The Schwab IMPACT 2014 conference, held this month in Denver, Colorado, was attended by independent financial advisors from around the country. Much discussion centered on how to help clients achieve financial security during their retirement years. So how can potential retirees protect themselves from the volatile markets that can quickly erode a lifetime of savings? Milliman presented some new ideas for achieving sustainable retirement income for 401(k) participants, and with applications far beyond.
First, a strategy should address the risks. We believe the key to success centers around the effective management of three fundamental risks: market risk, inflation risk, and longevity risk. Downturns in the market can erode a portfolio, and the timing of those downturns can make a significant difference. Market declines early in retirement can combine with portfolio withdrawals in a toxic way, because money withdrawn is not available to rebound when the market recovers. Conventional wisdom tries to alleviate the volatility by diversifying into bonds, but bonds generally have limited inflation protection, and the portfolio can experience a loss of purchasing power over time. Retirees must withdraw less during the early years of their retirement in order to “pre-fund” the damaging effects of inflation in the future.
Milliman Financial Risk Management, LLC offers a financial risk management strategy that seeks to reduce downside equity exposure during volatile bear markets, while minimizing drag during stable rising markets. The compelling track record of this pioneering technique for some of the world’s largest financial institutions has set the stage for application to personal retirement accounts. Available in the form of mutual funds, collective funds, and separate accounts, this simple, transparent futures-based risk management approach provides volatility management with a capital protection strategy. Any of these products are suitable fund selections for a company’s 401(k) plan.
Generally, managed-risk equities are a more effective tool to control market and inflation risk relative to bonds. We are not suggesting moving completely out of bonds or shifting all assets into managed-risk equities, but rather an incremental change that develops over time. For example, diverting 50% to 75% of the equity allocation into a managed-risk strategy, instead of increasing the bond allocation as the time horizon shrinks, can significantly improve the Sharpe ratio (the amount of return per unit of risk) for a retiree’s account. The result is an increase in the amount of retirement income that can reliably be withdrawn from the account over the life of the participant.
Including managed-risk equities as fund selection in a company’s 401(k) plan delivers professional risk management techniques previously available only to large financial institutions to the individual 401(k) plan participant. This is Step 1.