Different strategies to prevent capital erosion in living annuities

Adopting an aggressive investment strategy in retirement seems counter-intuitive. Picture: Pexels.com

Adopting an aggressive investment strategy in retirement seems counter-intuitive. Picture: Pexels.com

Published Oct 6, 2023


Adopting an aggressive investment strategy in retirement seems counter-intuitive. New actuarial modelling showed, however, that most living annuity investors need to consider higher equity exposure along with lower draw-down rates to avoid running out of money.

Applying a statistical process called “bootstrapping”, investment actuary Joao Frasco, a fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (Assa), simulated a wide range of investment returns drawn from 20-year historical data. According to Frasco, this approach creates a wide range of potential investment outcomes, including some that could have been much worse for investors than the actual returns observed over the past 20 years.

The purpose of this research was to investigate the probabilities of success for living annuity withdrawal rates ranging from 2.5% to 17.5% using different investment strategies, explained Frasco. He said that the focus of the research was not to determine a “safe” outcome, but rather to show how probabilities of success were influenced by choices of withdrawal rates and investment strategies over different periods and age groups.

Frasco produced thousands of simulations for a combination of variables for a living annuity investment. The aim was to understand the combination of withdrawal rate and investment strategy most likely to result in successful capital preservation over the time horizon appropriate for the pensioner.

The simulations were based on randomly drawn monthly real returns for the All Share Index (ALSI) as well as for an unnamed South African Multi Asset High Equity fund (maximum 75% exposure to equities), an SA Multi Asset Low Equity fund (maximum 40% exposure to equities), and the SA Interest Bearing Short-term fund (no equity exposure). These four investment options were chosen to show the results along the investment risk spectrum available to South African investors.

Frasco noted that returns simulated for the unit trust funds are net of manager fees but do not reflect adviser or platform costs. No allowance has been made for fees for ALSI returns. “To account for fees and taxes, investors and their advisers should increase the withdrawal rate by the corresponding percentage. If, for example, you wanted to make an allowance for a 0.5% adviser fee, you could simply increase the withdrawal rate by 0.5%.”

Frasco said his research covered periods up to 35 years to make it useful for people at the start of their retirement and periods as low as five years for the elderly. “While withdrawal rates of 10% are generally unsustainable for most living annuity investors irrespective of the investment strategy, this is not necessarily true for someone in his or her 80s and in poor health.”

Frasco found that the only living annuity investors who could avoid market volatility completely by opting for an interest-bearing fund were those with a five-year investment horizon. He adds, however, that this situation would only apply to an investor with a very short life expectancy.

Probability of success: 5 years

Frasco noted that over a five-year period, irrespective of the draw-down rate selected, a living annuity invested in an SA interest-bearing fund will not run out of money. There is a very small chance, however, that a living annuity investment with high equity exposure could fail if the withdrawal rate is higher than 15% because there is a chance of consecutive negative returns over shorter investment periods.

Probability of success: 10 years

According to Frasco, the outcomes change significantly if the investment period is extended to 10 years.

While the SA Interest Bearing Short Term fund has a 100% probability of success for withdrawal rates up to 10%, the success rate drops rapidly to only 3.2% for a withdrawal rate of 12.5%.

“A high equity investment, on the other hand, is likely to deliver a much higher probability of success. At a withdrawal rate of 12.5%, a high equity investment has a probability of success of between 86.8% and 95%. Investors would, however, have to stomach a fair amount of volatility, which is expected for high equity investments.”

Probability of success: 20 years

Frasco explained that over 20 years, a withdrawal rate of up to 5% is unlikely to erode the living annuity capital, irrespective of the investment approach. He says this is why withdrawal rates below 5% are considered sustainable in most cases.

However, as soon as the withdrawal rate is increased to 7.5%, the likely success rate drops to a mere 1.6% if the capital is invested only in an interest-bearing fund, while a high equity exposure comes with a 75% probability of success.

“This points towards the need for equity exposure for most investors looking to draw income at rates above 5%,” said Frasco.

Frasco said, however, that periods up to 35 years were modelled for investors considering retiring and investing their capital in a living annuity at younger ages. He added that the younger the investor, the more important the investment strategy because younger people have a longer life expectancy.

He said the highest probability of not running out of money for a living annuity investor with a time horizon of between 25 and 35 years would be maintaining a draw-down rate below 5%, with equity exposure of up to 75% (as offered by SA Multi Asset High Equity funds).

Frasco said he embarked on this research project mainly to provide financial advisers with the tools to have more meaningful retirement conversations with their clients.