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A question of guarantees

Should advisers be giving greater consideration to the use of guaranteed products when making retirement planning decisions?

Peter Carter
Peter Carter, Product marketing director, Metlife

The key challenge when making retirement planning decisions is quite simply making sure the client gets the right income for them. Taking a dogmatic position for or against a particular product should not be allowed to get in the way of that central aim.

Guaranteed pension and bond products do not suit everyone. Those who want the maximum possible income at retirement should probably avoid them while those who have a high tolerance for risk should also steer clear. However, for most other clients, guaranteed products have a major role to play in helping achieve retirement planning aims.

The retirement planning market has been transformed in the past five years and will continue to evolve as legislation scrapping compulsory annuitisation at age 75 and default retirement ages takes effect. Legislation aside, the market has to change. The switch to defined-contribution pension schemes means there will be more people with bigger pension ’The combination of legislative and societal change makes a compelling case for more innovation and flexibility in the market’ funds seeking greater choice on how they use their retirement savings to secure retirement income.

The combination of legislative and societal change makes a compelling case for increased innovation and flexibility in the UK retirement market. The traditional annuity and drawdown options remain valid but other solutions should be considered.

There is always a case for unit-linked guarantees on pensions and bonds for more cautious clients as without guarantees, customers are exposed directly to downturns in the stockmarket. When markets recover, it makes sense to lock in gains along the way, particularly for clients who are close to retiring and cannot afford sudden losses.

Someone investing £500 a month for 25 years can expect a pension pot of £407,000 but if they suffered a 20 per cent market fall five years before retirement would need to increase contributions to £1,531 a month. If the same 20 per cent drop happened in the first five years of saving, contributions must rise by only £55.51 a month.

Guaranteed products ensure investors always get a minimum amount back while having the potential to lock-in returns on their investments. They can be used in investments such as bonds or to save for retirement and also once clients have retired and want an income from their money.

Advisers know they have to look at all potential solutions to ensure that clients receive the best possible retirement income. Guaranteed products are firmly established in the mainstream of retirement planning and ignoring them should not be a consideration.

Danny Cox
Danny Cox, Head of advice, Hargreaves Lansdown

The arguments for guaranteed products are compelling. There is no doubt that a product or fund which offers some of the performance of the stockmarket without the downside risk is attractive to clients and advisers alike.

However, guaranteed products do not have the greatest history. With-profits offered guarantees through reversionary bonuses but I am not convinced they have worked for the majority of investors for about 10 years. With-profits used to work well until insurers started to chase more clients by offering bigger bonuses, bigger guarantees and higher equity content in their funds. It is telling the numbers of with-profits providers who now benchmark their performance against cash rather than managed funds as they used to even when equity contents have been as high as 90 per cent in some cases.

Looking at other examples, ’We have seen more than one high-profile guaranteed pro-vider withdraw from the market and this does not inspire confidence’those of a certain age will remember in the late nineties there were a variety of funds with so-called ratchet systems periodically locking in growth to protect the downside. Unfortunately, many performed as the system sounded, failing to grow when the market did and consequently locking in very little. More recently, we have seen more than one high-profile guaranteed product provider withdraw from the market, short order product revamps and, in some cases, a toning down of guarantees. This does not inspire confidence. Furthermore, of those providers still active, there is a high price to pay for the guarantees, typically 1 per cent on top of other charges and any commission/adviser remuneration.

With-profits aside, there is little market data to help advisers make informed decisions on these products. In part, you have to question whether any of them do or have worked if they had, we would have marketing departments shouting how wonderful they are. It might simply be that they have not been around long enough, but this lack of (and expensive) choice, combined with little evidence of a successful track record makes it hard to find these products appealing. Either way, I do not have confidence that clients will not simply experience mediocrity for a high price.

Perhaps a better solution is for clients to contrive their own more flexible “guaranteed” structure keep 80 per cent of their money in cash the guaranteed bit and invest the balance. This avoids the high costs and provides far greater investment choice. When and if the market produces the right products, I will be happy to look again.


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There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Julian Stevens 10th May 2011 at 9:54 am

    Legislation scrapping compulsory annuitisation by no later than age 75 is all very well, but if the link with GAD annuity rates remains, then is it really of any great value? As long as that shackle remains, third way retirement income products will continue to be complicated, mostly expensive and of limited perceived value.

    What are really needed are easy-to-understand, value-for-money retirement income products such as one designed to utilise the whole fund over the remaining lifetime of the retiree with an insured element against early fund burn-out. The problem, of course, is just how much the insured element will cost and much of that will depend on insurers’ confidence in the likely performance of their product’s underlying fund/s. But it surely has to be worth striving towards, as the present state of affairs is clearly unsatisfactory. All IMHO, of course.

  2. I posted a response which I can’t be bothered to re-write because as is often the case with typing a long response when I pressed submit, I got this answer… and lost what I’d typed.
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    We have a “bad” link that has been moved or removed.
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  3. You also need to consider the fact that the guarantees are little better than a used car warranty. If you read the policy conditions, there are just as many clauses allowing the provider to renage on the guarantee or reprice whilst the client is locked in.

  4. David Trenner - Intelligent Pensions 11th May 2011 at 10:45 am

    Peter’s example of a 20% crash is a little misleading. The (unstated) assumed growth rate includes any crash during the 25 year period as well as any boom. In addition the monthly contributions will benefit from pound cost averaging.

    Unit linked guarantees were offered by both the Hartford and Sun Life Financial, and both withdrew from the market.

    Guarantees are expensive and most clients will get better value by paying an IFA to monitor both their funds and their cashflow requirements.

    An IFA who sees a unit linked guarantee as a protection against a client complaint if markets fall is putting his own needs before those of the client. (And no need to mention the commission offered by these products!)

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