Retirement is About More Than Money

Retirement looks different these days. And investors need to ask themselves some important questions, say David Blanchett and Don Ezra

Ruth Saldanha 10 June, 2021 | 9:49AM
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Bridge in Forest

In the past, life was divided into study-work-retirement. The average person would work for 40-odd years, and then retire, usually with a defined benefit pension, and enjoy their retirement. But the decimation of defined benefits, the rising focus of the gig economy, and the increase of average expectancy means this is no longer the reality for many workers.

It's a topic Morningstar Investment Management’s head of retirement research, David Blanchett and retirement author Don Ezra have been discussing for some time. 

Blanchett says the meaning of retirement has evolved, and advisers' role is now "helping an investor do what they want to do when they stop working". He thinks that advisers would be wise to embrace holistic retirement plans that go beyond investments, money and asset allocation, into lifestyle, health, and overall happiness. 

“Earlier [life] had three stages, Learn, Earn and Burn. But life is much more nuanced now. If you know at birth that you will live to 100, will you leave home at 18, and follow what was the ‘usual’ path, including into retirement?” Ezra asks. "Retirement is now more than money."

A wider array of possibilities come with an important need for retirees today to ask themselves three key questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How do I fill my time?
  • Will I outlive my money? 

From a financial perspective, investing for retirement may be about supporting the answers to the first two questions. But how much you will need in retirement depends on several factors – and a major one is when you will retire.

The global trend is towards people working longer, and the age is pushing higher. “My kids expect to work until 70, and it is not inconceivable that the next generation will work to 80,” Ezra quips.

Longer Lives, Longer Retirement

As people work longer, they’re also forced to fend for themselves when it comes to retirement savings, and that is where there could be a retirement crisis. Most retirees and pre-retirees do not believe there is a crisis right now, says Blanchett, but as we move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system, we could see a "mild" retirement crisis.

“Defined contribution plans are working, and research shows that those who have defined contribution plans do better, but what about those that don’t? And even those that do save, are they saving enough?” Blanchett asks. He points to the fact that investors are essentially irrational, and policymakers should step in to save them from themselves, almost.

And what after the savings come in? Where should retirees invest?

Equities and Retirees

77-year old Ezra points to his own circumstances to highlight how rules of thumb no longer hold. “Going by the 100-age rule, I should be invested 25% in equities, and I have almost three times that in equities,” he said. He keeps five-years’ worth of spending expenses in cash equivalent products, and the rest in equities.

“When the markets don't perform, I amortise [spread out] my spending,” he says, adding that as returns lower, he sees income being made up from dividends, and for most people, fixed income offers safety from volatility. 

While this might work for Ezra, for most investors, who are struggling to catch up to where they want to be in terms of a retirement portfolio, over-exposure to equities could be dangerous, Blanchett warns.

“People who try to ‘make up’ the shortfall in their retirement savings through equities could be in for a rude shock in case of market downturns,” Blanchett warns.The reason people believe equities are a magic bullet in the short term is because of their unrealistic return expectations.

The Problem with Historical Returns

Blanchett warns that advisers calculating future returns based on historical performance is not fair. While advisers will warn that past performance does not equal future returns, these simulations give investors an unrealistic idea of potential returns.

“Returns expectations have to be reasonable,” Blanchett insists. It's hard to show clients realistic pictures, and people want the best scenarios, he adds. It all comes down to advice. And that is where professionals have the opportunity to differentiate.

“The fact is that the investment side of things is commoditised. And most information, including portfolios, are online practically free. So advisers have to do more than just investments,” Blanchett says. 

He also points out that the value of advice is highest point around retirees and soon-to-be retirees, as this is when irrevocable choices are made around retirement.

Bonus: Self-evaluation for All

Ezra talks of the seven keys to "Life's Abundance" in retirement - family, friends, work, play, physical health, mental health and money.

Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feature for each? Go one at a time, and if you're happy with one score, move to the next. If the score is low for any one aspect, work on it,” he says, adding that this is a personal score, a self-evaluation tool that anyone can keep evaluating constantly to give you’re a gut-check on what’s important. 

“Money is important until it fulfills what you want. And then it doesn't matter. Look at money as survival vs thriving. When you are in the mode of survival, money = happiness. When you reach the mode of thriving, you begin the comparison. At the point of comparison, it takes a lot of money to move the needle to higher amounts of happiness,” Ezra says. 

 

 

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The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Ruth Saldanha

Ruth Saldanha  is Senior Editor, Morningstar.ca