Target Date Funds are popular, particularly amongst Millennials, and this growth is expected to continue.
This is a key insight from a WealthManagement.com survey of 530 retirement plan advisors in the US. The survey was conducted in February 2019. (TDF Survey Feb 2019)
Target Date Funds (TDF), also referred to as Glide Path Funds or Life Cycle Funds, automatically reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement.
In previous posts I have highlighted it is important to understand the shortcomings of TDF given their growing dominance international. According to the FT “Assets held in US target date mutual funds now stand at $1.1tn, compared with $70bn in 2005, according to first-quarter data compiled by the Investment Company Institute, a trade body.
Encouragingly, the shortcomings of TDF can largely be overcome.
The WealthManagement.com survey highlighted that almost half of those surveyed expect to increase their use of TDF in the next two years.
From this perspective, the following insights are provided from the survey:
- TDF are an important tool in many retirement plans: 61% of Advisors surveyed currently have clients invested in target date funds.
- TDF also typically represent an important component of their retirement plan when used.
- Many plan advisors expect the reliance on TDFs to increase in the coming years.
Risk Management and Glide Paths
Of the Advisors surveyed longevity and volatility where the top two risks.
“The popularity of TDF was partly attributed to their ability to help retirement plan advisors address two of the biggest risks to successful retirement: longevity and volatility risk.”
“These two risks line up well with the strengths of the glide path concept. In particular, the gradual reduction in equity exposure over time seeks to minimize volatility in retirement, while the exposure to the growth potential of equities beyond retirement hedges against longevity risk.”
It is also noted that Glide paths help manage other risks, such as behavioural risks – to guard against investors adjusting their investment allocations based on emotions.
Interestingly: Nearly two-thirds of plan advisors (63%) report favouring a “through” glide path for clients, over a “to” glide path (37%); the latter achieves and maintains a conservative allocation at the target date, while the former reduces its equity allocation gradually throughout retirement.
“Given that retirement can last for 30 years or more, and that more plan advisors prioritize longevity risk over volatility risk, a “through” glide path is logically the more attractive feature.”
The report observes that one of the major appeals TDF is the ability to contribute money to an investment account that automatically shifts its asset allocation over time according to a pre-determined schedule.
Therefore, in evaluating TDF Advisors tend to focus on the mix of assets and allocation in the glide path and the glide path itself.
Although Fees are a consideration, it is worth emphasising the above two aspects are considered the most important by Advisors in determining which TDF to recommend to Clients.
Therefore, it is not too surprising that a greater degree of customisation would be attractive to Advisors so as to better meet Client’s investment objectives:
- Most advisors surveyed (59%) believe that more customization versus off-the-shelf options would help make TDFs more useful and more attractive to clients.
- In fact, the most commonly cited reason advisors say they don’t use TDFs in the plans they advise is the lack of customizability (33%).
Further to the above customisation observations, the report notes that the popularity of TDF among retirement plan advisors may be linked to advisors’ tendency to take a goals-based investment approach:
- Just over half of the plan advisors surveyed (51%) identified most strongly with a goals-based label, as compared to targeting outperformance against a benchmark (41%)
“It’s perhaps not surprising that a group that favors the use of TDFs would also favor an investment strategy built around a specific target or outcome. This trend suggests that if goals-based investing is in fact gaining broader popularity, TDFs may benefit from increased usage as well.”
Shortcomings of Target Date Funds
I have posted previously on the shortcomings of TDF.
Essentially, Target Date Funds have two main shortcomings:
- They are not customised to an individual’s consumption liability, human capital or risk preference e.g. they do not take into consideration future income requirements or likely endowments, current level of income 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 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, prices display volatility to the upside and downside.
Therefore, linear glide paths, most target date funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:
- Delays in pace of transitioning from risky assets to safer assets
- May require step off the glide path given extreme risk environments
I have advocated the customisation of the fixed income allocation within TDF would be a significant step toward addressing the shortcomings of many TDF. The inclusion of Alternative assets and the active management of the glide path would be further enhancements.
These shortcomings are consistent with the desire for a greater level of customisation from Advisors. Although not explicitly addressing the shortcomings outlined above, the following commentary from the report is interesting:
“A comment from one retirement plan advisor with more than 25 years of experience in the industry hits on multiple suitability issues at once. “TDFs look only at age and not where we are in the interest rate cycle,” he says. “Retirement date is not a terminus date, and many clients still need growth well after their retirement date.”
While most TDFs do not explicitly factor the interest rate cycle into their glide paths, many do address the need to maintain exposure to growth beyond the target retirement date—particularly through the choice of a “through” glidepath, although perhaps not at the level advisors would like to see. “
This is a great insight and consistent with my previous posts where it has been highlighted that maintaining high levels of cash at time of retirement is scandalous. This is addressed by having an equity allocation at the time of retirement (through glide path) and a more customised fixed income allocation within the TDF.
Great to see:
“In keeping with the general tendency toward a goals-based approach identified earlier, however, it is noteworthy that advisors most commonly evaluate TDF performance relative to peer groups (40%) and not based on outperformance of a benchmark, whether an industry index (21%) or a custom benchmark (16%).”
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