A combination of factors has created fertile ground for market volatility, resulting in a bumpy ride for super members, who have experienced six negative monthly returns over the past year.

According to SuperRatings, the median balanced option return for August was an estimated -0.5%, with the negative result driven by a fall in Australian and international shares. The median growth option, which has a higher exposure to growth assets like shares, fared worse, returning an estimated -0.9%.

In contrast, the median capital stable option, which includes a higher allocation to bonds and other defensive assets, performed more favourably with an estimated return of 0.3% (see table below).

Estimated accumulation returns (% p.a. to end of August 2019)

1 month 1 year 3 years 5 years 7 years 10 years
SR50 Growth (77-90) Index -0.9% 5.2% 8.8% 8.0% 10.2% 8.5%
SR50 Balanced (60-76) Index -0.5% 5.3% 8.0% 7.5% 9.2% 8.0%
SR50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 0.3% 5.3% 4.8% 4.8% 5.4% 5.7%

Source: SuperRatings

Investors were caught off guard in August as trade negotiations between the US and China broke down, while a range of geopolitical and market risks, including further signs of a slowing global economy, added to uncertainty.

In Australia, a disappointing GDP result for the June quarter revealed a domestic economy in a more fragile state than previously acknowledged. Action from the Reserve Bank to lower interest rates is expected to assist in stabilising markets but could be detrimental for savers and retirees who rely on interest income.

Pension products shared a similar fate in August, with the balanced pension option returning an estimated -0.6% over the month while the growth pension option returned an estimated -1.0% and the capital stable pension option was mostly flat with an estimated return of 0.3%. Long-term returns are still holding up well, with the median balanced option for accumulation members delivering 9.2% p.a. over the past seven years (in excess of the typical CPI + 3.0% target) and the median balanced pension option returning 10.2% p.a.

Estimated pension returns (% p.a. to end of August 2019)

1 month 1 year 3 years 5 years 7 years 10 years
SRP50 Growth (77-90) Index -1.0% 5.9% 9.9% 9.2% 11.5% 9.4%
SRP50 Balanced (60-76) Index -0.6% 6.2% 8.7% 8.0% 10.2% 8.8%
SRP50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 0.3% 6.2% 5.5% 5.5% 6.3% 6.4%

Source: SuperRatings

“There will always be negative months for super members, but the timing of negative returns can have a real impact on those entering the retirement phase,” said SuperRatings Executive Director Kirby Rappell.

“For members shifting their super savings to a pension product, a number of down months in relatively quick succession will mean they begin drawing down on a smaller pool of savings than they might have anticipated. As members get closer to retirement, it’s important that they review their risk tolerance to make sure they can retire even if the market takes a turn for the worse.”

As the chart below shows, down months in the latter part of 2018 took their toll on pension balances, although they were able to recover through 2019 to finish above their starting value by the end of August 2019.

Pension balance over 12 months to end August 2019*

Pension balance over 12 months to end August 2019
Source: SuperRatings
*Assumes a starting balance of $250,000 at the end of August 2018 and annual 5% drawdown applied monthly.

Comparing balanced and capital stable option performance shows that the balanced option suffered a greater drop but was able to bounce back relatively quickly. A starting balance of $250,000 fell to $232,951 over the four months to December 2018, before recovering to $252,091 at the end of August 2019.

In contrast, the capital stable option was able to better withstand the market fall, with a starting balance of $250,000 dropping to only $241,746 in December before rising back to $252,201.

While both performed similarly over the full 12-month period, a member retiring at December 2018 could have been over $8,500 worse off if they were in a balanced option compared to someone in a capital stable option. While a capital stable option is not expected to perform as well over longer periods, it will provide a smoother ride and may be an appropriate choice for those nearing retirement.

“Super fund returns have generally held up well under challenging conditions, but there’s no doubt this has been a challenging year for those entering retirement,” said Mr Rappell.

“Under these market conditions, timing plays a bigger role in determining your retirement outcome. At the same time interest rates are at record lows and moving lower, so the income generated for retirees and savers is less, particularly if someone is relying on interest from a bank account. In the current low rate and low return environment, it’s harder for retirees to generate capital growth and income.”

Leading research house and managed account provider Lonsec will work with financial advisers seeking to transition from conflicted advice models and introduce a greater degree of independence in their investment decisions.

Lonsec is offering to acquire in-house managed portfolios from advice licensees to enable them to take advantage of best practice governance principles and Lonsec’s experienced team of portfolio construction experts.

With a shift currently taking place in the advice industry in the wake of the Royal Commission into Financial Services, Lonsec said advisers are acutely aware of the need to present a professional, conflict-free advice environment for their clients.

“Advice models have come under a great deal of scrutiny by the Royal Commission as well as the regulators and the community,” said Lonsec CEO Charlie Haynes.

“The Royal Commission may have stopped short of a ban on vertically integrated or conflicted financial advice, but advisers know they need to start moving quickly in this direction to meet community expectations.”

While it is becoming increasingly unpalatable for licensees or advisers to charge portfolio management fees for in-house managed accounts, advisers are also cognisant of regulatory developments.

An empowered ASIC is investigating how platform providers ensure the integrity of managed accounts constructed by advice licensees who might lack the expertise or resources to act as specialist investment managers.

For many advisers, the question is how best to manage conflicts, either by outsourcing the portfolio construction process or introducing a greater degree of independence in their investment decisions.

Lonsec is proposing to acquire the investment management rights from existing managed account providers, enabling them to focus on the provision of advice without conflict.

Licensees have the flexibility to retain their existing branding, investment mandate and platform, or transition to Lonsec’s own professionally managed portfolios incorporating best ideas and insights from Australia’s leading investment product research house.

“An outsourced managed account solution is becoming increasingly popular, not just in order to reduce conflicts but to allow advisers to focus on their clients’ needs and aspirations while leaving the investment process to specialised portfolio managers,” said Mr Haynes.

With Australia’s economic expansion under threat, house prices falling, and a wave of people set to retire over the next decade, financial advisers are under pressure to provide advice and solutions that can withstand Australia’s future retirement challenges.

Lonsec’s Retire program addresses the growing need for the financial services industry to work together to come up with those solutions and strategies.

Lonsec has been running its successful Retire program for more than five years, and it continues to go from strength to strength. The schedule of content and events planned for the next 12 months is the largest yet, with nine Retire Partners now on board to deliver in-depth retirement insights, including:                          

Alliance Bernstein Fidelity      Legg Mason
Allianz Retire+  Invesco  Pendal
Challenger Investors Mutual  Talaria

Lonsec’s Retire Partners will be providing a wealth of content to help advisers understand and deal with a range of issues faced by advisers and their clients.

The program will really kick off on May 7th with the major Lonsec Symposium event at the Westin, Sydney. With more than 600 advisers and wealth managers already registered, along with an impressive line-up of high-profile speakers and industry leaders, this is a must-attend event for all retirement professionals.

Important information: Any express or implied rating or advice is limited to general advice, it doesn’t consider any personal needs, goals or objectives.  Before making any decision about financial products, consider whether it is personally appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. Obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product and seek professional personal advice before making any decisions regarding a financial product.