How to manage your retirement income
If you depend on a living annuity, the order in which your investments earn higher and lower returns is key to determining whether your capital will last. reports
MANAGING your income from a living annuity is far more difficult than managing your retirement investments during your working life, and many financial advisers, because their expertise is more geared to investing than to “disinvesting”, may not be up to the task of advising you properly.
Marc Thomas, the client outcomes and product research manager at Bridge Fund Managers, who spoke recently at the opening forum of the South African Independent Financial Advisers’ Association, says that, with the huge swing towards living annuities (and away from guaranteed, or life, annuities – see “Definitions”), there is a need for specialist advice on income strategies for retirees.
He says the advice industry has largely not made a distinction between pre-retirement and postretirement advice, with advisers simply “copying and pasting” from one mode to the other. In fact, so specialised is the field of post-retirement advice that there is a new professional certification in the United States: that of Retirement Income Certified Professional.
He says one of the main challenges facing advisers today is: “How do I decide what income increase or decrease to give my retired client on the anniversary of his or her living annuity?”
Thomas quoted from a Bloomberg article by the eminent US economist William Sharpe, titled “Tackling the ‘nastiest, hardest problem in finance’”. Sharpe wrote: “Income planning is the most complex problem I’ve analysed in my career … Unlike accumulation, with one dimension (the probability of one outcome, which is the capital value at a known retirement date), retirement income has 40 or 50 dimensions: the probability of income and capital every year of a 30-year-plus retirement.”
In other words, in the accumulation (pre-retirement) phase, you have a set time span with a set goal. The decumulation phase, on the other hand, is of indeterminate length, because you don’t know how long you will live, and it can have multiple outcomes, over which you have little control. In retirement, you also don’t have the means, as you did when earning an income, to correct costly mistakes.
Thomas says investment volatility and what is known as sequence risk have a huge impact on how long your savings will last.
Although volatility during the accumulation phase can be beneficial for building wealth over the long term, through what is known as rand-cost averaging (see “Definitions”), it can be devastating for retirees, depending on when market downturns and upturns occur.
Sequence risk is the risk of losing money if, despite the average return being in your favour in the long term, the sequence in which the higher and lower returns occur is not, particularly while you are drawing an income.
Thomas says conventional retirement planning relies on “the flaw of averages”. But projected cash flow based on the average return earned each year is flawed; it’s the sequence of returns that matters.
Thomas gave an example of three simulated decumulation scenarios based on the returns of a multi-asset low-equity fund, with a 7% drawdown, increasing each year by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate, starting capital of R1 million and an average return of CPI+4% (see graph).
Theoretically, with a constant CPI+4% return, the capital will last 22 years. Introduce volatility and, in the worst-case scenario, where lower returns preceded higher returns, the capital ran out in 13 years. In the middle-road scenario, the capital lasted 15.5 years, and, in the best-case scenario, where higher returns preceded lower returns, the capital lasted 27 years.
Financial advisers have a number of ways of dealing with the risks associated with living annuities, and the strategy your adviser chooses will largely depend on your circumstances and how much you have saved.
Obviously, the greater your wealth at retirement, the less volatility and sequence risk will affect you, because the percentage you drawdown each year will be relatively small, and the less you may need to depend on higher-risk growth assets, such as equities. The strategies include: • For a relatively secure income that increases each year by the inflation rate, your initial drawdown should ideally be four percent of your capital or less, according to research done in the US. Note that the research was based on past market performance, and if the current low-growth environment persists, even 4% may be too high. But 4% may be too low for retirees who have not saved enough.
Low initial drawdown. Keeping the percentage the same each year.
For example, you draw down 5% of your capital each year, irrespective of how the markets have performed. This results in a volatile year-on-year income, which may or may not keep pace with inflation.
• This involves having your savings in different “buckets”: long term, medium term and short term, with a corresponding decrease in investment risk. For example, the long-term bucket may have medium-to-high exposure to equities, the medium-term bucket low-to-medium equity exposure, and the short-term bucket, from which you draw your income, invested only in the lower-risk assets of bonds and cash. Thomas says this
strategy can be complicated to set up and manage.
• Income-efficient investments, designed particularly for retirees, are coming onto the market. They differ from conventional multi-asset funds that focus predominantly on capital growth, which can be highly volatile and unpredictable, with little focus on the income portion of the total return (most multi-asset funds have very low income yields).
Income-efficient portfolios aim to get more of the total return in the form of income, but without sacrificing the long-term return requirement. The approach recognises that, because the income portion of the return is far less volatile than the capital portion, it lowers the sequence risk for the investor drawing income.