A key finding by the Australian Productivity Commission is that “Well-designed life-cycle products can produce benefits greater than or equivalent to single-strategy balanced products, while better addressing sequencing risk for members.
There are also good prospects for further personalisation of life-cycle products that will better match them to diverse member needs, which would require funds to collect and use more information on their members.
Some current MySuper life-cycle products shift members into lower-risk assets too early in their working lives, which will not be in the interests of most members.”
This is one of many findings from of the 2018 Australian Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Superannuation: Assessing Efficiency and Competitiveness.
Mysuper is a default option in Australia, similar to the Default Options by Kiwisaver providers in New Zealand and around the world.
The above findings are from the Section 4, Are Members needs being met, of the report (pg 238). This section, 4.3, Are products meeting people’s needs over their working life?, focuses on Life Cycle Funds. (Lifecycle Funds are often referred to as target-date funds in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. They are popular in the US, accounting for 25% of their saving for retirement assets, and growing.)
Life cycle Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement.
Section 4.3 concludes “the Commission now recognises the value of well-designed MySuper life-cycle products, and the potentially significant gains that could arise from further personalisation.”
As covered in the report, they highlight that the poorer products currently on offer “requires some cleaning.”
Two areas of Section 4.3 are of interest to me.
The relative attractiveness of Lifecycle Funds
The report covers the varying views on Lifecycle Funds.
On this the Commission notes that the underperformance of some Lifecycle Funds does not “repudiate the principle of varying the management of risk as a person ages.”
Importantly, the “costs and benefits of life-cycle products depend on their design and on the characteristics of fund members (for example, the size of their balance).”
They note “the determinant of the variation between life-cycle products is the glide path from growth to defensive assets as the member ages”
“The lowest average retirement balances occur for life-cycle products with accelerated transitions to defensive assets as the member ages.”
As noted by several submissions, Lifecycle Funds can provide better outcomes if they maintain a higher growth allocation in the earlier years of saving for retirement. They also offer additional benefits in market downturns, particularly closer to retirement, they produce less poor outcomes than a standard single-strategy product, such as a Balanced Fund i.e. they manage sequencing risk better.
The criticism of Lifecycle Funds is often associated with poor design, as covered in this Post.
Increased Customisation of the Investment Solution
It is important to appreciate that not one investment product can meet all investor’s needs. It does not make sense for a 29 year old and a 50 year to be in the same Default Fund.
This is an attractive feature of Lifecycle Fund offerings, they can be more tailored to the investor.
Specifically, they can be tailored for more than just age, such as Balance size, and this can in the majority of cases result in better outcomes for those saving for retirement. As outlined in this research article by Rice Warner. Tailored investment solutions boost retirement savings outcomes.
On this point the Commission’s Report notes “There is significant scope for more personalised MySuper products”…
Specifically there is the scope to customise the investment strategy of Lifecycle Funds beyond age.
The report outlined a submission that observed that “… data and technology provide the opportunity for giant advancements in the design of personalised lifecycle strategies. Such strategies could account for: age, balance, contribution rate (which entails non-contribution due to career breaks etc), gender, expected returns, [and] risk.”
“Ultimately, individualised product design could also take into account other member characteristics, such as household assets, income from any partner and the potential capacity to extend a working life if there are adverse asset price shocks.”
The following two submissions in relation to Lifecycle Funds by David Bell and Aaron Minney are well worth reading for those wanting a greater understanding and appreciation of broader topics associated with Lifecycle Funds.
These submissions are also well worth reading by those interested in designing effective investment solutions for those saving for retirement.
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