A key risk faced by SMSF retirees is sequencing risk as the order and timing of investment returns can have a significant impact on account balances and the ability to meet future cashflow.
This risk is attributed to the regular cashflow that must be drawn from an SMSF in pension phase, of at least the minimum pension requirement.
This means trustees face a trade-off between a long term consideration of investing in growth assets to maximise the SMSF balance, and a short term consideration of meeting regular cashflow requirements.
The SMSF cashflow strategy addresses three key goals SMSF retirees are looking to achieve:
- Regular cashflow
- Free up capital for long term growth opportunities, and
- Maximise upside potential while controlling downside risk.
Investing in growth assets, like equities, can provide the potential for greater long-term returns leading to higher balances and income in retirement. However it could also mean increased volatility and the risk of significant falls in capital values. Market swings present a particular risk for retirees. Poor returns at the start of retirement when balances are at their highest can have a significant impact on retirement savings.
A strategy which secures cashflow for a period of time, using an investment which pays a regular income over the period, provides the Trustee with greater confidence that the SMSFs future cashflow requirements for the period will be met. In particular minimum pension payments so the fund can claim tax exempt income. This also helps to protect growth assets from needing to be drawn down on during the period, reducing sequencing risk.
The SMSF cashflow strategy can be considered as a three bucket approach to separate cashflow from the market linked investment portfolio.
Figure 1 – SMSF cashflow strategy
1. the first bucket is typically the SMSF’s bank account and is used to cover current day-to-day spending requirements;
2. the second bucket needs to provide cashflow to cover outflows for a reasonable period of time, to protect against sequencing risk; and
3. the SMSF’s remaining assets in the third bucket can be invested for longer-term growth, ideally protected from being drawn upon over the short term, or in a market downturn.
Consider a two member SMSF with members Janet and Scott - both aged 65. Janet and Scott each have $500,000 in an account-based pension. The minimum pension requirement in the SMSF is 5% of the fund balance or $50,000 this year. The SMSF is currently invested in a 50/50 growth and defensive portfolio.
After reviewing their cashflow goals Janet and Scott decide that over the next seven years they would like to ensure that the SMSF can make pension payments of $50,000 per year increasing each year with inflation.
To do this they would like to compare their current strategy with that of the SMSF cashflow strategy for a period of seven years. As illustrated in Figure 2, the SMSF cashflow strategy invests in a RCV0 fixed term annuity which pays the SMSF $50,000 per year for seven years1 , increasing each year with inflation. The total asset allocation at the start is kept similar to their current mix by increasing the growth allocation within the growth portfolio to 85%.
Figure 2: SMSF Strategy cashflow vs Current strategy
|Strategy comparison using a term of 7 years|
|Cashflow bucket||Growth portfolio||Current strategy|
|Total asset mix at start||57% growth, 43% defensive||50% growth, 50% defensive|
|Investment in RC0 term annuity||33%||0%|
Guarantee cashflow in the SMSF
The minimum pension standards provide a reference for what the required cashflow from the SMSF needs to be. It is important pension payments are paid each financial year irrespective of how the fund’s investments are performing. If they are not the fund may not be eligible to claim exempt current pension income, and instead earnings may be entirely taxable.
It is important to recognise that income on market based investments, such as dividends on shares, are not guaranteed. With minimum pension requirements starting at 4% of the fund balance it is unlikely that such income will be sufficient without spending capital.
By analysing the outcomes based on 3,000 possible market scenarios we are able to test how often Janet and Scott would be required to draw on capital invested in the market to fund cashflow over the seven year period. The results of that analysis is summarised in Figure 3, and highlights that there is a high risk that the income from their current strategy would be insufficient to cover cashflow requirements. Janet and Scott would have to draw on capital invested in the market in 88% of the years tested2. On average capital was required in 6.2 of the 7 years.
Figure 3: SMSF Strategy cashflow results
Using the SMSF cashflow strategy Janet and Scott were able to secure their cashflow requirements over the seven year period. The income from their investments would meet the cashflow requirements in each of the 7 years illustrated. They can have confidence that growth assets will not need to be drawn on to fund short term cashflow needs, even in times of market volatility.
The regular income produced by the strategy can be used to meet the fund’s cashflow requirements giving the trustees peace of mind. This disciplined approach to funding cashflow allows Janet and Scott to focus on long term investing. Irrespective of day to day market fluctuations, investment buy and sell decisions can be made without the risk of short term thinking overriding long term strategy.
Free up capital for long term growth opportunities
The freedom for SMSF trustees to invest in a wide range of assets opens up growth opportunities when short term liquidity and cashflow considerations are removed. Investing over a long time horizon allows the fund to take advantage of illiquid and growth assets that may be expected to achieve higher returns over the long term compared to investments suited to a shorter time horizon.
In particular the use of an RCV0 fixed term annuity secures cashflow using the minimum amount of capital compared to other more capital intensive options such as a series of term deposits. An RCV0 fixed term annuity has no residual capital value, the focus is entirely on providing a regular cashflow for a fixed period by combining both capital and interest in payments.
Using the cashflow strategy Jane and Scott will invest 33% of fund assets to secure the cashflow over the 7 year term. They invest the remaining $667,828 in assets in a portfolio with 85% growth assets. Whilst this increases their overall growth/defensive asset mix by 7% (from 50% to 57%) it is still broadly in line with current asset allocation, and they are comfortable with this.
The RCV0 term annuity will decrease in value over the term because both capital and interest are repaid to the fund. Janet and Scott decide to allow for the portfolio asset mix to rebalance over the term back to a balanced strategy at the end of year seven. This can be seen in Figure 4 below which shows the SMSF balance over the 7 year term based on fixed assumptions3.
Figure 4: SMSF Strategy cashflow balance and asset allocation
Maximise upside potential while controlling downside risk
In many cases SMSF Trustees are faced with a trade-off between risk and return in achieving their objectives of maximising the fund balance but also ensuring cashflow requirements will be met.
The SMSF cashflow strategy can help improve the upside potential of the SMSF balance because assets can be held to achieve their full potential capital gains over a period. The downside risk is controlled because even in periods of market volatility capital does not need to be drawn on, losses are not locked in and assets have time to recover.
Making portfolio allocation decisions based on risk measures allows trustees to consider the impact of a strategy under a range of market scenarios. We analysed the outcome of the SMSF balance at the end of year seven across the 3,000 future market scenarios. We found that the SMSF cashflow strategy increased the potential upside of the SMSF balance, while controlling downside risk.
Figure 5 illustrates that looking at the top 5th percentile of outcomes the SMSF balance under the cashflow strategy was nearly 7% higher than the current strategy. At the median outcome (the middle outcome across all scenarios) the balance was almost 3% higher and even in the bottom 5th percentile outcome the downside risk was controlled, with the SMSF cashflow strategy leading to no material change in the SMSF balance at the end of year seven compared to the current strategy.
Figure 5: SMSF Strategy cashflow upside potential and downside risk
1Purchase of a Challenger guaranteed term annuity for a term of 7 years by an SMSF, full CPI indexation, purchase price $332,172 at 14 July 2017.
2Stress testing uses 3,000 Willis Towers Watson market scenarios for CPI, growth and defensive asset class total returns and yields, assume growth investment fee of 0.5% and defensive fee of 0.3%.
3 CPI of 2.5%, Defensive: capital growth of 0% p.a., income of 3.4% p.a., Growth: capital growth of 2.1% p.a., income of 4.6% p.a., net of fees.