Isn’t this how you would like your re­tire­ment fund to talk to you?

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Do you know whether you are on track to re­ceive a rea­son­able pen­sion? Do you know how much in­come pro­tec­tion your fund would pro­vide if you were dis­abled to­mor­row? Have you been mean­ing to change your re­tire­ment fund ben­e­fi­ciary form, but haven’t had time?

As re­tire­ment fund mem­bers, we are of­ten hazy about the ben­e­fits that our fund pro­vides and are slow to en­gage with the fund’s prin­ci­pal of­fi­cer or its trus­tees to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion.

But imag­ine if you could ac­cess all the in­for­ma­tion you need via your smart­phone, and you could use an app to change your ben­e­fi­ciary nom­i­na­tions or in­crease your con­tri­bu­tions to your fund. One of the coun­try’s largest um­brella funds, the San­lam Um­brella Fund, re­cently launched an app for its mem­bers that does just that and more.

An um­brella fund is one set up by a large fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion – usu­ally a life as­surer – as a re­tire­ment-sav­ing ve­hi­cle for peo­ple who work for em­ploy­ers that don’t have re­tire­ment funds of their own.

Um­brella funds typ­i­cally have more dif­fi­culty com­mu­ni­cat­ing with mem­bers than funds that serve the em­ploy­ees of a sin­gle em­ployer, be­cause the trus­tees, who are ap­pointed by the life com­pany (the spon­sor), are typ­i­cally not em­ployed by the com­pa­nies for which the mem­bers work.

The San­lam Um­brella Fund has close to 170 000 mem­bers, who work for 4 000 em­ploy­ers across the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to Derek Smoren­burg, the chair­man of the fund, it has the cellphone num­bers of 82 per­cent of the fund’s con­tribut­ing mem­bers, which makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion via cellphone the log­i­cal way to reach mem­bers. In ad­di­tion, the preva­lence of smart­phone own­er­ship among mem­bers makes it pos­si­ble to use apps to em­power them.

The fund re­cently launched the San­lam My Re­tire­ment App.

If you are a mem­ber of the San­lam fund, you can down­load the app from Google Play or the Ap­ple Store, but you need to reg­is­ter via the San­lam web­site us­ing ei­ther your San­lam Um­brella Fund mem­ber­ship num­ber or an­other San­lam prod­uct ac­count num­ber.

Once you have the app on your phone or tablet, you can:

• View up­dated val­ues of your re­tire­ment sav­ings. Al­though it’s prob­a­bly not a good idea to keep a beady eye on your sav­ings daily, it is also not wise to put your head in the sand and not know that you have saved too lit­tle.

• Use your sav­ings val­ues in the re­tire­ment cal­cu­la­tor to find out what per­cent­age of your fi­nal salary your sav­ings will pro­vide as a pen­sion ( your re­place­ment ra­tio) un­der three dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios: if in­vest­ment re­turns are low, if re­turns are good, or if re­turns are in line with ex­pec­ta­tions.

• “Play” on the cal­cu­la­tor with dif­fer­ent re­tire­ment sce­nar­ios by in­creas­ing your con­tri­bu­tions, re­tire­ment age, or group life cover and view­ing how this will af­fect your re­tire­ment sav­ings and life and dis­abil­ity cover. You can also see what dif­fer­ence this will make to your re­place­ment ra­tio or in­come in re­tire­ment. If, af­ter play­ing with the cal­cu­la­tions, you de­cide to in­crease your con­tri­bu­tions, the app fa­cil­i­tates you con­tact­ing your em­ployer’s hu­man re­sources depart­ment so you can im­ple­ment the de­ci­sion quickly and eas­ily.

• View your group life ben­e­fits – an area about which many fund mem­bers are ex­tremely hazy and a sorely ne­glected area of re­tire­ment fund com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The app can help you to ex­plore what your ben­e­fi­cia­ries will re­ceive if you die while in ser­vice, what you will re­ceive if you are per­ma­nently dis­abled, or if you are tem­po­rar­ily un­able to work. The app’s “Un­der­stand­ing my ben­e­fits” sec­tion has in­for­ma­tion about group life poli­cies and when they will pay out. This cru­cial in­for­ma­tion will en­able you to as­sess how much pri­vate life and dis­abil­ity cover you need to com­ple­ment your group life cover. Many funds do not pro­vide mem­bers with enough in­for­ma­tion about these ben­e­fits, and, be­cause the fund is the pol­i­cy­holder, mem­bers can’t read the pol­icy’s terms and con­di­tions.

• Ob­tain in­for­ma­tion about where your re­tire­ment sav­ings are in­vested. Mem­bers who are on the San­lam Um­brella Fund’s com­pre­hen­sive op­tion can choose to in­vest their re­tire­ment sav­ings in a wide range of un­der­ly­ing in­vest­ment port­fo­lios that com­ply with reg­u­la­tion 28 of the Pen­sion Funds Act and are man­aged by the coun­try’s lead­ing as­set man­agers. The app also al­lows them to read the fact sheets of any in­vest­ment port­fo­lios they may be in­ter­ested in as well as other ed­u­ca­tional con­tent.

• View the peo­ple you have nom­i­nated as ben­e­fi­cia­ries if you die in ser­vice. You can view how you have asked the fund to dis­trib­ute your ben­e­fits among your ben­e­fi­cia­ries, but re­mem­ber: your fund’s trus­tees are obliged to dis­trib­ute your ben­e­fits eq­ui­tably among your de­pen­dants and your nom­i­nees. (The Pen­sion Funds Act re­quires that the fund’s trus­tees iden­tify every­one who was fac­tu­ally or legally de­pen­dent on you and en­sure they re­ceive a ben­e­fit to meet their needs, be­fore dis­tribut­ing the re­main­ing ben­e­fits to the other peo­ple you have nom­i­nated).

• Find out what steps you, as a fund mem­ber, should take if you ex­pe­ri­ence any life-chang­ing events, such as get­ting a new job, get­ting mar­ried, the birth of a child, get­ting di­vorced or be­ing dis­abled.

ON­LINE SER­VICE

In ad­di­tion to these fea­tures, San­lam has launched an on­line ser­vice, known as Re­tire­mate, that gives mem­bers the op­por­tu­nity to speak to a re­tire­ment ben­e­fits con­sul­tant when they need guid­ance in their re­tire­ment plan­ning. This ser­vice is avail­able on the um­brella fund’s web­site.

Mem­bers of the um­brella fund who are ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment can use Re­tire­mate to ob­tain quotes for the an­nu­ities (monthly pen­sions) they can buy with their sav­ings.

You should still get fi­nan­cial plan­ning ad­vice, but the ser­vice can also pro­vide guid­ance on mat­ters such how tax on re­tire­ment sav­ings works, the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing your sav­ings when you change jobs, and how you can pre­serve your sav­ings within your fund.

The draft reg­u­la­tions un­der the Pen­sion Fund Act, which were pub­lished last year, pro­pose that funds be re­quired to pro­vide the ser­vices of a re­tire­ment ben­e­fits coun­sel­lor.

The ser­vice will also be made avail­able to mem­bers of other re­tire­ment funds ad­min­is­tered by San­lam, if mem­bers pay for it.

LIV­ING ANNUITY

The San­lam Um­brella Fund of­fers mem­bers the op­tion of buy­ing a liv­ing annuity pro­vided by the fund, with an­nual pen­sion with­drawals of be­tween 2.5 and 7.5 per­cent of the amount in­vested.

A fee of 0.1 per­cent a year is payable on the first R1.5 mil­lion of as­sets, with a min­i­mum fee of R25 a month (ex­clud­ing VAT). There are no other fees.

More re­tire­ment funds are pro­vid­ing what are known as in-fund annuity op­tions fol­low­ing draft pro­pos­als from Na­tional Trea­sury sug­gest­ing that funds should be obliged to pro­vide an­nu­ities to their mem­bers.

Most mem­bers are on their own when they have to buy a pen­sion, but Trea­sury is of the view that funds have the fi­nan­cial mus­cle to ob­tain bet­ter annuity rates for their mem­bers.

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