informed decisions blog

Blog #53- Should I Have Life-Styling On My Pension Plans!?!

13th November 2017

Paddy Delaney

Welcome to Ireland’s #1 Finance Blog & Podcast. We are here to help you make informed decisions with your money…and ultimately to bring true Financial Planning to Ireland’s normal people!

This week we are taking a little peep into the magical world of Jimmy & Aggie… they have different views on life and money, and ultimately how they went their separate ways with regards their pension options, and how that panned out for each of them!

Aggie’s Story:

Aggie is in her mid-30’s, a sound woman by all accounts! She works as an Accountant in a medium sized law firm. She’s as happy as a trout in her job, and plans on working her way up the ladder over the next 10 years in the firm. Good on Aggie! When she met her now husband Jimmy it was like a scene from a Disney Movie…..sparks were flying…..they were married within 6 months. That was 7 years ago now, and in fairness their gut feeling was right…they’re having a ball!

Herself and her husband Jimmy have a wee baby girl, Jacinta, who is the centre of their universe at the minute! Even before Jacinta’s arrival Jimmy had been at Aggie to start stashing some of her disposable income instead of spending it on more ‘bloody cycling gear’ (they are big cycle fans ya know!).

Being the loving and responsible sort she has given in to Jimmy’s insistence and recently went to get some advice on getting herself a pension. Aside from Jimmy giving her the verbals about doing it she has read and noticed lots of articles and blogs about it over the last few years, generally scare-mongering her into doing one with headlines such as ‘start a pension of die a penniless and miserable oul widow’…none of which really gave her the nudge to do one!

She met with an advisor, a highly qualified professional, also in her 30’s. This advisor recommended that she should put in place the ‘life-styling’ option, which she was told will gradually move her funds from the ‘volatile shares portion’ of her pension pot to the ‘more stable bonds & cash funds’ as she gets nearer to retirement.

She is told that by the time she is 65 or so that 75% of the pot will be in ‘steady and secure’ cash while the other half will be in ‘volatile shares’. Ultimately the intention would be to protect the hard earned savings that Aggie would have built up by that stage.

This sounds like a great idea to Aggie, she has heard one or two stories over the years of people ‘losing’ their pension pot as they get near retiring because of a crash or recession & she ain’t a fan of that happening to her thanks very much!

Seeing this as sound advice Aggie duly accepts the recommendation and signs-up, starting off with a monthly payment of €300 to her PRSA. Based on the information that her advisor gave her when she gets to age 68 this should build up to about €200,000 after charges and accounting for the Lifestyling. As a result of reducing the % of your pot invested in funds which offer solid growth, it reduces your potential growth over time.

Fast forward 3o-odd years, Aggie and Jimmy are still blissfully married, their now 3 kids have grown up and left the nest educated and set up to go and do their thing! They are both eagerly anticipating their retirement and going to do all the things that they have been putting off for 30 years (you can see where this is going!!). Aggie has long dreamed of herself and Jimmy taking 6 months to cycle across America……a friend of hers did it a decade ago and she has been planning for it since. She reckons that trip alone is going to cost them in the region of €30,000, a fair chunk of her anticipated €50,000 tax free lump sum from her PRSA when she retires.

As luck would have it just as Aggie is turning 68 and about to cash in her pension pot the markets have a shocker…..a global financial crisis of 2007 proportions strikes….global equities fell in value by 50%. Luckily for Aggie only 10% of her total pension pot (€200,000) was sitting in an equity fund. It could have been an awful lot worse but because the bulk of her fund was in cash her fund value has only fallen by €10,000, from €200k to €190k, as she goes to retire.

At this point in time she is showering grateful blessings on the advisor she met all those years ago for recommending Life-styling. Had she not had Life-Styling she would have potentially still been fully invested in Equities, and therefore lost half of her total pot.

Aggie then takes her 25% tax free lump sum, squirrels the rest into an Approved Retirement Fund (Check this out if that means nothing to you!). With her €47k tax free lump sum she decides then to treat herself and Jimmy to a 1st class trip via Concorde (its 2058 now, Concorde has been reintroduced right!!) to the west coast of USA to begin their cycling adventures…..the rest is history!

On her return from the trip she decides to leave the fund 100% in ‘safe’ funds which offer no potential for growth but at the same time won’t fall in value…..

So Life-Styling did a great job for Aggie here, it saved her large cash-pile of €200k falling in value by a full half just as she was going to retire.

So What Were The Benefits & Not-So-Benefits Of Life-Styling On Her Pension?

  • It protected her fund from falling sharply in value as she was retiring (cashing it in)
  • It gave her peace of mind knowing that the funds were being ‘de-risked’ as time went by
  • It reduced the potential for growth in her pension pot as time went by
  • If she stays in these low volatility funds she will likely be losing money versus inflation over the course of her retired years.
  • She will be paying fees to be in funds which are unlikely to earn any real return for her

So Let’s Now Hear Jimmy’s Story!

Jimmy was always smart with his money, he was reared with a prudent approach to looking after his money and was a diligent saver from early on in his career. When he set up his pension in his early 20’s Jimmy decided to let the constant upward curve of the great companies of the world do their positive thing to his pension pot over the long term, and hence he decided to forego the Life-Styling option on his pension pot. He wanted to leave his funds exposed to the full power of a global equity fund over the long term. He was aware of the fact that volatility is your friend over the long term and so did not want to move the bulk of his money into cash funds as he got older.

Jimmy has been saving €300 into his PRSA since aged 25. Assuming the same annual growth rate as above, however this time without the impact of Life-Styling removing the potential benefit of growth, he will achieve a fund of €540k at age 68. (the power of starting early!!).

Like Aggie Jimmy is mad into the cycling. Loves it, however he doesn’t buy all the gear, he rides a 10 year old bike, wears the same 3 bib tights and top for the past 5 years, and services his bike once a year himself…..the ultimate prudent cyclist…he prefers to enjoy his holidays, experiences, and saves the rest…hence his saucy pension pot going on!

As with Aggie lets fast forward 30 years. Jimmy’s pot is worth a smoking hot €540k and he is licking his lips at the thought of the big 25% tax free lump sum of €135k…..and again because he is so prudent he is letting Aggie pay for the big US cycling trip…this money is to last him for another 30 years hopefully!

But of course, as you already are aware he suffers the same crash as Aggie (it’s the same time of course!). Aggie’s fund was well protected from the crash and the 50% equity fund falls however his wasn’t, he was 100% in global equity fund, so you guessed it his fund falls from €540k to €270k, yikes! Just as well Aggie is taking care of the US trip.

So what does Jimmy do now? Well he has options….he can leave the funds there and let them recover. And here is the kicker ladies and gentlemen…………the average period of time it takes the market to go from ‘very bottom’ (trough) to ‘very top’ (peak) over the last 23 bull/bear market cycles has been 1096 days, less than 3 years (based on our own calculations from Standard & Poors Corporation data).

This suggests that if Jimmy leaves the fund alone and lets Aggie look after things for a few years his €540k will be restored in full….and he can then go about taking his tax free lump sum and invest in his ARF/AMRF, and yes still continue to invest in the constant upward curve of the great companies of the world…happy days! Yes for sure it would have been a challenging time and one in which he would have had to resist the temptation to move his pot out of the rapidly declining equity funds and into the ‘secure’ cash fund, but that would have been the singly most financially costly mistake he would have made over his entire life, fact. Well done Jimmy for not doing that, for trusting the upward curve and for remaining optimistic.

The Benefits & Not-So-Benefits Of Not Having Life-Styling On His Pension?

  • It allowed his fund remain fully invested in the great companies of the world, accessing the growth they achieve over long term (good)
  • Allowing him move from working to retirement and the bulk of the funds remain in the same funds (good)
  • If the markets took longer to recover then he might need to access the funds, ultimately selling them at a low price (not good!)
  • He is exposed to the volatility, and the concern that that can cause an investor (not good if you can’t handle it!)
  • He is avoiding having to pay high fees for investing in cash funds (which will cost him lots!)

So what’s the moral of the story? Should I use Life-Styling on my pension funds? Should I remain invested in what are deemed to be high risk funds in my pension? Is Life-Styling a genuinely useful element on my pension and as part of my overall Financial Planning here in Ireland?

It really depends on your outlook, and on your capacity to ride the crash(es) when it/they hit. If you can do that then perhaps Life-Styling serves little of no purpose for you. In fact Life-Styling, while reducing your volatility as you approach retirement will potentially rob you of much of the gains to be had by investing in the first place….not forgetting that you will be paying in the region of 1-to-2% in fees each year just to be in the PRSA…so if you aren’t achieving at least that then you will be losing money anyway- never mind also beating inflation over the long term! To do all that you could be needing to earn in the region of 4% growth per year to thread water!

As always we believe those who work with a competent and effective financial advisor/coach can do it most effectively, can resist the urge to make knee-jerk decisions based on temporary declines in equity values….in the history of the market all declines have been temporary, and that’s another fact!

So if you plan to embark on an adventure of a life-time like Aggie & Jimmy did then make sure you know what number your current pension is likely to give you, and if Life-Styling is something which you believe will aid you or hinder you in getting to enjoy that adventure.

Thanks so much for reading.

Paddy Delaney

QFA | RPA | APA | Qualified Coach

P.S: Thanks so much to Devined5 for our latest iTunes Review…….he/she called it a ‘super informative investment podcast’………….thanks so much Devined5. If you would like to support us then an iTunes Review is a great way to do so….just follow this link

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