Retirement Savers Need More Stocks

People are living longer, retiring later and failing to save early enough in their careers. As a result, Fidelity says those approaching retirement should up stock exposure

Adam Zoll 10 October, 2013 | 4:43PM
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Adam Zoll: For Morningstar, I'm Adam Zoll, and welcome to The Retirement Radar.

A major fund company has decided that people saving for retirement need to allocate more toward stocks. Here to discuss this and other trends involving retirement is Christine Benz, Morningstar's director of personal finance.

Christine, thanks for being here.

Christine Benz: Adam, great to be here.

Zoll: So, the fund company in question is Fidelity. They've decided to change their allocation to stocks in their target-date (pension fund) series. What can you tell us about the changes and how it compares to other fund companies' target-date series?

Benz: In some respects, Adam, Fidelity is really bringing its equity weightings in line with some of the other big shops. So, T. Rowe Price, for example, that's one of Morningstar's favourite target-date series providers, has long had a pretty heavy equity allocation relative to other target-date funds. Vanguard has historically been somewhere in the middle, but Fidelity's funds have been a little bit equity-light.

So, in the Fidelity 2020 Fund, for example, they will take the equity weighting up from 53% currently to 61% currently.

Zoll: So is this change just about keeping up with the other target-date series, or is there something else underlying that?

Benz: Something else. Fidelity pointed to a couple of specific things. One thing it looked at is the fact that people are staying retired much longer than they once did. The typical retirement is something like 30 years for many people. So, the higher equity allocation is justified, because people need that growth potential during so many years.

The other big factor is that a lot of the assumptions that Fidelity and other investment providers had been using revolved around an earlier starting date for the participant's savings. They were assuming that people would start saving in earnest once they were 22 and got that first job. Well, in reality what they saw when they looked at their participant data was that people really didn't begin saving in earnest until they were a little later in their career progression. So, maybe in the neighbourhood of 30 years.

Those two factors both convinced Fidelity to step up the equity weightings, and I would guess that they're probably looking at what lies ahead for fixed-income markets as well, and that the raw materials for good fixed-income returns just probably won't be there over the next decade or even more. So, Fidelity is upping the equity weightings probably to move the needle and probably to stay competitive with some other target-date offerings.

Zoll: Switching gears a little bit, a new study by Fidelity finds that there continues to be a significant gender gap in terms of who controls the household finances; things seem to be improving, but still women are lagging behind men in terms of household financial control, right?

Benz: That's right. Fidelity looked just not at who is controlling the household finances and making the decisions, but also at confidence in decision-making, and there too they found that gender gap, which we've seen in a lot of academic literature as well, where you tend to see men feeling more confident in their ability to make decisions about financial plans as well as retirement plans.

So in the case of this particular Fidelity study, 53% of the men surveyed said they had a high level of confidence in their own abilities to make financial- and retirement-planning decisions; just 45% of women said the same.

Zoll: Aside from the gender gap, there was also a generational gap, where baby boomer women seem to be more confident than their younger counterparts, right?

Benz: That's right. They looked specifically at that confidence level again, and what they found was that the baby boomer women were, in fact, more confident in their abilities to make good decisions for their households than the women who fall into the so-called Gen X and Gen Y age bands.

I think that this is probably to be expected. Some people may try to chalk it up to the fact that we've had a really challenging market environment, which may have squelched the confidence of the younger women. But I think a bigger issue may be just that as you progress in your life and have more life stages and more decision-making that you have to be involved in, you naturally do improve in confidence. So, I would expect to see the younger women, in fact, step up and probably grow confident in their own decision-making as the years go by.

One point I would make, though, is that it's really important for couples to try to stay current with what's going on in the household's financial plan. I often encounter couples where you've got one spouse--and it's not necessarily the female--but where you have one spouse who is the major financial decision-maker and who is, in fact, keeping control of all of the family's household paperwork.

That can create problems later in life, where you've got one spouse who is very plugged in, another spouse not so much. The problem is if the plugged-in spouse becomes disabled or even dies, then you are left with a spouse who really doesn't know what's going on. So, it's important, even if you're not your household's main decision-maker, to really communicate with your spouse to stay current with what's going on with your financial plan.

Zoll: Really important to be collaborative.

Benz: Exactly, and it will pay off in the long run.

Zoll: Another recent study that came out, this one from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that wealthier retirees had a bit more of a challenge in terms of replacing their income in retirement, and took a bit of a lifestyle hit.

Benz: That's right. So, even if they did manage to save a lot and come into retirement with what would seem to be a fairly ample nest egg, those people are more likely to feel poorer than perhaps their lower-income counterparts. So, EBRI pointed to a couple of factors behind this disconnect. One is that lower-income workers typically have a higher percentage of their income replaced by Social Security than the high-income workers. So, that's one factor.

The other factor is simply that it takes an awful lot, a terribly large portfolio, to generate, say, $100,000 in income. So, even if you are using the 4% rule to managing your retirement portfolio, you'd need a $2.5 million portfolio to generate $100,000 a year. So, a couple of factors were behind this particular wealth gap.

Zoll: What are some steps that high earners can take to try to avoid falling into this trap of not being able to maintain their lifestyle in retirement?

Benz: Well, certainly, the obvious answer is to start saving as early as you can and as aggressively as you can. But I think another key step that every pre-retiree should take is looking hard at that 80% rule for income replacement. It's often bandied about as a good starting point when doing retirement planning, but I think it really helps to drill into your specific situation. So, for a lot of retirees, they will no longer be saving for retirement. So, that's a big burden lifted right there. And then for a lot of retiree households, perhaps less than in the past, but they will have no mortgage in retirement as well. So the housing costs will be much, much less than they were while they were working.

Really spend time looking at your specific situation and monitoring the size of your portfolio along the way to see whether it's well-positioned to deliver the income that you think you're going to need during retirement. It's much better to do that exercise, not just a couple years before you hope to retire, but 10 years or even more before you hope to retire.

Zoll: Christine, thanks for joining us to share your insights on these and other retirement issues.

Benz: Adam, thank you.

Zoll: For Morningstar, I'm Adam Zoll. Thanks for watching.

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Adam Zoll  is an assistant site editor with, the sister site of

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