Financial Climate Change – And the Risks are with You!

The impending global pension crisis is well known, the numbers are staggering, and will worsen dramatically from here unless something is done.

Nevertheless, the well-known demographic problem is only one third of the story.

Increasingly the risks of the pension shortfall are residing squarely with the individual, who typically lack the time and expertise required to make such complex financial decisions. Furthermore, there is a lack of appropriate investment products to meet post-retirement challenges.

Addressing the retirement savings gap requires several responses. For the individual, more sophisticated and robust investment solutions and greater tailoring of the investment advice is required.

New Zealand is not immune from these global trends. Appropriately, the lack of post-retirement investment solutions in New Zealand has been identified and has had increased coverage recently.

To my mind, not just in New Zealand but globally, Goals Based Investment solutions with a focus on delivering a more stable level of income in retirement are a fundamental part of the retirement solution. Importantly, the investment knowledge and capabilities are available now to meet the challenges ahead.

 

The global savings gap is highlighted in the infographic from Raconteur, which illuminates a growing problem attached to an aging population.

As this article by Visual Capital highlights, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that the combined retirement savings gap, for the following eight major countries: Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Japan, India, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is growing at $28 billion every 24 hours!

“The WEF says the deficit is growing by $28 billion every 24 hours – and if nothing is done to slow the growth rate, the deficit will reach $400 trillion by 2050…..”

The size of the global retirement savings gap is very well presented in the Raconteur infographic

As we know, we are all living longer, “life expectancy has risen by three years per decade since the 1940s”……. “The population of retirees globally is expected to grow from 1.5 billion to 2.1 billion between 2017-2050, while the number of workers for each retiree is expected to halve from eight to four over the same timeframe.”

As noted in the article, the WEF has made clear that the situation is not trivial, likening the scenario to “financial climate change”

 

In short, this is a major issue that needs to be addressed, and with a high degree of urgency, otherwise the effects are likely to be overwhelming.

This is not just a global issue, but also here in New Zealand.

The range of initiatives include raising the retirement age and likely cuts to benefits.

Specially for the individual, more sophisticated and tailored investment solutions are required. Goals Based investment solutions to be specific.

 

But wait, there is more!

Research by EDHEC Risk Institute builds on the view provided above. As they note, the three pillars of the retirement savings system are under duress.

The first pillar is the State/Government pension, as noted above. Nevertheless, this is only a third of the story.

The Second and Third Pillars are as follows.

The Second Pillar is the shift globally from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to Defined Contribution (DC) e.g. Super Funds, Retirement Accounts, KiwiSaver. This shift takes the risk of delivering retirement income from the employer to the employee. Under a DC scheme the investment decision has been squarely placed with the individual. A default option is often provided if no investment decision has been made.

The Third Pillar is the growth of private savings, given the erosion of the above two Pillars. This is for those that can make additional savings and for those in retirement. Quite obviously the investment decision(s) rest with the individual, who typically lack the time and expertise required to make such complex financial decisions.

The key point with the Third Pillar is the lack of investment solutions globally to appropriately provide a secure and sustainable level of replacement income in retirement.

As EDHEC highlight:

Insurance companies, asset managers and investment banks offer a variety of so-called retirement products such as annuities and target date funds, but they hardly provide a satisfactory answer to the need for retirement investment solutions. Annuities lack flexibility and have no upside potential, and target date funds have no focus on securing minimum levels of replacement income.

 

The Solution

Luckily, there are appropriate investment solutions to help address the growing retirement shortfall.

Goals Based Investment solutions can help address the shortcomings of both Pillar Two and Three.

This Blog is filled with Posts on Goals Based Investing and the short comings of many Target Date Funds. For New Zealand readers I have outlined what a Goals Based investment solution would look like as a Default Fund option within Kiwisaver.

To recap, the modern day investment solution requires “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.  #EDHEC

The focus on generating replacement income in retirement should be considered during the accumulation phase.

The concept of Goals Based Investment solution is not radical, the investment frameworks, techniques, and approaches are currently available. The implementation of which can be easily handled by any credible fixed interest team.

Goals Based Investment solutions have been shown to increase the likelihood of reaching retirement income objectives. They also achieve this with a more efficient allocation of capital. This additional capital could be used for current consumption or invested into growth assets to potentially fund a higher standard of living in retirement, or used for other investment goals e.g. endowments and legacies.

Lastly, Goals-Based Investment strategies provides a better framework in which to access the risk of not meeting your 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

Risk Measure of Wealth Management

Risk is not the volatility of your investment portfolio, or volatility of returns, risk is determined by your investment goals.

This is the view of Nobel laureate Professor Robert Merton. Such an assessment of risk also underpins many Goals-Based wealth management solutions.

More robust investment solutions are developed when the focus on risk moves beyond variations of returns and volatility of capital. The key risk is failure to meet your investment objectives.

 

The finance industry, many financial advisors and academics express risk as the variation in returns and capital, as measured by the standard deviation of returns, or variance.

Nevertheless, clients often see risk as the likelihood of not attaining their investment goals.

The traditional financial planning approach is to understand client’s goals, then ask questions to determine risk tolerance, which then leads to advising a client to adopt a portfolio that has a mean expected return and standard deviation corresponding to the Client’s risk appetite.  Standard deviation of returns, variation in capital, becomes the measure of risk.

 

Nevertheless, a different discussion with clients on their goals will likely result in a different investment solution. It will also improve the relationship between the Client and the Advisor.

Such a discussion will lead to more individualised advice and a better understanding of the choices being made. Clients will be in a better place to understand the impacts of their choices and the probability of achieving their goals. It will be more explicit to them in making trade-offs between playing it safe and taking risks to achieve their investment goals.

A goals based approach provides a more intuitive, transparent, and understandable planning approach.

Ultimately it leads to a more robust portfolio for the Client where information from the goals-based discussion can be mapped to a specific range of portfolios.

It is also a dynamic process, where portfolios can be updated and changed on new discussions and information. The process can adapt for multiple-goals over multiple time periods.

This is in stark contrast to the single period single objective, static portfolio traditionally implemented based on risk appetite.

There is also a strong foundation in Behaviour Economics supporting the Goals-Based investment approach.

 

I have covered Merton’s view in previous Posts, so please don’t accuse me of confirmation bias!

Merton’s views on risk is also well presented in a 2016 i3 Invest article in Australia, Risk is determined by Investment goal.

“Risk is not simply expressed as the volatility of your invested assets, but is determined by your ultimate goal, according to Nobel laureate Robert Merton.”

 

The i3 article provides an example on how your goal determines to a large degree what your risk-free asset is.

The goal provides a starting point for determining:

  • how far removed you are from achieving your objectives; and
  • importantly, how much risk you need to take to have a chance of meeting these objectives.

 

“If you had as your goal to pay your (Australian dollar) tax bill in a year from now, then what is the safe asset for you?”

“It would be an Australian dollar, one year, zero coupon, Australian Treasury Bill that matures in one year. That would be the sure thing.”

 

As the i3 article mentions Merton has criticised the idea that superannuation is a pot of money, instead of a basis for generating an income stream.

Merton argues that there should be greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement and we need to stop looking at account balances and variations in account balances. Instead, we should focus on the income that can potentially be generated in retirement from the investment portfolio, pot of money.

 

This is not a radical idea, this is looking at the system in the same way as Defined Benefit Funds did, the “old” style funds before the now “modern” defined contributions fund (where the individual takes on all the investment risk).  Defined contributions funds focus on the size of the pot.  The size of the superannuation pot (Kiwisaver account balance) does not necessarily tell you the standard of living that can be supported in retirement.  This is Merton’s critical point.

 

A greater focus on income is aligned with goals-based investment approach.

As Merton’s explains, if we accept we should focus on income, targeting sufficient replacement income in retirement, the development of a comprehensive income product in retirement is not difficult. He concludes, “This doesn’t require the smartest scientist in Australia to solve this problem. We know how to do it, we just need to go out and do it,”.

 

As noted above I have previously Posted on Merton’s retirement income views. The material from these Posts comes from a Podcast between Steve Chen, of NewRetirement, and Professor Merton. The Podcast is 90 minutes in length and full of great conversation about retirement income. Well worth listening to.

 

For those wanting a greater understanding of Merton’s views and rationale please see:

  1. What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth
  2. Is variability of retirement income a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital? – What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Behavioural Drivers of Wealth Management

Underpinning The Regret Proof Portfolio and Best Portfolio Does not Mean Optimal Portfolio is, amongst a number of things, Behavioural Economics.

 

A recent paper A New Approach to Goals-Based Wealth Management published in the Journal of Investment Management (JOIM), provides a very comprehensive framework for a Goals-Based Wealth Management approach.

 

Behavioural Economics forms the foundations of Goals-Based Wealth Management.

 

As the JOIM Paper notes “Traditionally, the financial industry, financial advisors, and academics in finance have associated the notion of “risk” with the standard deviation of an investor’s portfolio. Investors, on the other hand, typically associate “risk” with the likelihood of not attaining their goals.”

This is important from the perspective of client communications: “In traditional financial planning, advisors look to understand what an investor’s goals are, then they ask questions designed to determine the investor’s tolerance for portfolio standard deviation, which leads to advising the investor to adopt a portfolio that has a mean and standard deviation corresponding to the investor’s risk appetite”

Goals-Based Wealth Management is defined “as a process that focuses on helping investors realize their goals, both short-term and long-term,..”

Behavioural Economics comes into play by “using language and ideas that are more natural for investors” in determining appropriate investment goals.

 

Behavioural Economics Foundations

The JOIM Paper provides a very good overview of the behavioural economics that forms the foundations of their Goals-Based Wealth Management Investment solution.

Inputs comes from the:

  1. pioneering and very influential academic literature on Behavioural Economics
  2. growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management

 

Richard Thaler’s work, who is a 2017 Nobel prize winner for his contribution to Behavioural Economics, provides a central pillar to the Goals-Based Wealth Management solution outlined in the JOIM Paper.

Thaler’s worked on the “endowment effect”, which is the asymmetric valuation of assets by individuals.  Namely, individuals value items more when they own them as opposed to when they do not.

This is related to loss aversion in Prospect Theory. Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains.  Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.  Loss aversion was first identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

 

Mental accounting theory is also a significant contribution from Thaler and it is also an essential foundation for Goals-Based Wealth Management.

Mental accounting is where people treat money with different risk-return preference, depending on what use the money is to be put to. It is a way of keeping track of our money related transactions.

From a practical perspective, mental accounting helps elicit investors goals, and is “facilitated by breaking down overall portfolio goals into sub-portfolio goals using the ideas of mental accounts, where different goals are managed in different accounts, each aggregating into the overall portfolio.”

 

Lastly the JOIM Paper notes the work undertaken that developed Behavioural Portfolio Theory.  This theory postulates that investors behave as if they have multiple mental accounts. “Each mental account portfolio has varying levels of aspiration, depending on the goals for the mental account.  These ideas naturally lead to portfolio optimization where investors are goal-seeking (aspirational), while remaining concerned about downside risk in the light of their goals. Rather than trade-off risk versus return, investors trade off goals versus safety…”.

 

Practitioner’s Perspective

The JOIM Paper also notes the growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management.

Specifically, they reference three major contributions:

Nevins advocates a goal-orientated approach to help investors deal with biases such as overconfidence, hindsight bias, and overreaction.   Nevins’ work extended the mental accounting approach. He also argues that traditional investment planning fails to recognize investor’s behavioural preferences and biases.

Contributions by Zwecher, complements Nevins, he argues that risk management can be “done more actively and efficiently by demonstrating how a retirement portfolio that provides income, generates growth, and protects assets from disasters, can be created by adopting a bucketing (mental accounting) approach.”

Research undertaken by Brunel discussed the equal importance of two goals for an investor: being able to avoid nightmares while realizing dreams. “Brunel’s work focussed on demonstrating how goals-based wealth management can be achieved across multiple time horizons for multiple life goals. He also suggested how to map the language customers use in describing the importance of dreams or the severity of nightmares into acceptable probabilities that the investor will realize such dreams or avoid such nightmares.”

 

In short, Practitioners have recognized the need for a goals-based approach.

The premise is, if customers can better articulate and discuss their goals, including safety, then they are able to work with Practitioners to build more robust investment solutions that are better designed to meet their aspirations and investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

One Year Anniversary

Kiwi Investor Blog is one year old.

My top three articles for the year would be:

Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Endowments and Sovereign wealth Funds lead the way in building robust investment portfolios in meeting a wide range of challenging investment objectives.   This Post covers this and amongst other things, what true diversification is, it is not having more and more asset classes, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. A lot can be learnt from how Endowments construct portfolios, take a long term view, and seek to match their client’s liability profile. Although fees are important, an overriding focus on fees may be detrimental to building a robust portfolio and in meeting client investment objectives.

 

A Robust Framework for generating Retirement Income

This Post builds on the Post above and looks at an investment framework for individuals, developed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and their Partners. It is a Goal Based Investment framework with a focus on capital value but also delivering a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

The monkey paw of Target Date Funds (be careful what you wish for)

This Post emphasises the need to focus on generating a stable and secure level of replacement income in retirement as an investment goal and highlights the approach that is required to achieve this. Such an approach would greatly enhance the outcomes of Target Date Funds. This Post also references the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton around having a greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure of investment risk, as it is more aligned with investment objectives, unlike the volatility of capital or standard deviation of returns.

 

Kiwi Investor blog has covered many topics over the year, including the value of active management, the shocking state of the investment management industry globally, Responsible Investing, the high cost of index funds and being out of the market.

Of these, recent research into the failure of the 4% rule in almost all markets worldwide is well worth highlighting.

 

Kiwi Investor Blog has a primary focus on topics associated with building more robust portfolios and investment solutions.

The Blog has highlighted the research of EDHEC-Risk Institute throughout the year. EDHEC draw on the concept of Flexicurity. This is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching investment decisions. This is surely a desirable goal and the hallmark of a robust investment portfolio. The knowledge is available to achieve this and the framework and rationale is covered in the Posts above.

Flexicure is my word of 2018.

 

I don’t think the Uber moment has been reached in the investment management industry yet. Technology will be very important, but so too will be the underlying investment solution. The investment solution needs to be more tailored to an individual’s investment objectives.

As outlined in the Posts highlighted above, the framework for the investment solution has emerging and is developing.

It is a goal based investment solution, more closely tailored to an individual’s investment aspirations, so as to provide a more secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

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.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance useful again

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.  See EDHEC-Risk Institute.

 

Annuities, although providing security, can be costly, they represent an irreversible investment decision, and often cannot contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives. Also, Annuities do not provide any upside potential.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement.  Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.  In short, as outlined by EDHEC-Risk, modern day Target Date Funds “provide flexibility but no security because of their lack of focus on generating minimum levels of replacement income in retirement.”

 

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products do.

 

EDHEC offers a number enhancements to improve the outcomes of current investment products.

 

One such approach, and central to improving investment outcomes for the current generic Target Date Funds (TDF), is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a TDF.  Such an enhancement would also eliminate the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement.

 

From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a TDF 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 with a TDF can be improved by being employed to better 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

The techniques and approaches are available and should be more readily used in developing a second generation of TDF (which can be accessed in some jurisdictions already).

This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. With this knowledge it would help make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

 

For a better understanding of current crisis of global pension industry and introduction to Flexicure see this short EDHEC video and their very accessible research paper introducing_flexicure_gbi_retirement_solutions_1.

 

This is my last Post of the year.

Flexicure, is my word of the year! Hopefully, we will hear this being used further in relation to more Robust Investment Portfolios, particularly those promoted as Retirement Solutions.

As you know, my blog this year has had a heavy focus on retirement solutions and has drawn upon the analysis and framework of EDHEC-Risk Institute.

In addition, the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton have been important, particularly around placing a greater emphasis on replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure for investment risk for those investing for retirement.

I have also noted the limitation of Target Date Funds and how these can be improved e.g. with the introduction of Alternatives.

Nevertheless, the greatest enhancement would come from implementing a more targeted cashflow and income matching portfolio within the conservative allocations as discussed above.

 

Wishing you all the best for the festive season and a prosperous New Year.

 

 

Happy investing.

 

#MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

#flexicure

#goalbasedinvesting

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

 

 

For those with a real focus on retirement income solutions

Great to see EDHEC pick up on my recent post on Target Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds).  Monkey Claw – be careful what you wish for.

I have considerable appreciation for EDHEC’s approach to applying goal-based investing principles to the retirement problem.  This makes a lot of sense given my insurance (liability backing) investing background.

Their focus on the need for more robust retirement solutions based on Goal Based Investing is so critical.

 

EDHEC’s and the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton, as outlined in my previous Posts of focusing on income and the volatility of income, are important concepts that will have an immediate and lasting contribution and impact on the ongoing shape of retirement solutions.

As EDHEC outlines, we need investment solutions that provide the certainty of Annuities but with more flexibility.  This is the industry challenge.  

 

EDHEC’s and Merton’s work, analysis, and insights have an important and fundamental contribution to the building of more robust retirement solutions that should be considered by anyone working in this area.

 

Happy investing.

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

The monkey paw of Target Date Funds (be careful what you wish for)

I have written previously about the short comings of Target Date Funds (TDF). They would certainly benefit from the inclusion of Alternative investment strategies.

Nevertheless, this is not to dismiss them. TDF have some notable advantages e.g. they have an inbuilt advice model. TDF automatically de-risk the portfolio with the age of the investor by down weighting the equity allocation and increasing the allocation to cash and fixed interest. This is attractive to those who are unable to afford investment advice or are not interested in seeking investment advice.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand their short comings 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.”

Locally, TDF have also been raised as a possible addition to the KiwiSaver landscape as a Default Fund option. They are very much part of the investment landscape in Australia.

 

In my mind TDF don’t address the inherit weaknesses of current investment products that overly simplify the retirement investment solution by focusing on:

  • Accumulated wealth as the primary goal; and a
  • Formulaic (prescribed) approach of adjusting allocations to equities over the period up to retirement based on age.

 

TDF may not be the investment solution that addresses key retirement issues, just as Annuities are also not the solution.   Arguably, TDF don’t have an investment objective.

A more goal orientated investment approach is required.

Improvements in the investment solution and a more robust portfolio can be developed by engaging in a more goal orientated investment approach that:

  • Has a focus on the generation of retirement income as an investment goal; and
  • Employs a more sophisticated cash and fixed interest solution that generates a more stable level of retirement income (much like insurance companies employ to meet future liabilities (insurance claims).

 

The investment knowledge is available now to implement these investment solution enhancements.

This new approach will bring more rigor to the investment strategy and a move away from rules of thumbs such as the 4% Rule and adjusting the equity allocation based on age alone.

 

At the centre of a more robust approach is the focussing on the generation of retirement income.

Accumulated wealth is important, you can say you are rich with a million-dollar investment portfolio.

However, this million-dollars does not tell you the standard of living you may be able to support in retirement. Some may well say a very good one! And that may well depend on whether you live in Auckland or Gore.

How about the volatility of income in retirement?

By way of example, prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) a New Zealand investor could get 7-8% on cash at the bank, lets say $70k in income on your million dollar investment.

Current term deposit rates are around 3.5%, that’s a 50% fall in income!! And interest rates have been at these levels for some time and if the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is right they will continue to remain at these levels for some time.

 

Of course, these issues are not the concern of the ultra-wealthy. They are nevertheless vitally important for the less wealthy. They could have a detrimental impact on the standard of living in retirement for many people.

Furthermore, with an income focus, as interest rates rise (they will some day!) more informed investment decisions can be made and importantly investment strategies can be undertaken to help minimise the volatility of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, we should not just focus on the generation of retirement income as the investment goal but also consider how we can manage the volatility of income in retirement. As I say, the knowledge to do this is already available.

 

I have recently written a Post on why focus on Income and one on why focus on the volatility of Income.

 

This FT article on the short comings of TDF may be of interest.

 

The article highlights the risk to the industry.

 

The following section of the FT article is most relevant to the discussion above:

…….. “This underscores the importance of crafting investment products that generate sustained income for retirees, says Lionel Martellini, a professor at Edhec currently seconded to Princeton.

Prof Martellini says the key shortcoming with target date funds the group has identified is the fact that the bond allocation, intended to be the safe portion of the portfolio, is often risky. This risk hinges on the fact that bond portfolios offer — but do not guarantee — income, according to the researchers.

The fixed income allocation should look more like an annuity, Prof Martellini says, a financial product that pays a steady stream of income to the holder. But it must avoid the pitfalls of annuities, namely a lack of flexibility that means they cannot be passed on to a next of kin, for example.

“That’s what we’re talking about — a bond portfolio that is a good proxy for the cash flow that people need. Such a simple move will add a large benefit to how much replacement income you can generate,” Prof Martellini says. Critics say target date funds fail to achieve this because their fixed income portfolios are composed of short-term bonds that are beholden to market risks and do not take into account retirees’ different income expectations.” ………………..

 

The final comments are consistent with the point made above with having a more sophisticated cash and fixed interest investment solution.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

Please see my Disclosure Statement