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Post Retirement Portfolio Construction

01/09/2011

Greg Cooper

Greg Cooper

CEO Schroders Australia / Global Head of Institutional

Key risks for retirees

There are two principal financial risks faced by retirees during their drawdown years:

  1. 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.
  2. Investment risk – fluctuations in retirement income stream as a result of unexpected investment earnings (particularly on the downside) impacting the capital.

1For 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!

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 investment options are the mainstay of post-retirement strategies.

There are several problems with this approach to which many advisors would be aware:

  1. 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.
  2. The risks to retirees from investment return fluctuation significantly exceed those for pre-retirees as the opportunity to continue in employment (however unpalatable) in many cases does not exist.
  3. Path dependency of returns in the drawdown phase can lead to very poor outcomes even if “average” returns are achieved over the investment period.

In short, the industry needs to focus on the endgame – actual outcomes for individuals are all that matter.

Path dependency

One particular issue that constructors of post retirement strategies need to consider is path dependency – how the order in which returns are achieved can influence the actual outcome.

The funds management and superannuation industry 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 below 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.

Source: Schroders. Starting balance $600,000. Annual drawdown $40,000 p.a. indexed at 2% p.a. Scenario A 8% p.a. for 10 years then 4% p.a. Scenario B 4% p.a. for 10 years then 8% p.a.

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 charts 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.

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.

While longer term accumulation members may have sufficient time to recover from this, retirees generally do not.

We analysed whether historically a balanced fund type strategy was the right option for retirees at all. Our analysis showed 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.

We conclude what tends to be obvious to most individual investors. Firstly, valuations are very important in determining longer term returns and secondly, 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.

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. 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.

While such a strategy may be appropriate for some retirees – particularly those who are quite wealthy or with other assets, it does involve considerable risk of shortfall in retirement and so is probably not an ideal outcome for most.

Fully Insured

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. The key barriers to annuity provision are the behavioural biases towards giving up a large lump-sum account balance for an income stream and 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.

Partial Insurance

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 those 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.

At its simplest, this could be achieved via a term annuity. While a 20 year capital drawdown bond could be structured relatively simply, 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 pre-retirement solutions. To this end we comment again that current Strategic Asset Allocation driven approaches are not appropriate for retirees in drawdown.

As such, a significant change is required in the construct of post-retirement investment approaches to focus on the outcome required - ie. objective based strategies.

Whatever post-retirement strategy is chosen, advisors should also consider how to scale this strategy into the pre-retirement phase so as to reduce this “transition” risk.

A better solution

While most investors have an overall investment objective to target a medium to long-term return above inflation, few investors manage specifically to this objective. They generally prefer to build their investment portfolios around a relatively static asset allocation, dominated by equities, expecting that this portfolio will deliver the required outcome which for long periods of time, it often doesn’t. Such portfolios also implicitly assume that the relative risk and return of different asset classes are stable through time. Clearly they are not.

The Schroder Real Return Fund offers a solution to this problem through an objective based strategy, which specifically selects investments where return expectations align with the performance objective of 5% pa before fees and expenses above Australian inflation (RBA Trimmed Mean CPI ) over rolling 3 year periods. The investment process and investment decisions of the Schroder Real Return Fund are framed around this outcome. The portfolio is constructed specifically to meet the objective with lower volatility than either equities or a typical diversified portfolio.

The Fund stands apart from both typical alternative and balanced strategies; unlike most alternative strategies, it does not rely on illiquid assets or leverage and unlike most balanced strategies, it does not have a structural bias to equities or indeed, any particular asset class. In fact, the Fund has no pre-defined strategic asset allocation, and utilises a dynamic asset allocation framework that constantly reviews asset market risk premia to facilitate the construction of a portfolio favouring those assets and strategies most closely aligned with the performance objective. Importantly, as risk premia change, so too will the asset allocation of the Fund (and sometimes significantly).

Conclusion

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).

Note: This paper is an abridged version of a longer analysis. For a copy of the full research piece or our analysis on Life Cycle and Target Date funds please contact your Schroders representative or email us at SIMAL@schroders.com.

Disclaimer

Investment in the Schroder Real Return Fund (“the Fund”) may be made on an application form in the Product Disclosure Statement dated 1 February 2011, available from Schroder Investment Management Australia Limited(ABN 22 000 443 274, AFSL 226473) (“Schroders”). 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 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.

Important Information:
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.