Tag Archives: Australia

Retirement income covenant considerations for Australia’s superannuation system

The riddle of the superannuation system is that the needs of workers saving for retirement are relatively simple while the needs of retirees are incredibly complex. Those saving for retirement want to generate the highest long-term investment returns within certain tolerances for risk. Retirees want to generate the highest lifetime income possible with both certainty and flexibility.

Super fund trustees will soon need to balance these competing objectives thanks to a proposed Retirement Income Covenant. This covenant will codify their requirements and obligations to improve retirement outcomes for members.

The challenge for super fund trustees centres on Comprehensive Income Products for Retirement. Funds must take care in constructing a retirement income strategy, especially one that focusses on the “collective needs of members” as described in the covenant position paper.

To read more about the challenges facing trustees as they begin to grapple with the proposed Retirement Income Covenant, see this article by Milliman’s Jeff Gebler and Adam Shao.

Surprising new research reveals the majority of Australian retirees spend less than the Government Age Pension

More than half of Australian retirees are spending less than the Age Pension each year, raising significant questions about current retirement policy and super fund strategies, according to new research. The research suggests mandatory and voluntary measures to boost super funds may not be enough to produce improved retirement lifestyles without a deeper understanding of the motivations driving retiree behaviour. Milliman’s Jeff Gebler offers perspective in this article.

Super funds need a balanced view of investment returns and risk

Lower investment return targets on top of higher investment risk can create disengaged investors in Australia’s superannuation industry. In this article, Milliman’s Michael Armitage offers perspective on how super funds can “pursue more innovative strategies to match risk and return to suit different groups” to meet the needs of individual investors.

Here’s an excerpt:

Older members and those with larger balances, who are more sensitive to risk (both volatility and maximum drawdown), need special attention.

Rather than automatically reduce investment return targets or increase investment risk, some funds are exploring alternative options beyond 70:30 style default funds. No single approach is perfect, but whatever strategies are chosen, they should ultimately increase the probability that members meet real (not assumed) goals.

The Future Fund may be a unique example (no members and no inflows), but it has taken a far more absolute return approach than typical super funds–even with the knowledge that government could start drawing down funds from 2020. Similarly, some super funds are taking a greater risk parity approach (that goes deeper than simply gearing up bonds) by focusing on the amount of risk in each portfolio allocation rather than the specific dollar amounts invested.

Maritime Super has also recognised the role of risk–last year, it applied a futures-based risk overlay (managed by Milliman) aimed at controlling extreme volatility and limiting capital losses to its default MySuper option. Its membership is older and has higher value balances than many other industry funds.

Other funds are now using futures to tilt their portfolio allocations based on relative valuations over the short term. This type of implementation management can potentially better manage risk and marginally improve returns.

These are just some of the innovations currently taking place as funds differentiate themselves and leave herding behaviour behind.

Is a comfortable retirement possible in the superannuation world?

The ASFA Retirement Standard states that an average Australian couple requires about A$640,000 in their superannuation fund at retirement (or AUD 545,000 for a single person) to live comfortably. According to Milliman’s Jeff Gebler and Wade Matterson, “The personalised nature of each superannuation member’s retirement journey means a one-size-fits-all approach simply cannot deliver the necessary information, products, and risk management strategies required to achieve everyone’s desired outcomes.”

In the article “Why the industry’s ‘comfortable retirement’ measures are wrong,” Gebler and Matterson discuss the need for enhanced benchmarks based on available data and communication strategies to deliver better financial outcomes that individuals can live with comfortably.

Superannuation could benefit from a shift in perspective

As Australia’s Baby Boomer generation continues to retire, the country’s superannuation system enters a drawdown stage. While super funds have focused on accumulation, new legislation will make it clear that their purpose is to provide retirees with income. Under that premise, Milliman’s Jeff Gebler explains why a new retirement consultant “with a new skill-set focused on the implications of drawdown” is needed.

The following excerpt highlights the necessary skill-set.

The modern retirement consultant will need to add and co-ordinate a broad mix of skills to meet the increasingly complex needs of the superannuation industry, including:

Actuarial

Funds have an increasing need for actuarial skills which can help them model member behaviour, changes in legislation and the impact of the Age Pension, risk management strategies, and post-retirement product design.

Data scientist

The business world is now awash with information thanks to advances in technology and affordability. The data scientist can analyse and turn this ‘big data’ into practical insights in areas such as membership, investments and risk.

Investment management

Funds and asset consultants have tended to focus on long-term returns generated during the accumulation phase. However, changing demographics and legislation suggest funds should increasingly focus on the risks of drawdown such as volatility and potential capital losses. With this comes an expanding list of relevant asset classes, many of which (such as derivatives) are traditionally beyond the expertise or depth of existing asset consultants.

Behavioural finance and communications

Funds need to design their products and services taking into account the behavioural tendencies of older investors. For example, financial literacy scores naturally decline by about one percentage point each year after age 60 while older investors are more prone to ‘loss aversion’ than younger investors.

Digital

Older investors are highly engaged with their super, including through digital channels. Automated-advice provider Decimal recently released research showing that older investors were the most active users of its enterprise financial advice service.

Managing Australians’ longevity and investment risks closer to retirement

Reducing an investor’s exposure to growth assets as retirement is approached is common. However, this strategy may increase the chance that an investor will outlive retirement savings. This is a predicament that many Australians face. In his article “Australia’s retirement challenge,” Milliman consultant Wade Matterson offers some perspective on how strategies employing derivatives can help Australians manage longevity and investment risks.