a balanced fund type strategy is the right option for retirees. We show below that based on real returns from a balanced strategy since 1922 more than 50% of the time a typical retirement drawdown strategy would have run out of money before the end of 20 years. However, in some cases the retiree is left with more money after 20 years than they started with (returns exceed drawdown). These periods typically relate to those who retired in the mid 1920’s, late 1970s and throughout the1980s (when subsequent returns were very good). In any case, 50% odds are not good when it’s your retirement at stake.
While this is not the place to explore in detail the reasons why outcomes have been poor, it does serve to highlight what we consider to be ongoing issues with the current methodology behind portfolio construction. In particular we would make the points that:
- Valuations do matter in determining longer term returns (c.f. Bogle (1991)2 , Campbell & Shiller (2001)3
- Risk is not annualised standard deviation of returns, the pretence of the Markowitz model and the underlying basis on which much academic work on portfolio construction has been written. See for example Veld (2006)4
In 1991, John Bogle, the chairman of Vanguard, published a straightforward way to determine the expected returns from asset classes in a given time period (Bogle, 1991a&b). In his articles he described what he called the Occam’s Razor approach to forecasting, named after Sir William of Occam, who in the fourteenth century declared the simplest explanation is generally the best.
His approach decomposes market returns into three elements: income; growth in income; and the effect of changing valuations. These can be combined to produce the following formula:
R = Y + G + V
Y is the current investment yield, a known quantity
G is the annualised growth in income or earnings for the asset
V is the valuation effect
The first two components, Y + G, are a reduced form of the Gordon growth model, and while it does not take into account reinvestment returns, unlike the Gordon model, these are small and can therefore be ignored. The Gordon model doesn’t take into account valuation impacts as it is used for forecasting very long term returns, where valuation impacts are small. However, valuation impacts become more important as the time horizon becomes shorter and is required when forecasting a 10 year horizon.
Bogle (1995)5 saw the advantage of this approach in that it moves the discourse from sweeping forecasts of market returns, from say 10% per year, into the realms of rational expectations where the analysis of the contribution to total returns from each of the three factors can take place.
Building a better portfolio
The ideas above highlight some substantial shortcomings in the way portfolio construction has been approached for at least the last 3 decades. In our view an alternative approach should be considered to overcome these constraints and deliver to investors the sorts of outcomes they genuinely require.
A more satisfactory alternative model would satisfy several important criteria:
- Focus on the delivery of real outcomes, not relative ones.
- Recognise that risk premiums are dynamic, and use them.
- Recognise that the path of returns is important.
- Manage the risks that matter – permanent loss of capital is the real risk.
To achieve these goals, a fundamental change to the way portfolios are constructed is required. Central to this change is a shift away from a redundant fixed asset allocation approach to an approach based on likelihood of achieving objectives and specifically taking account of the current market conditions and expectations on risk and return of alternative investments.
Options for retirees
The reality for most is that post-retirement income options are generally only considered at or very close to retirement. For these individuals the key options for funding their post-retirement living can be summarised as:
- “Uninsured”. The current situation ignoring the age pension – a traditional investment solution with some form of cash funding to reduce volatility and variable drawdowns (e.g. an allocated pension). However, the retiree bears all the risk of longevity and investment.
- “Fully Insured”. A solution where the investment and longevity risks are fully insured – e.g. an annuity – which may be purchased in aggregate from a life office or potentially provided by a superannuation fund with key elements outsourced to the lowest cost provider of each component.
- “Partial Insurance”. An interim step where part of the investment or longevity risks are insured. Probably the case for many retirees at the moment where the age pension is relevant.
This is the current situation (if we ignore the age pension) where retirees take-on all of the investment and longevity risks.
While at first glance this may seem the most risky option, it should be noted that given the existence of the age pension the downside is somewhat capped in Australia. As such, an argument can be made for retirees that given the existence of a free “put option” from the age pension, retirees are better off bearing all the risks as they get the upside benefits that come from this but limited downside.
While such an approach is clearly valuable when close to the age pension limits, as the potential retirement income stream from superannuation (or other sources) exceeds the age pension by a greater and greater margin, the value of the put option to the retiree declines. At some point it approaches a level whereby the reliance on the age pension would be seen as an extremely adverse outcome and for purpose of this, little real value in determining the strategy to be adopted.
However, from the perspective of the investment outcomes, as we have outlined earlier a focus on “averages” can be very deceiving. In a situation where retirees are bearing all of the risk, the investment outcomes need to remove as much of the unpredictability as possible. This leads us to consider investment solutions that emphasise low absolute volatility of returns and high predictability of real outcomes.
As has already been outlined above, existing pre-retirement strategies do not fare well in this regard. As such, in an “uninsured” world a wholesale change to the investment approach is required, particularly where the age pension “put” is unobtainable or unattractive.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the option of fully insuring the life and investment risks through the purchase of an annuity product. At this juncture we consider only full outsourced annuity options. However, in time we would expect to see superannuation funds entering this space. For a given cohort of members it would be possible to build investment solutions with the combination of fully insured longevity risks that are potentially (or almost certainly) cheaper than those provided by a single insurer. To the extent that annuities gain attraction amongst the general populace then for annuity providers this increased awareness and attraction is likely to be their undoing as a product.
As the current custodians of the assets and the member relationship, superannuation funds are clearly well placed to dis-intermediate the existing or future single annuity products. Their success or otherwise in this dis-intermediation will in part be a function of the flexibility of solutions that can be adopted.
In any case, at this stage the principal barriers to annuity provision are two-fold:
- The behavioural biases towards giving up a large lump-sum account balance for an income stream.
- The embedded costs of providing that income stream making annuities appear quite expensive relative to other options.
Our principal issue with full insurance solutions is that insurance works best when you are insuring a lowprobability, statistically predictable, high impact event. (e.g. house fire). However longevity is not low probability. In fact, the probability of one partner from a self funded retiree couple surviving from age 65 to 90 is over 70%. Nor is it that statistically predictable. There are considerable “risks” in longevity. As medical technology advances it is significantly more likely that longevity improves to a greater degree than expected. Any credible insurer will ultimately want to “price” this risk (and if they don’t there is a chance of insolvency which won’t do the purchasers of the insurance much good either – e.g. Equitable Life in the UK).
In addition, retirees take on considerable “credit risk” with the insurer in the case of long term fully insured solutions.
In a partial insurance model longevity “risk” is assumed to be 100% for a particular period (e.g. the first 20 years of retirement) and hence uninsured, consequently becoming an investment risk problem. For the period beyond 20 years longevity insurance is purchased, either at retirement or throughout the working career (e.g. $1 per week for longevity insurance which would go to buying a deferred annuity from age, say 85 or 90).
One could argue that for retirees who plan to self or partly self fund retirement for a period and then fall back on the age pension are in fact adopting a partial insurance model.
While this is analysis for another day, our initial calculations suggest that $1 per week throughout the working career would purchase an annuity from age 85 of circa $20,000 p.a. (in current dollars) (over and above the age pension – subject to the Government making this possible). Interestingly, the most optimal “provider” of such a deferred annuity is probably the Government in that they have the best long term credit rating (relative to private corporations), are already assuming some of this risk in the form of the age pension (and systemically if they were required to bail out a private insurer that went bankrupt), and ultimately could “change the rules” if longevity increases substantially.
The issue with the partial insurance solution then becomes the investment risk assuming that the individual will be required to drawdown their investment for a fixed term.
At its simplest, this could be achieved via a term annuity (also known as a bond). While a 20 year capital drawdown bond could be structured relatively simply by superannuation funds or insurance providers (or indeed the Government as another source of funding), given the time horizons involved and the existence of the age pension floor, some level of investment risk is warranted.
The issue becomes ensuring that the level of investment risk is not excessive as with most existing preretirement solutions. To this end we go back to our original points:
- Current Strategic Asset Allocation driven approaches are not appropriate for retirees in drawdown.
- A significant change is required in the construct of post-retirement investment approaches to focus on the outcome required - ie. objective based strategies.
One further consideration that we will look to explore subsequently is that of transition from pre-retirement to post retirement. Where there is a substantial change in strategy from the pre-retirement investment model to post-retirement the retiree runs the risk of capitalising significant losses as a result of a change in strategy.
For example, if an annuity were to be purchased, the pre-retiree is subject to significant interest rate risk (which is the main determinant of annuity rates) in the lead up to retirement. The same would apply for the transition from traditional balanced approach to an objective based one (albeit not as stark as the annuity example).
As such, in considering an appropriate post-retirement strategy, funds should also consider how to scale this strategy into the pre-retirement phase so as to reduce this “transition” risk.
Objective based asset allocation
An ‘objective based’ asset allocation approach focuses on the application of investment capital to those areas where risk is rewarded (via an appropriate risk premium) and where the expected return matches / exceeds the investor’s real objective. It entails a continuous assessment of risk premium (and therefore prospective returns) to continually allocate the risk budget to those assets which in combination meet the underlying performance objective with the greatest certainty.
In an objective framework, return expectations respond to changes in risk premium and as they do, so too will the investors’ asset allocation – often materially – and if done correctly by a magnitude sufficient to fundamentally change the return and risk profile of the portfolio.
In essence, the portfolio follows the “blank-sheet-of-paper” approach in that each day the portfolio should be constructed on the basis that it should be the portfolio most likely to achieve the return objective without any reference back to some pre-determined strategic asset allocation.
There are a number of pre-requisites for successful implementation.
- A consistent / repeatable model under which returns can be estimated. This model should be free of embedded biases in terms of asset class preferences and be able to generate returns and risk assumptions over a timeframe consistent with the investment horizon (say 3 years).
- Sufficient differentiation in return expectations to enable substantive changes in portfolio asset allocation.
- Recognition of the inherent uncertainty in asset market returns and thereby possesses the flexibility in the portfolio construction process to accommodate this uncertainty.
- An execution platform that can accommodate substantive shifts in portfolio asset allocation.
- Risk management methodology that can accommodate absolute risk metrics and decisions as opposed to simply relative ones.
Objective based portfolio construction also does not obviate the need for diversification. The portfolio construction process should ensure that the portfolio accesses a broad array of risk premium.
In determining the final “Objective Based Asset Allocation”, not only do we need to be comfortable that the portfolio meets our return objective, but that it also satisfies a broad range of risk tests including:
– Absolute volatility
– Relative or “tracking error” risk around this objective target
– Probability of loss, probability of a negative return.
Investors ultimately expect real return outcomes. This is because they need to fund real purchases and pay real bills. This is particularly the case for retirees where the opportunity to continue to top-up capital in their retirement accounts no longer exists.
Post retirement solutions that are driven off existing pre-retirement approaches are not appropriate given the degree of volatility and the path dependent nature of investors in the drawdown phase.
While most retirees are currently uninsured for longevity and investment risk (age pension aside), full insurance solutions are likely to be too expensive. As such, either better investment approaches for the uninsured or some form of partial insurance model is likely to be most optimal.
Valuations matter. Risk premiums are not static and have a substantial impact on return expectations as well as the risk assumed in generating this return. Investors should consider these in building their postretirement portfolio.
More objective based, outcome orientated portfolios are required to give an appropriate balance of investment and longevity risk for retirees. This will necessitate superannuation funds taking quite a different approach to their investment portfolios than has traditionally been the case in pre-retirement.
Our preferred model for post retirement solutions would be one in which retirees (with suitable transition for pre-retirees) are offered a range of outcome orientated investment strategies (e.g. CPI+2, 3, 4, 5 etc) with appropriate downside risk metrics rather than fixed asset allocation strategies (including Life Cycle and Target Date funds). We will address this further in subsequent papers.
1 For the purposes of this paper we take living longer to be a financial risk for retirees – clearly living longer as a risk is a matter of perspective!
2 Bogle, J., (1991a), “Investing in the 1990s: Remembrance of Things Past and Things Yet to Come”, Journal of Portfolio Management, Spring. Bogle, J., (1991b), “Investing in the 1990s: Occam’s Razor Revisited”, Journal of Portfolio Management, Fall.
3 Campbell, J., and R. Shiller, (2001), “Valuation Ratios and the Long-Run Stock Market Outlook: An Update”, Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No.1295, March.
4 C. Veld, “The Risk Preferences of Individual Investors”, Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Stirling, October 2006.
5 Bogle, J., (1995), “The 1990s at the Halfway Mark: Occam Razor is Tested”, Journal of Portfolio Management, Summer.
Opinions, estimates and projections in this article constitute the current judgement of the author as of the date of this article. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Schroder Investment Management Australia Limited, ABN 22 000 443 274, AFS Licence 226473 ("Schroders") or any member of the Schroders Group and are subject to change without notice.
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This document does not contain, and should not be relied on as containing any investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.
Opinions, estimates and projections in this article constitute the current judgement of the author as of the date of this article. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Schroder Investment Management Australia Limited, ABN 22 000 443 274, AFS Licence 226473 ("Schroders") or any member of the Schroders Group and are subject to change without notice. In preparing this document, we have relied upon and assumed, without independent verification, the accuracy and completeness of all information available from public sources or which was otherwise reviewed by us. Schroders does not give any warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of information which is contained in this article. Except insofar as liability under any statute cannot be excluded, Schroders and its directors, employees, consultants or any company in the Schroders Group do not accept any liability (whether arising in contract, in tort or negligence or otherwise) for any error or omission in this article or for any resulting loss or damage (whether direct, indirect, consequential or otherwise) suffered by the recipient of this article or any other person. This document does not contain, and should not be relied on as containing any investment, accounting, legal or tax advice. Schroders may record and monitor telephone calls for security, training and compliance purposes.