Personally I am not convinced with the suggestion of moving KiwiSaver Default Fund Investors into a Balance Fund is the right solution, as was recently promoted in a Stuff article.
It is certainly a bit of a stretch to claim it is a radical idea. Nor is it really something materially different, it is a variation on a current theme – what equity allocation should be targeted.
The Balance Fund solution would result in a higher equity allocation, which in theory, and observed in practice over the longer term, will “likely” result in higher savings account balances. This is not guaranteed of course.
On this basis, a higher allocation is more likely to be appropriate for some Default Fund investors but not all. Conceivably it may be more appropriate for more than is currently the case.
Albeit, it is far from an ideal solution.
As noted in the article, it would not be appropriate for those saving for a house deposit, a high equity allocation is not appropriate in this situation. Therefore, there is still a need to provide advice as suggested. Unfortunately, whether it is a Conservative or Balance Fund a level of advice will be required.
A higher equity allocation may not necessarily result in a better outcome for KiwiSaver investors, what happens if an investor switches out of the higher equity weighted fund just after a major market correction as they cannot tolerate the higher level of market volatility. It may take years to get back to their starting position. Over the longer term, they may have been better off sticking with a more Conservative Fund. This is a real risk given a lack of advice around KiwiSaver.
This is also a real risk currently given both the New Zealand and US sharemarket have not had a major correction in over 10 years and both are currently on one of their best performance periods in history.
A higher level of volatility may result in pressure on the Government to switch back to a more conservative portfolio at a later date. A variation on the above individual situation which would likely occur at exactly the wrong time to make such a change in an equity allocation.
A more robust investment solution is required.
A possible Solution?
Perhaps the solution, and some may argue a more radical and materially different approach, is to introduce Target Date Funds as the Default Fund KiwiSaver solution.
Target Date Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds or Life Cycle Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement. Administratively it is more complex for the Providers, as many different Funds are required, as is a higher level of oversight.
Target Date Funds adjust the equity allocation on the premise that as we get older we cannot recover from financial disaster because we are unable to rebuild savings through salary and wages. These Funds follow a rule of thumb that as you get closer to retirement an investor should be moved into a more conservative investment strategy. This is a generalisation and does not take into consideration the individual circumstances of the investor nor market conditions.
Target Date Funds are becoming increasingly popular overseas e.g. the US and Australia. Particularly in situations where the Investor does not want or cannot afford investment advice. The “Product” adjusts the investor’s investment strategy throughout the Life Cycle for them, no advice is provided.
All good in theory, nevertheless, these products have some limitations in their design which is increasingly being highlighted.
Essentially, Target Date Funds have two main short comings:
- They are not customised to an individual’s circumstances e.g. they do not take into consideration future income requirements, likely endowments, level of income generated up to retirement, or risk profile.
- They are prescribed asset allocations which are the same for all investors who have the same number of years to retirement, this is the trade-off for scale over customisation.
- Additionally, the equity allocation glide path does not take into account current market conditions.
- Risky assets have historically shown mean reversion i.e. asset returns eventually return back toward the mean or average return
- Therefore, linear glide paths, as employed by most Target Date Funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:
- Delays in pace of transitioning from risky assets (equities) to safer assets (cash and fixed income);
- Stepping off the glide path given extreme market risk environments
The failure to not make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions is inconsistent with academic prescriptions and common sense, both suggest that the optimal strategy should display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.
The optimal Target Date Fund asset allocation should be goal based and multi-period:
- It requires customisation by goals, of human capital, and risk preferences
- Some mechanism to exploit the possibility of mean reversion within markets
Furthermore, central to improving investment outcomes, particularly most current Target Date Funds and eliminating the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement, is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a Target Date Fund.
From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a Target Date Fund are risky when it comes to generating a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement. These risks are not widely understood nor managed appropriately.
The conservative allocations within most Target Date Funds can be improved by matching future cashflow and income requirements. While also focusing on reducing the risk of inflation eroding the purchasing power of future income.
The investment approach to do this is readily available now and is based on the concept of Liability Driven Investing applied by Insurance companies, called Goal Based Investing for investment retirement solutions. #Goalbasedinvesting
Many of the overseas Target Date Funds address the shortcomings outlined above, including the management of the equities allocation over the life cycle subject to market conditions.
This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. This knowledge is helping make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain
As we know, holding high Cash holdings at retirement is risky, if not scandalous.
We need to be weary of rules of thumb, such as the level of equity allocation based on age and the 4% rule (which has been found to be insufficient in most markets globally).
We also need to be weary of what we wish for and instead should actively seek more robust investment solutions that focus on meeting Clients investment objectives.
This requires a Goals Based Investment approach and an investment solution that displays “flexicurity”. This is an investment solution that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products.
This is not a radical concept, as discussed above the investment frameworks, techniques, and approaches are currently available to achieve better investment outcomes for Default KiwiSaver investors.
Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.
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