More needs to be done to address the post-retirement challenges

The next generation to retire is likely to have much lower retirement savings. Those aged 40 to 55 are effectively a lost generation.

They have limited defined benefit (DB) pensions as many occupational schemes closed early on in their careers and it took the government many years to develop and implement auto-enrolment.

These are some of the underlying themes of the 2019 UK Defined Contribution (DC) Investment Forum (DCIF) report.  A summary and discussion of this report was recently published in an IPE Article.

The key findings of the DCIF Report:

  • Members are sleepwalking into retirement and choosing the path of least resistance
  • The industry has been slow to address the challenges posed by pension freedoms
  • The best approach is seen as income drawdown in earlier years and longevity protection later in retirement
  • Further policy initiatives are required to build consensus and provide clarity

 

In summary, “The DC industry needs to do more to address post-retirement challenges”.

 

There are obviously issues specific to the UK market e.g. it has been five years since pensioners in the UK gained greater freedom to use their defined contribution (DC) pots.

Nevertheless, retirement issues are universal and key learnings can be gained from individual markets.

 

The IPE article outlined the key challenge facing providers: “how do you ensure members retain flexibility and choice, while ensuring those members can manage both the investment and longevity risk over decades of retirement?”

 

Overall, the UK industry response has been slow. It appears “Pension providers have been focused on designing the best default fund with little energy spent on the post-retirement phase.”

Interestingly, research in the UK by Nest, a €8.3bn auto-enrolment provider, found most members expect their pension pot to pay an income automatically on retirement.

Members are also surprised by the level of complexity involved in draw down products.

 

Post Retirement Investment Solution Framework

Despite the lack of innovation to date there appears to be a consensus about the shape of the post-retirement investment solution.

An appropriate Post-Retirement Investment Strategy would allow retirees to have decent levels of income during the first two active decades of retirement and longevity protection for after 80.

“Not only does this remove the burden of an unskilled person having to manage both investment and longevity risk, but it also prevents members from either underspending or overspending their pots”.

The idea is to turn a DC pension pot into an income stream with minimal interaction from the scheme member.

 

This is consistent with the vision expressed by Professor Robert Merton in 2012, see this Kiwi Investor Blog Post: Designing a new Retirement System for more detail.

 

As the IPE article highlights, it is important retirees are provided guidance to ensure they understand their choices.

Albeit, a core offering will deliver a sustainable income.  This is potentially a default solution which can be opted out of at any stage.

Some even argue that the “trustees would then make a judgement about what a sustainable income level would be for each member and then devise a product to pay this out.”

“In addition, this product could also provide a small pot of cash for members to take tax-free on retirement as well buying later-life protection. This could take the form of deferred annuities or even a mortality pool.”

 

Early Product Development in the UK

The IPE article outlines several approaches to assist those entering retirement.

By way of example, Legal & General Investment Management have developed a retirement framework which they call ‘four pots for your retirement’.”

  • First pot is to fund the early years of retirement – assuming retirees will spend the first 15 years wanting to enjoy no longer working; they will travel and be active.
  • Second pot provides a level of certainty to ensure retirees do not outlive their savings, this may include an annuity type product.
  • Third pot is a rainy-day pot for one-off expenses.
  • Final pot is for inheritance.

 

Greater Policy Direction

Unsurprisingly, there is a call for clearer policy direction from Government. Particularly in relation to adequacy, and the relation between adequacy and retirement products.

Unlike a greater consensus around what an investment solution might look like, consensus around the regulatory environment will be harder to achieve.

This may slow investment solution innovation to the detriment of retirees.

 

Concluding remarks

The following point is made within the IPE article: “While pension providers in both the US and Australia have come to the same conclusions as the UK about the way to address the retirement market, no-one in these markets has yet developed a viable product.”

As the IPE article note “It is likely the industry will be pushing at an open door if it develops a product that provides an income in retirement.”

This is a significant opportunity for the industry.

 

Interestingly, the investment knowledge is available now to meet the Post Retirement challenge. Also, Post-Retirement Investment solutions are increasingly being developed and are available. It is going to take a change in industry mind-set before they are universally accepted.

 

The foundations of the investment knowledge for the Post-Retirement Investment solution as outlined above have regularly been posted on Kiwi Investor Blog.

For those wanting more information, see the following links:

 

There will be change, a paradigm shift is already occurring internationally, and those savings for retirement need a greater awareness of these developments and the likely Investment Solution options available, so that they are not “sleepwalking into retirement and choosing the path of least resistance”.

 

I don’t see enough of the Post Retirement Challenges being addressed in New Zealand by solution providers. More needs to be done, the focus in New Zealand has been on accumulation products and the default option as occurred in the UK.

The approach to date has been on building as big as possible retirement pot, this may work well for some, for others not so well.

Investment strategies can be developed that more efficiently uses the pool of capital accumulated – avoiding the dual risks of overspending or underspending in the early years of retirement and providing a greater level of flexibility compared to an annuity.

These strategies are better than Rules of Thumb, such as the 4% rule which has been found to fail in most markets.

More robust and innovative retirement solutions are required.

 

In New Zealand there needs to be a greater focus on decumulation, Post Retirement solutions, including a focus on generating a secure and stable level of income throughout retirement.

The investment knowledge is available now and being implemented overseas.

Let’s not leave it until it is too late before the longevity issues arise for those retiring today and the next generation, who are most at risk, begin to retire.

 

Happy investing.

 Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

A short history of Portfolio Diversification

Advancements in technology and new knowledge have made it easier to diversify portfolios and manage investment management fees. Greater clarity over sources of returns have placed downward pressure on active manager’s fees.  True sources of portfolio diversification can command a higher fee and are worth considering.

Is your portfolio managed as if it is the 1980s? the 1990s? Does it include any of the key learnings from the Tech Bubble crash of 2000 and the market meltdown of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC or Great Recession)?

Finally, is your portfolio positioned for future trends in portfolio management?

 

Below I provide a short history of the evolution of portfolio diversification. The evolution of portfolio diversification is interesting and can be referenced to determine how advanced your portfolio is.

 

The framework, idea, and some of the material comes from a very well written article by Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI).

Unless stated otherwise, the opinions and comments below are mine.

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Nobel Laureate and pioneer of investment theory Harry Markowitz’s 1952 paper “Portfolio Selection” provided the foundations for Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT).

Markowitz’s analysis provided the mathematical underpinnings for portfolio optimisation.

The key contribution of Markowitz was the quantification of portfolio “risk”. Portfolio Risk was measured by the variation in investment returns – standard deviation of returns.

Markowitz’s paper led to the concept of an “optimal portfolio”, a framework in which both risk and returns are considered. Optimal portfolios offer the maximum expected return for a defined level of risk.

The benefits of diversification were clear to see. Diversification reduces risk without sacrificing returns.

As the ASI article noted: Markowitz called diversification “the only free lunch in finance”.

MPT led to the establishment of the 60:40 portfolio, a portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income.

Increased Diversification of the 60:40 Portfolio

The 60:40 portfolio dominated for a long period time. This portfolio was also largely domestically orientated i.e. the concept of investing internationally was not widely practiced in the 1960 – 70s, even early 1980s.

The next phase in portfolio diversification largely focused on increasing the level of diversification within the equity and fixed income components of 60:40 Portfolio.

As outlined in the ASI paper, four trends combined to drive a broadening of investments in 1980s and 90s:

  • deregulation of financial markets
  • rapid growth in emerging markets
  • financial innovation
  • academic ‘discoveries’.

Deregulation played a major role, particularly the ending of fixed currency exchange rates and the relaxing of capital controls. This enabled an increased level of investing internationally.

This also coincided with the discovery of the “emerging markets”, leading to an increased allocation to emerging market equities and fixed income securities.

Financial innovation resulted in the development of several new financial instruments, including mortgage-backed securities, high-yield bonds (formally called Junk Bonds), and leverage loans.

The use of derivatives also grew rapidly following the establishment of Option Pricing Theory.

Other academic discoveries led to style investing, such as value and growth, and the rise of investing into smaller companies to add value and increase diversification.  Style investing has been superseded by factor investing, which is discussed further below.

ASI conclude, that at the end 1990’s portfolio diversification could be characterised as including:

  • domestic and international equities
  • value and growth stocks
  • large-cap and small-cap stocks
  • developed and emerging markets
  • government, mortgage and corporate fixed income securities.

 

Fundamentally, this is still a portfolio of equities and bonds. Nevertheless, compared to the domestic two-asset class 60:40 Portfolio of the 1960 – 70s it offered more diversification and weathered the severe market declines of tech bubble burst in 2000 and GFC better.

Pioneering Portfolio Management – the Yale Endowment Model

The 2000’s witnessed the emergence of the “Endowment Model”. This followed a period of strong performance and evidence of their diversification benefits during the tech bubble burst of 1999-2000.

The Endowment model has been characterised as being based on four core principles: equity bias, diversification, use of less-liquid or complex assets, and value-based investing.

Endowments allocate the largest percentages of their portfolios to alternative asset classes like hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, and real assets e.g. property.

The endowment model was pioneered by David Swensen at Yale University. Yale’s alternative assets fell into three categories: absolute return (or hedge funds); real assets (or property and natural resources); and private equity.

For more on diversification approach adopted by Endowments and Sovereign Wealth Funds please see my previous Post Investment Fees and Investing like and Endowment – Part 2.

Learnings from Norway

The extreme severity the GFC tested all portfolios, including the Endowment Model.

The dislocation in markets muted the benefits of diversification from alternative investments and left many questioning the actual level of diversification within their portfolio.

In 2009 this disappointment prompted the Norwegian Government Pension fund to commission a study to investigate their returns during the GFC.

The study was undertaken by three prominent professors, Andrew Ang (Columbia Business School), William Goetzmann (Yale University) and Stephen Schaefer (London Business School). The paper is well worth reading.

This study went on to influence portfolio diversification considerations and captures some major learnings from the GFC. The study brought factor investing into greater prominence.

Factors are the underlying drivers of investment returns.  The Nordic study recommended that factor related returns should take centre stage in an investment process.

As a result, the Norwegians rethought about how they structured their portfolios. Other countries have followed, incorporating factor investing into their asset allocations.

Please see my previous Post on Factor Investing and this interview with Andrew Ang, one of the authors of Nordic study, for further details.

Innovation and pressure on Investment Management Fees

The period since the GFC has yielded an increasing level of innovation. This innovation has been driven in part by factor investing, technology advancements, pressure on reducing investment management fees, and increased demand to access more liquid alternative investment strategies to further diversify portfolios.

The disaggregation of investment turns has provided a new lens in which to view portfolio diversification. With technology advancements and the rise of factor investing returns from within markets have been isolated. Broadly speaking, investment returns can be attributed to: market exposures (beta e.g. sharemarkets); underlying factors (e.g. value and momentum); hedge fund strategy returns (e.g. relative value and merger arbitrage); and returns purely attributable to manager skill (called alpha, what is left if the previous sources cannot explain all the return outcome). For a fuller discussion please see my earlier Post on Disaggregation of Investment Returns.

These trends have resulted in the proliferation of ETFs and the downward pressure on investment management fees. The active manager has been squeezed, with investors only wanting to pay fees relative to the source of return i.e. very very low fees for beta and higher fees for alpha.

These developments have also resulted in the rise of liquid alternatives. Returns once attributed to hedge funds can now be more easily accessed, from a cost and liquid perspective.

Increasingly these strategies are available in an Exchange Trade Fund (ETF) structure.

True Portfolio Diversification

Consequently, there is a now a greater ability to significantly diversify the portfolios of the 1980s and 1990s and take on the learnings from GFC and 2000 Tech bubble.

Increasingly Institutional investors accept that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits e.g. adding global listed property or listed liquid infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that includes global equities.   True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth. Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks.

True diversification involves taking the learnings from the endowment model and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund study.

As a result, the inclusion of alternative investments is common place in many institutionally managed portfolios. For further discussion, see my previous Post on adding alternatives to a portfolio, it is an Evolution not a Revolution.  This Post highlights that more asset classes does not equal more diversification may also be of interest.

Goal Based Investing and the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio

Advancements in technology have helped investors understand the different dimensions of risk better and move away from the sole risk measure of MPT (standard deviation of returns).

Likewise, there has been a growing appreciation that failure to meet your investment objectives is the greatest investment risk.

More advanced portfolio construction approaches such as Liability Driven Investing (LDI) have been embraced.

Goal-Based Investing for the individual is based on the concepts of LDI.

The move toward Goal-Based Investing completely upturns portfolio construction, likely resulting in the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio.

This paradigm shift within the industry is best captured by analysis undertaken by EDHEC Risk Institute.  I covered the most relevant EDHEC article in more depth recently for those wanting more information. This Post outlines future trends in Wealth Management.

Future Direction of Diversification

The ASI article finishes by discussing several trends they believe are reshaping portfolio construction. Some of these trends have been discussed on Kiwiinvestorblog.

I would like to highlight the following trends identified by ASI:

  1. Investors continue to shift from traditional to alternative assets, see the recent Prequin Post.
  2. Investors are increasingly integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis into their decision-making process.
  3. Opportunities to invest in emerging markets are increasing.
  4. Individuals have to take more responsibility for their financial futures. This is known as the Financial Climate Change.

 

As ASI conclude “If done well, diversification can lead to improved long-term returns delivered in a smoother fashion.”

I would also add, and it is worth reflecting upon, although the benefits of diversification are without question, Modern Portfolio Theory of the 1950s can hardly be considered modern.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand.  Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

The Retirement Planning Death Zone

The retirement risk zone (also known as the ‘conversion’ phase) is commonly defined as the final 10 years of working life (the ‘accumulation’ phase) and the first 10 years of retirement (the pay-out phase or decumulation).

This period is right before and right after you retire.

Importantly, it is this 20 year period when the greatest amount of retirement savings is in play and, subsequently, risk is at its highest.

 

This can be thought of along the lines of the death zone when climbing Mt Everest. The risky time is the final ascent, clambering over the Hillary Step, on the way to the summit of Mt Everest. However, once at the summit risks remain on the decent and until below the death zone when the ability to breathe becomes easier.

The summit in terms of retirement savings is generally reached at age 65, this is when the amount saved will be the “peak” in savings accumulated. It is here when accumulated wealth is at its largest.  Albeit, from an investment perspective, risks remain heightened over the first 10 years of the pay-out/decumulation phase.

 

The Retirement Risk Zone, the 10 years either side of retirement, is the worst possible time to experience a large negative return given this is when the greatness amount of money is at stake. Risks to portfolios are heightened at this stage.

It is a very important period for retirement planning.

 

During the Retirement Risk Zone two factors can potentially combine to have a detrimental impact on the standard of living in retirement:

  1. The portfolio size effect (what you do when the largest amount of your money is at risk matters); and
  2. the problem of sequencing risk (how much you lose during a bear market (20% or more fall in value of sharemarkets) may not be anywhere near as important as the timing of the loss, again, especially during the Retirement Risk Zone).

 

To explain, sequencing risk, is the risk that the order of investment returns are unfavourable, resulting in less money for retirement.

Sequencing risk impacts pre-and post-retirement i.e. the retirement risk zone.

 

Cashflows, investments in and withdrawals out of the retirement savings plan, add another dimension to sequencing risk.

Sequencing Risk can be viewed as the interaction of market volatility and cashflows. The timing of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement. This impacts on longevity risk.

This is where Warren Buffet could be wrong in recommending people maintain high equity allocations for the longer term. As noted in my previous Post, Could Buffet be Wrong? “once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of the equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives”. This is sequencing risk at play for those planning for retirement. This is also why many US Endowments do not hold large equity allocations.

It is untrue to say that volatility does not matter for the long term when cashflows are involved.

A brief explanation of interplay between the timing of returns and cashflows is provided below.

 

Longevity Risk

The portfolio size effect and sequencing risk have a direct relationship to longevity risk.

For individuals, longevity risk is the risk of outliving ones’ assets, resulting in a lower standard of living, reduced care, or a return to employment.

Or put another way, longevity risk is the likelihood that superannuation savings will be depleted prior to satisfying the lifetime financial needs of the dependents of those savings.

One way longevity risk manifests itself is when an investor’s superannuation savings is subject to a major negative market event within the Retirement Risk Zone.

 

The point to take away: the size of your portfolio, order in which returns are experienced, and timing of cashflows into and out of the retirement savings account have an impact on accumulated wealth and ultimately standard of living in retirement.

The basic conclusions. First, it is better to suffer negative returns early in the accumulation phase.

Secondly, it is better to suffer negative returns later in retirement.

 

Materiality of Sequencing Risk

In short, the research finds that the sequence of returns materially impacts peak accumulated wealth (terminal wealth) and heightens the probability of running out of money in retirement (longevity risk).  The research backs up the two conclusions above.

The Griffith University research paper mentioned below “finds that sequencing risk can deplete terminal wealth by almost a quarter, at the same time increasing the probability of portfolio ruin at age 85 from a probability of one-in three, to one-in-two.“

Terminal wealth is “peak” accumulated savings in our Mt Everest example above.

Based on their extensive modelling, investors have a 33.3% chance of not having enough money to last to aged 85, this raises to a 50% chance due to a large negative return during the Retirement Risk Zone.

They also note “It is our conjecture that, for someone in their 20s, the impact of sequencing risk is minimal: younger investors have small account balances, and plenty of time to recover …… However, for someone in their late 50s/early 60s, the interplay between portfolio size and sequencing risk can cause a potentially catastrophic financial loss that has serious consequences for individuals, families and broader society.”

This is consistent with other international studies.

 

For those wanting a more technical read please see the papers that have been drawn upon for this Post:

  1. Griffith University = The Retirement Risk Zone: A Baseline Study poorly-timed negative return event
  2. Retirement income and the sequence of-returns By: Moshe A. Milevsky, Ph.D., and Anna Abaimova, for MetLife

 

Managing Sequencing Risk

The combination of the portfolio size effect, sequencing risk, and longevity risk combine to form a trinity of investment issues that need to be managed inside the Retirement Risk Zone.

Mitigation of sequencing risk is critical across the retirement risk zone.

Sequencing risk is largely a retirement planning issue. Albeit a more robust portfolio and a suitably appropriate investment approach to investing will help mitigate the impact of sequencing risk:

  1. A greater focus on generating retirement income earlier

In my mind, a greater focus should be placed on positioning retirement portfolios for generating income in retirement at the later stages of the retirement accumulation phase i.e. at least 10-15 years out from retirement.

This is achieved by using asset-liability matching techniques as recommended by the OECD. This is not just about increasing the cash and fixed income allocations within the portfolio but implementing more advanced funds management techniques to position the portfolio to deliver a more stable level of income in retirement.

The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this and these techniques can improve the outcomes of Target Date Funds.

This is also consistent with the OECD’s Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation that emphasised that the objective is to generate retirement income.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement as recommended by the OECD.

 

I have highlighted the OECD recommendations in a previous Post.

 

2. A greater focus on reducing downside risk in a portfolio

This is beyond just reducing the equity allocation within the retirement portfolio on approaching retirement, albeit this is fundamentally important in most cases.

From this perspective Target Date Funds would be an appropriate default option for KiwiSaver, as I have previously outlined.

A more robust portfolio must also display true portfolio diversification, that helps manage downside risk i.e. reduce degree of losses within a portfolio.

This includes the inclusion of alternative investments. Portfolios should be built more like US endowments as I outlined in a previous Post.

An allocation to Alternatives have also been shown to improve the investment outcomes of Target Date Funds.

The inclusion of low volatility equities may also be option.

 

The article from Forbes is of interest in managing sequence of returns in retirement, and recommends amongst other things in having some flexibility around spending, maintaining reserve assets so you don’t have to sell assets after they fall in value, and the use of Annuities.

Many argue that sequencing risk can be managed by Product use alone.

 

My preference is for a robust portfolio, truly diversified that is based on the principles of Goals-Based Investing, and is therefore using asset-liability matching type strategies.  I would complement the Goals-Based approach with longevity annuities so as to manage longevity risk.   This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

 

Sequencing risk is currently a growing and present danger given it has been a long time since both the US and New Zealand sharemarkets have incurred a major fall in value. Hopefully, sequencing risk is getting some consideration in investment decisions being made today.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Background – Understanding Impact of returns and Cashflows

It is hard to believe, but two investors might both experience “average” returns of 8 per cent over a 20-year period and yet have materially different balances due to sequencing risk.

The 20-year periods would occur at different times, yet the “average” return is the same.

Nevertheless, the sequence of returns to generate an “average” return over the 20 year periods can result in different accumulated wealth.

This reflects there is a difference between time weighted returns and dollar invested returns. The time weighted return assumes you held the same investment over the time period. A dollar weighted return takes into consideration that money goes in and comes out of a savings account and each dollar earns a different return given the period it is invested for.  Dollar weighted returns impact on accumulated wealth.

Although the sequence of returns is crucial, so too are the timing of Cashflows into (deposits) and out (withdrawals) of a savings account.

To appreciate this, it is important to understand the impact of market volatility, it is hard to recover a dollar lost from a negative market movement. For example, if your portfolio falls in value by 40%, it’s takes a 67% return to recover your loses e.g. you have $100, this falls in value by 40%, wealth falls to $60, to get back to $100, the portfolio must recover 67%.

When there are cashflows not every dollar will experience the same return e.g. a dollar withdrawn after a 50% fall will miss out on any subsequent recovery in market prices, which can take up to six to ten years.

Therefore, the introduction of cashflows can also result in different outcomes for investors. This is why the pulling of funds out of markets following a large fall (draw-down) early in the accumulation phase can have a detrimental impact on accumulated wealth at the time of retirement.

The sequence of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement.

During accumulation cashflows are going into the savings account and the account balance is growing. Therefore, each dollar invested has a different investment return.

In retirement, cashflows coming out of the portfolio will gradually reduce the capital base, therefore, investors will be better off if returns are stronger at the start of retirement, as the account balance will be larger and growing, meaning cashflows out will not reduce the capital base as much when returns are poorer in the earlier years of retirement.

For those wanting a more technical explanation, along with some great charts and graphs, this article by Challanger will be of real value.

Approaches to generating Retirement Income

In New Zealand the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently reviewing the Default Option for KiwiSaver and the Retirement Commission is undertaking its three-yearly review of Retirement Income Polices.

 

In this regard, a recent Paper by the Brookings Institute is of interest.

The Paper compares the different retirement policy settings of a number of countries and the growing array of new investment solutions that target the delivery of retirement income. The Papers title: From saving to spending: A proposal to convert retirement account balances into automatic and flexible income has some interesting insights. (The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Their mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.)

 

Retirement Income Products

The shift from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans makes it even more important for individuals to save for their own retirement. See my previous Post on the looming Savings Crisis.

The gravity of the problem is well presented in a recent nationwide poll in the USA highlighted by Brookings, 73 percent of Americans said they do not have the financial skills to manage their money in retirement.

Converting retirement savings balances into a stream of retirement income is one of the most difficult financial decisions that households need to make.

Encouragingly, new financial products offer people alternative ways to receive retirement income.

New and innovative financial products are disrupting traditional approaches. The new approaches combine existing products in new and different ways. While they do not always provide guaranteed lifetime income, the innovations nevertheless can give savers options and features that annuities do not provide. They are offering Flexicurity.

 

The Brookings paper explores non-annuity retirement savings options, but not after first providing a good discussion around annuities, highlighting the benefits, drawbacks, and behavioural attitudes towards annuities.

 

The paper looks at retirement investment solutions beyond annuities. To do this they provide a good comparison of the traditional approach versus a Goals-Based Investment approach (safety-first).

As they outline, there are two fundamentally different approaches to thinking about retirement income that might be viewed as defining the opposite ends of the spectrum of preferences.

  1. There are “probability-based” approaches. This approach has goals similar to those of the accumulation phase in seeking to maximize risk-adjusted returns from the total portfolio in accordance with modern portfolio theory (MPT). “Probability-based retirees tend not to base their retirement planning on a distinction between essential needs and discretionary wants, but instead look at ways to meet their total budget. Their investment portfolio during retirement balances market risk against the probability that the money will run out prematurely. This usually requires a high concentration of equities”
  2. By contrast, there is the “safety-first” approach. This approach engages in asset-liability matching, or financing different income uses with different assets. For example, consumption of necessities would be financed from an annuity or largely riskless portfolio, while less essential goals could be financed with higher-risk investments. “This school tends to believe that retirees must develop a strategy that will at least meet their essential needs (as opposed to desires or preferences), no matter how long they live or how their investments perform.”

 

I would sit in the safety-first approach. I would complement the Goals-Based approach with longevity annuities so as to manage longevity risk*.  This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

It is also consistent with the Paradigm shift occurring within the global wealth management industry, as outlined in a previous Post, and with the drive to increased Customisation (EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM) as promoted by EDHEC.

 

A very recent example of the innovation occurring is covered in my last Post that outlines the collaboration of BlackRock and Microsoft to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.

 

The Brookings paper also provides an example of the ongoing innovation within the industry. The paper provides a good discussion on Managed Pay-out Funds.

Managed Pay-out Funds, which are a major alternative to an annuity, are designed to produce a relatively consistent level of annual income but that does not guarantee that outcome.

They are similar in some respects to Target Date Funds (TDFs) but have a different objective. A well designed TDF would sit in the second category above and would make a good investment solution for a Default KiwiSaver Option.

Managed pay-out funds serve as decumulation (Pay-out) vehicles, paying monthly or quarterly cash distributions to retirees.

The goal is stable income pay-outs stemming from consistent investment returns, and possibly growth, over time rather than maximum gains. The annual income amounts are calculated using both investment performance and, in the case of many managed pay-out funds, a gradual distribution of the principal amount invested in the fund.

Unlike many annuities, these managed pay-out funds are also flexible enough to allow retirees to revise their decisions as circumstances change.

Some of these Funds are the extensions of TDF where the investment strategy shifts from accumulation to income (Pay-out).

 

Brookings also make the observation that Defined contribution (DC) plans, such as KiwiSaver, will not fulfil their potential to deliver retirement security until they include an automatic mechanism that efficiently helps participants to convert retirement savings into income. “Experience has demonstrated that most new retirees who are handed a lump sum are ill equipped to understand and successfully navigate the many complex risks, trade-offs, and necessary decisions.”

 

New Zealand can learn from other countries experiences. Particularly the learning that a greater focus should be placed on the generation of retirement income late in the accumulation phase.

Significant improvements can be made to retirement solutions by better positioning portfolios to generate a steady and stable stream of income in retirement.

This should be undertaken in the late stage of the accumulation stage and not left until one reaches retirement.

As outlined in a previous Post this is consistent with what the OECD encourages: the retirement objective is to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

 

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The retirement investment solution needs to be customised to the individual and there needs to be a greater focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income in retirement (Pay-check).

This highlights the ongoing need for investment solution innovation in New Zealand.

 

As Brookings note: “What ever the solution, one thing is clear:  Retirees need innovative solutions that help them make the best use of their savings as they transition to a new phase of life.”

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

* By way of explanation, a longevity annuity provides protection against outliving your money late in life.  This type of annuity requires you to wait until you reach age 80 or so to begin receiving a pay-out.

 

Fintech’s Colossal Solution – Uber Moment? Microsoft and BlackRock team up

BlackRock and Microsoft are building a platform that will help people develop better saving and investment habits through more regular engagement with their retirement assets.

This initiative was announced in December 2018 and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted at the time:

“The firms plan to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering guaranteed retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.”

 

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry: technology platform providing retirement planning tools and direct access to new generation Investment Solutions.

 

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, according to WSJ “wants to shape the technology plumbing that connects it to different parts of the financial ecosystem handling workers’ retirement money.”  And for Microsoft, who needs no introduction, “an investment platform built with its technology could bring in new revenue as it looks to become a bigger cloud-computing player.”

 

BlackRock and Microsoft have made progress since December and FinancialPlanning.com provided further details in July 2019:

“The technology giant and the asset manager overseeing 15 million Americans’ 401(k) portfolios are developing an app and desktop tool aimed at narrowing the widening gap between what workers will need in retirement and how much they’re saving.”  (401 (k) is like KiwiSaver)

BlackRock and Microsoft are looking to reimage America’s path toward achieving greater financial security in retirement by bringing together BlackRock’s investment capabilities and Microsoft’s technology strength.

Together, they are exploring the next generation of investment solutions to help more people make better decisions as they work toward their financial goals in retirement.

Taking advantage of Microsoft’s technologies and BlackRock’s investment products, the companies are aiming to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.

The firms will begin rolling out their tool later this year.

By all accounts, this is going to be a powerful platform.  I’d imagine some of the tools will be like the BlackRock CoRI Index, which estimates the level of lifetime retirement from current savings.

 

Lifetime Income Focus – Next Generation of Investment Products

From an investment perspective the retirement tool will include guaranteed retirement income planning.

As part of the rollout Microsoft and BlackRock are designing methods of showing workers how much extra contributions today could end up netting them in retirement.  The intended result is that employees “have a clearer picture of how their contributions today will translate to long-term retirement income”.

BlackRock intends to offer the platform in connection with next generation investment products that it will design and manage. The new products from BlackRock will seek to provide a lifetime of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, BlackRock will be offering more sophisticated products than widely available now.  These Funds will seek to provide guaranteed income streams to participants as they get older, an element not common in 401(k) (like KiwiSaver) and other retirement plans.

The funds will be like Target Date Funds, a blend of investments that get more conservative as investors head into retirement. However, the funds BlackRock wants to roll out will also increase their concentration in financial instruments that provide regular payouts as participants reach retirement.  This is a massive enhancement.

As an aside, Target Date Funds would be a good option as the Default Fund for KiwiSaver.

 

Importantly, the focus is on providing an income stream in retirement.  There is a strong argument this should be the primary investment goal and not the targeting of a lump sum at time of retirement. What matters in retirement is income.

The OECD encourages the retirement objective to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, volatility of income in retirement is a good risk measure.

It is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

More specifically, the focus on retirement income and use of more advanced portfolio construction techniques as liability-driven investing overcomes one of the main criticisms of Target Date Funds.  Particularly, Target Date Funds should have a greater focus on generating income in retirement.  This means the fixed income allocation should act more like an annuity so that is pays a steady stream of income to the investor once they reach retirement.

The investment knowledge is available to achieve this.

 

Accordingly, BlackRock’s solutions appear to be more aligned with Goals-Based Investing and will be a more robust Retirement Income Solution than those available now.

There is a real need for these new generation investment solutions as many of the current financial products have shortcomings in meeting future customer needs, particularly the delivery of a stable and secure level of retirement income.

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry in relation to the development of new and improved investment solutions.

The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions to meet a growing savings crisis.

 

Defining Social Challenge – Addressing the Savings Crisis with Technology

As BlackRock outlined when making the initial announcement in December 2018:

Retirement systems worldwide are under stress and providing financial security to retirees has become one of the most defining societal challenges of our time,” said Laurence Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock.

BlackRock has a tremendous responsibility to help solve this challenge, and we recognise the need to act now. Working with Microsoft will enable us to build a powerful solution for millions of hardworking Americans.”

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to Defined Contribution (DC).

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

In America, millions are struggling to achieve their financial goals in retirement.  BlackRock and Microsoft are aiming to narrow the “gap” between what workers will need in retirement and how much they are saving.  This gap is estimated to be expanding by $3 trillion each year!

Therefore, there is a very real need to help people who are struggling with the difficult task of saving, investing, and turning this into a retirement income.

In BlackRock and Microsoft’s view the “shift in responsibility, from corporations to individuals, combined with ever increasing life-spans, has created a need to reimagine a new approach to securing a sound financial future in retirement – one that is powered by innovative investment solutions and the most advanced, trusted and cutting-edge technologies.”

“Technology is already revolutionizing entire industries and the way people interact with everything from health care to education and transportation. And yet, retirement solutions of today have been slow to keep pace. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies and innovative investment products from BlackRock, the companies aim to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.”

 

Thus, the need for new innovative investment solutions and technology platforms.

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

KiwiSaver and OECD Pension Scheme Recommendations

The OECD has identified for some time the growing importance of Defined Contribution (DC) pension schemes.

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to DC, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

The OECD has undertaken a review of DC potential drawbacks and how to incorporate them into regulatory frameworks to protect members. This led to the formation of a Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation.

In addition, the OECD Roadmap for the Good Design of DC Pension Plan made several recommendations.

 

Off interest to me, from the perspective of designing investment solutions, were the following:

  • Ensure the design of DC pension plans is internally coherent between the accumulation and pay-out phases and with the overall pension system. 

 

  • Consider establishing default life-cycle investment strategies as a default option to protect people close to retirement against extreme negative outcomes. 

 

  • For the pay-out phase, encourage annuitisation as a protection against longevity risk.

 

The OECD made a number of other recommendations which also have merit and they are provided below.

 

The OECD Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation emphasised that the objective is to generate retirement income.

Importantly, investment strategies should be aligned with this objective and implement sound risk management practices such as diversification and asset-liability matching.

“These should be appropriately employed in order to achieve the best outcome for the plan members and beneficiaries” (Guidelines 4.1).

Interestingly, these principles should apply not only to KiwiSaver, but to any forms of voluntary savings plans and mandatory arrangements.

 

The emphasis on generating retirement income and coherency between accumulation and pay-out phase (de-cumulation) are important concepts.

 

In my mind, a greater focus should be placed on generating income in retirement at the later stages of the retirement accumulation phase i.e. at least 10-15 years out from retirement. This is achieved by using asset-liability matching techniques as recommended by the OECD. The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this.

This reflects that the goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth and risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not lead to the generation of a stable and sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning out of Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

 

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

 

I have Posted previously on the concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal (as recommended by the OECD). The argument for such a goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

 

It is appropriate to consider the OCED recommendations at a time that the New Zealand Government are reviewing the Kiwisaver Default Provider arrangements.

This Review is being undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and submissions are due 18 September 2019.

This GoodReturns article provides some context.

 

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry. The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions.

New and innovative financial products are disrupting traditional markets by offering alternative ways to receive retirement income. The new approaches combine existing products in new and different ways. While they do not always provide guaranteed lifetime income, the innovations nevertheless can give savers options and features that annuities do not provide.

For example, Managed Payout Funds in the USA are a major alternative to an annuity. These Funds are designed to produce a relatively consistent level of annual income but that does not guarantee that outcome. They are similar in some respects to Target Date Funds (TDFs) but have a different objective.

 

More robust investment solutions are being developed to meet the retirement income challenge, they also display Flexicurity.   EDHEC Risk Institute provides a sound framework for the development of Robust Investment Solution and the need for more appropriate investment solutions.

Increasingly the robust solution is a Goal-Based investment solution coupled with longevity annuities that begin to make payments when the owner reaches an advanced age (e.g. 80) as a means to manage longevity risk.

 

The future also entails an increasing level of customisation. This reflects that saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions in relation to the conservative allocations within ones portfolio so as to generate a level of income to meet retirement goals.

Likewise, the allocation to risky assets (e.g. equities) should also be based on individual goals and circumstances.

The risky asset allocation should not be based on age alone, other factors such as assets outside of Super, other forms of income, and tolerance for risk in meeting aspiration retirement goals for example should also be considered.

 

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs be customised and focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income. This goal needs to be considered over the accumulation phase, such that hedging of future income requirements is undertaken prior to retirement (LDI). Focusing purely on an accumulated capital value and management of market risk alone may lead to insufficient replacement of income in retirement, greater variation of income in retirement, and/or other inefficient trade-offs are made during retirement.

Importantly the investment management focus is not on beating a market index, arguing about fees (albeit they are important), the focus is on how the Investment Solution is tracking relative to the “individuals” retirement goals.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

The OECD also recommends:

  1. Encourage people to enrol, to contribute and contribute for long periods.
  2. Improve the design of incentives to save for retirement, particularly where participation and contributions to DC pension plans are voluntary.
  3. Promote low-cost retirement savings instruments.
  4. Establish appropriate default investment strategies, while also providing choice between investment options with different risk profile and investment horizon.
  5. Promote the supply of annuities and cost-efficient competition in the annuity market.
  6. Develop appropriate information and risk-hedging instruments to facilitate dealing with longevity risk.
  7. Ensure effective communication and address financial illiteracy and lack of awareness.

 

 

Technology focus that will transform the Wealth Management Industry – Robo Advice alone won’t be enough

The Professional Wealth Magazine (PWM) argues that Private Banks must take “goaled-based tech to heart”.

In their recent article they see technology assisting Wealth Managers in the following areas:

  1. Customer facing;
  2. Client relationship management; and
  3. Goals-Based wealth management Investment Solutions.

The first two are well known, the third, as PWM note, is flying under the radar. Combined they are the future of a successful wealth management business.

Quite obviously Robo Advice models use technology. Nevertheless, Goals-Based wealth management provides the opportunity for greater customisation and a more robust investment solution that better meets the needs of the customer.

Therefore, technology will play a major role in delivering more customised Investment Solutions to a wider range of people.

 

Technology is going to play a major role in the industry’s transformation.

As has been argued: “In order to be part of the fourth industrial revolution, the people-centric industry of wealth management must transform the production, customisation and distribution of retirement solutions, …..”

(See my first Kiwi Investor Blog Post, Advancements in Portfolio Management, for an article written by Lionel Martellini, of EDHEC Risk Institute, that appeared in the Journal of Investment Management in 2016: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How an Industrial Revolution is about to take place in money management and why it involves a shift from investment products to investment solutions.)

 

The PWM article covered a recent symposium held in Paris focusing on fintech, quantitative management and big data, the technologically-led trends transforming the global industry.

The participants at the symposium gathered to consider: what should be the role of technology in client acquisition and servicing, data analysis, and portfolio management?

With regards to technology in general PWM note, “Private banks need to put technological solutions at the heart of their operations if they are to meet the demands raised by clients and relationship managers, though there will always be a need for human interaction”

However, having acknowledged that technology is critical for a successful Wealth Management business of the future, it appears to be a difficult issue to address. PWM “calculate that of the 150 global private banks we monitor closely for technological, business, customer-facing and portfolio management trends, less than one third have implemented a serious technological solution to the challenges encountered by their clients and relationship managers.”

“Many have only devised client-interfaces such as online forms, apps and screens allowing choices of services. But a handful have gone much further…….”

 

Under the radar

PWM noted that “…there is probably one technology-led sphere which is totally under-appreciated by the industry, which was highlighted at the summit. This is that of goals-driven wealth management (GDWM), ….”

 

Goals-Based investing is an improvement on the generic industry approach. Rather than viewing your investments as one single diversified portfolio, where the allocations are primarily based on your risk tolerance and the concept of risk is measured by volatility or standard deviation of returns, Goals-Based investing creates distinct milestones (goals) that are closely aligned with the priorities in your life.

Goals-Based investing closely matches your investment assets with your unique goals and objectives (customisation). It is the Wealth Management counterpart to Liability Driven Investing (LDI), which is implemented by pensions and insurance companies where their investment problems are reflected in the terms of their future liabilities (expected future insurance claims), much like a Wealth Management client’s future priorities (goals). LDI is also implemented by Pension Funds, particularly those with Defined Benefits, which are known future liabilities/cashflows.

Goals-Based Investing offers a more robust investment solution, provides a closer alignment of retirement goals and investment assets. It will also help investors avoid some common behavioural biases, such as regret and hindsight bias.

The benefits of Goals-Based Investing are a:

  1. More stable level of income in retirement;
  2. More efficient use of capital – potentially need less retirement savings;
  3. Better framework to make trade-off between allocations to equities and fixed income; and
  4. Improved likelihood of reaching desired standard of living in retirement.

In summary, a Goals-Based investment strategy increases the likelihood of reaching a customer’s retirement income objectives. It can also achieve this with a more efficient allocation of capital. This additional capital could be used for current consumption or invested in growth assets to potentially fund a higher standard of living in retirement, or used for other investment goals e.g. endowments and legacies.

 

As the PWM article points out, technology is allowing “wealth managers to use institutional tools, helping clients to prepare for key life events….. Length of investment terms, risk tolerances, prices, taxes, depreciation levels can all be plugged into a model by relationship managers. Optimal asset allocations can then be arrived at and modified to plan for specific goals.“

“While few private banks currently approach this topic seriously, it surely must become the wealth management paradigm for the future. It will still require human wealth managers to advise clients and shepherd them through the process, but it will put an algorithmic system at the centre of the asset allocation decision. There is no substitute for this and it will most likely steal the very soul of wealth management.”

The Bold is mine, LDI is an institutional tool implemented to meet specific goals.

 

This is beyond a straight forward Robo Advice model and the filling out of a generic risk profile questionnaire. Technology is being applied to determine more customised investment solutions, taking into consideration a greater array of personal information and then implementing an investment solution using more advanced portfolio techniques, such as LDI.

 

The article covers other technology related issues in relation to wealth management, such as increasing competition from the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibabas and Tencents.

Importantly, PWM see room for a human element in all of this.

 

PWM conclude we are at the beginning of the industry’s “revolution”, technology will play a part in the success of the modern wealth manager and in capturing the next generation of investors:

“The battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation and for the soul of wealth management has yet to be fought and won. But the opening salvos have been fired.”

“Private banks have interesting weapons in their armouries. Some still need to be modernised for effectiveness. But at the moment, those that appear to be vital for future success appear to be GDWM (goals-driven wealth management) tools, networking apps and screens for impact and ethics.

“The private bank of the future will manage, introduce and evaluate, as well as working closely with the next generation. These disciplines require a raft of technological systems and an army of relationship managers, not just to operate them, but to take the output which they deliver and use this to help build a long-term relationship with families of the future.”

Again bold is mine.

 

The future, according to PWM, is a raft of technology solutions with Goals-Based investing as the underlying investment solution.

The appropriate use of technology and the mass production of customised investment solutions will be the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry. The technology and investment knowledge is available now.

The customisation of investment solutions involves a Goals-Based investment approach, based on the principles of LDI.

A winning outcome will be the combination of smart technology and the mass production of customised investment solutions that more directly meet the needs of the customer in achieving their retirement goals.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

 

Balance Funds are not on Target for Default KiwiSaver Investors

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

 

To achieve this the Investment Solution requires a more Liability Driven Investment approach: Goals Based Investing.

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.

This requires moving away from current market based shorter term investment portfolios and implementing a more customised investment solution.

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.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Best Portfolio Does Not Mean Optimal Portfolio

The best portfolio is not necessarily the optimal portfolio.

As this thought-provoking article by Joachim Klement, CFA, highlights, “In theory, the optimal portfolio is the best portfolio, but in reality, the optimal is often far from the best for any given investor. Or to recall a quote variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, and Richard Feynman, among others: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.””

The article highlights the shortcomings of a portfolio optimisation approach. No surprises there!

Nevertheless, a key point made in the article is that many people in a Trustee or Fiduciary role see the portfolio optimisation process as a black-box exercise which is full of assumptions.

If true, this can be a challenge, particularly for those presenting the results and “the client never understands how these assumptions lead to the proposed allocation”.

I am sure this occurs to varying degrees and as a result there is a real risk that there is not a good understanding of the purpose of each investment allocation within the portfolio.

This often leads to the most pertinent point made in the article:

“But since clients do not grasp the purpose of each investment in the context of the overall portfolio, they are more likely to give up on the portfolio, or parts of it, in times of trouble. As a result, the best portfolio is not the optimal portfolio, but rather the one that the client can stick with through the market’s ups and downs. This means reframing the role of different asset classes or funds relative to the investor’s goals and sophistication rather than to volatility and return.”

 

Exactly. Reframing the role of the different asset classes can be achieved by taking the discussion away from the largely two-dimensional world of an optimal portfolio, market risk and return, and focusing instead on how the allocations will help meet a client’s investment goals over time.

Therefore, we can move beyond the Markowitz portfolio (the basis of Modern Portfolio and the “Optimal” Portfolio).  This is not to diminish the Markowitz optimal portfolio and the benefits of diversification, the closest thing to a free lunch in investing. Markowitz also placed a number on risk through the variance of returns.

Nevertheless, variance of return may not be an appropriate measure of risk. Other measures of volatility can be used, just as more sophisticated portfolio optimisation approaches can be implemented. Neither of which would address the key issues of the article as outlined above. In fact, they may compound the issues, particularly the black-box nature of the process.

Other measures of risk should be considered, the most important risk being failure to meet one’s investment objectives.

If your investment goal is to optimise risk and return the “optimal” portfolio is likely to be the “best” portfolio. Albeit, I am not sure this is the primary objective for most individuals and companies. For example, other investment objectives may include liquidity, income/cashflow generation, endowments. (I also don’t think the most optimal equities portfolio is the best portfolio, there are other risks to consider e.g. liquidity and concentration risk which would mean moving away from the optimal portfolio.)

There are personal and aspiration risks to take into consideration e.g. ability to weather large loses. There could be investment goals with different time periods – the optimal portfolio is generally for a single period, not multi-periods.

This is not to say don’t use an optimisation approach, it is a good starting point. Albeit, the portfolio allocation will likely need to be adjusted to take into consideration a wider set of investment objectives, risk tolerances, and behavioural factors. I would have thought this is standard practice.

 

Expanding the discussion with the client will help identify a more robust portfolio and increase the understanding of the role of each allocation within the Portfolio.

In effect, a more customising investment solution will be generated, rather than a mass-produced product.

As noted in the article, reframing the role of different asset classes within a portfolio relative to the investor’s goals and the sophistication of the client rather than to volatility and return will likely result in better outcomes for clients.

Such an approach is consistent with Liability Driven Investment (LDI), where the liabilities are matched with predictable cashflows and the excess capital is invested in a growth/return seeking portfolio, which would include the likes of equities.

Such an approach is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for individuals.

It is also more consistent with a behavioural bias approach.

 

As the paper concludes:

“In my experience, such behavioral approaches to portfolio construction work much better in practice than black box “optimal portfolios.”

“Consultants, portfolio managers, and wealth managers who take their fiduciary duty seriously should seriously consider ditching their “optimal portfolios” in favor of these theoretically less optimal but practically more robust solutions.”

“Because you are not acting in the client’s best interest if you build them a portfolio that they won’t stick with over the long term.”

 

The above would resonate with most investment professionals I know, yet strangely it does not appear to be “conventional” wisdom. Perhaps ditch is to stronger a word, too provocative.

It would be hard to argue with implementing a more practical and robust solutions aligned with a wider set of investment objectives is not in the best interest of clients, particularly if they are able to stay with the investment strategy over the longer term.

 

Referenced in the article is the work undertaken by Ashvin Chhabra, Beyond Markowitz. This work is well worth reading. Essentially he frames the investor’s risks as being:

  • Personal Risk – e.g. the risk of not losing too much that would impact on life style, this supports the safety first type portfolio
  • Market Risk – e.g. risk within the investment
  • Aspirational risk – e.g. taking risks to achieve a higher standard of living

 

This would is a great framework for a Wealth Management / Financial Planning process. Of note, market risk is only one component.

Lastly, the concept of a single Optimal Portfolio is far from the likely solution under this framework.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

The Regret Proof Portfolio

Based on analysis involving the input of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Insurance companies regularly implement a two-portfolio approach as part of their Liability Driven Investment (LDI) program: a liability matching portfolio and a return seeking portfolio.

It is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for an individual: Goal-hedging portfolio and a performance seeking portfolio. #EDHEC

Although there is much more to it than outlined by the article below, I find it interesting the solution of two portfolios came from the angle of behavioural economics.

I also think it is an interesting concept given recent market volatility, but also for the longer-term.

 

Background Discussion

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

“The idea that we had was to develop what we called a ‘regret-proof policy,’” Kahneman explained. “Even when things go badly, they are not going to rush to change their mind or change and to start over,”.

According to Kahneman, the optimal allocation for someone that is prone to regret and the optimal allocation for somebody that is not prone to regret are “really not the same.”

In developing a “regret-proof policy” or “regret minimization” Portfolio allows advisors to bring up “things that people may not be thinking of, including the possibility of regret, including the possibility of them wanting to change their mind, which is a bad idea generally.”

 

In developing a regret proof portfolio, they asked people to imagine various scenarios, generally bad scenarios, and asked at what point do you want to bail out or change your mind.

Kahneman, noted that most people — even the very wealthy people — are extremely loss averse.

“There is a limit to how much money they’re willing to put at risk,” Kahneman said. “You ask, ‘How much fortune are you willing to lose?’ Quite frequently you get something on the order of 10%.”

 

Investment Solution

The investment solution is for people to “have two portfolios — one is the risky portfolio and one is a much safer portfolio,” Kahneman explained. The two portfolios are managed separately, and people get results on each of the portfolios separately.

“That was a way that we thought we could help people be comfortable with the amount of risk that they are taking,” he said.

In effect this places a barrier between the money that the client wants to protect and the money the client is willing to take risk on.

Kahneman added that one of the portfolios will always be doing better than market — either the safer one or the risky one.

“[That] gives some people sense of accomplishment there,” he said. “But mainly it’s this idea of using risk to the level you’re comfortable. That turns out to not be a lot, even for very wealthy people.”

 

I would note a few important points:

  1. The allocation between the safe and return seeking portfolio should not be determined by risk profile and age alone. By way of example, the allocation should be based primarily on investment goals and the client’s other assets/source of income.
  2. The allocation over time between the two portfolios should not be changed based on a naïve glide path.
  3. There is an ability to tactically allocate between the two portfolios. This should be done to take advantage of market conditions and within a framework of increasing the probability of meeting a Client’s investment objectives / goals.
  4. The “safer portfolio” should look more like an annuity. This means it should be invested along the lines that it will likely meet an individual’s cashflow / income replacement objectives in retirement e.g. a portfolio of cash is not a safe portfolio in the context of delivering sufficient replacement income in retirement.

 

Robust investment solutions, particularly those designed as retirement solutions need to display Flexicurity.   They need to provide security in generating sufficient replacement income in retirement and yet offer flexibility in meeting other investment objectives e.g. bequests.  They also need to be cost effective.

The concepts and approaches outlined above need to be considered and implemented in any modern-day investment solution that assists clients in achieving their investment goals.

Such consideration will assist in reducing the risk of clients adjusting their investment strategies at inappropriate times because of regret and the increased fear that comes with market volatility.

Being more goal focussed, rather than return focused, will help in getting investors through the ups and downs of market cycles. A two-portfolio investment approach may well assist in this regard as well.

 

Happy investing.

 

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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.