Despite a recovering housing market and recent record highs in the S&P 500, market volatility and lingering fears from the 2008 financial crisis seem to be pushing many retirement-minded workers towards historically high investments in guaranteed income products. In fact, 78 percent of workers now prefer guaranteed products to those with higher growth potential and the possibility of loss, according to a recent poll by Allianz.
Likewise, only 28 percent of respondents said they are “comfortable with current market conditions,” and 80 percent cited fear of market uncertainty as the main reason for their preference for guaranteed sources of income. When asked how they would invest extra money for retirement, only 11 percent said they would put the cash towards a product with “high growth potential and no protection from loss.”
Aside from market volatility, the end-of-career transition from wealth accumulation to cautious spending and saving could be a cause. “I believe we’re seeing a change in mindset,” said Danny Brock of Brock Financial Consultants. “People looking at retirement have gone through their accumulation years when they took greater risks, and now they’re realizing they’re not going to have that same income. They can’t rely on as many volatile assets.” At a time when people are living longer than ever, pensions have gone by the wayside, and workers are still expecting to retire before 70, building a reliable nest egg is more important than ever.
Still, heightened fears of running out of retirement assets aren’t necessarily spurring strategy changes among seasoned advisors. “We haven’t changed out method of asset allocation, but we’ve certainly taken a more deliberate approach to helping people through retirement income planning,” said James Nichols, Head of Retirement Income and Advice Strategy at Voya Financial.
“Strategies like using guaranteed income to cover your essential needs have always been useful, and customers are more ready to embrace this approach in more recent years.” Added Brock. “Our retiree clients have always been primarily worried about wealth preservation, not wealth accumulation.” Now, with the combination of a financial crisis and unprecedentedly long retirements, clients are simply more receptive to conservative advice.
As for specific financial products, “We like fixed annuities, Roth IRAs, single premium life and indexed or whole life insurance,” said Brock. “I also like dependable income sources like bonds and mutual funds,” Nichols added. “Whatever you choose, you also need to factor liquidity and tax considerations into the equation.”
Also, many advisors agree Social Security should be considered a guaranteed asset, even if it covers only a small portion of a family’s living expenses. “Some people might exclude it because they’re concerned about future viability, but our default is to include it,” said Nichols. “The real challenge for near retirees is better understanding how to optimize their Social Security election.” For those who can afford to draw down other assets first, delaying collection can drastically increase lifetime benefits – particularly for married retirees who live decades into retirement.
When speaking with pre-retiree clients whose portfolios are still heavy on non-guaranteed income sources, Nichols highlights the inherent difficulty of reaping returns from market-based assets. “All advisors should be able to remind people that you have to be right twice when you time the market,” he said. “You’ve got to buy at the right time and sell at the right time. Before you take those risks, you want to think about having a guaranteed safety net.” While more volatile assets may provide the greatest opportunities for growth, today’s decades-long retirements all but require a greater reliance on products that can weather the market’s inevitable ups and downs.