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How to plan your post-retirement portfolio

Managing post-retirement portfolios is all about meticulous planning. Here are the steps you need to take.

You must have worked hard to build a robust retirement nest for yourself. Now, it’s perhaps the time to convert it into monthly paychecks. The big question is how to manage your retirement portfolio in a way that the corpus outlasts your lifetime.

It is about finding the right balance between extracting too much in terms of "income" versus being able to withdraw so little that your lifestyle is compromised significantly. Managing post-retirement portfolios is all about meticulous planning. Here are the steps:

Transfer systematically 

Few years before retirement, financial advisors usually recommend transferring a part of riskier assets into debt-oriented funds. This is because the equity portfolio is volatile in the short-term and cannot be relied upon for providing near-term income. Such transfers can happen through a Systematic Transfer Plan (STP) – which reduces the risk of timing the market. 

Post-retirement, start looking at your portfolio in five-year buckets – that is part of the portfolio that will be needed in the next five years and those beyond it. Ensure you invest the money required over the next five years in debt funds while continuing to invest the rest of the portfolio in equities and other assets. 

Allocate smartly among assets 

Don’t shun equities altogether just because you have retired. After retiring at 65 years, Indians can expect to live for another 25-30 years in general. And that’s a long time period to take exposure in equities. You need equities in your retirement portfolio since its higher expected returns (11% p.a. as of 2021) has the potential to beat inflation (trending between 5%-6% p.a as of 2021) and generate wealth for your retirement income. 

How an equity exposure extends retirement income? Let's understand it with this case of three individuals – A, B and C each having a retirement portfolio worth Rs 1.5 crore. Their annual expenses are Rs 6 lakh a year and all managed to save 25 times that amount as the target retirement nest. 

Now after retirement, ‘A’ adopts a conservative approach and invests his entire retirement kitty into a debt portfolio. ‘B’ in turn invests 20% in equities, while the rest is put into debt instruments. ‘C’ invests 50% in equities, while the other half is invested in debt instruments. 

Post-retirement, start looking at your portfolio in five-year buckets – that is part of the portfolio that will be needed in the next five years and those beyond it.

Usually, the recommended drawdown rate is 4% in the first year and it keeps increasing to keep pace with inflation (more on it later). By resorting to such a drawdown, we find that A’s portfolio would last for about 24 years, while it is 28 years for and 35 years for ‘C’.

Higher exposure to equities increased the portfolio value of ‘C’ over the years thereby helping him reap income benefits for a longer time. For the sake of calculations, 11% annual returns were assumed for pure equity portfolios and 6% for pure debt portfolios. 

 

However, it needs to be mentioned that very high equity exposure can also dent one’s portfolio especially if there is a bear market in the initial years. It reduces the principal which in turn directly impacts the compounding effect that a retiree depends on for sustainability. 

It is popularly known as the sequence risk - the danger of timing of the withdrawals affecting the investor’s return. In the above example, if the initial five years had witnessed a 5% decline every year, C’s portfolio would have lasted only 18 years instead of 35 years. This is despite the fact that the equity portfolio does the ‘catching’ up later.

Emphasise the safety of your corpus

The 4% drawdown rate suggests that you can withdraw 4% of your retirement portfolio in the first year. The 4% figure is adjusted for inflation. So, if inflation is expected to be 6% on an average, one increases the drawdown rate to 4.24% (adding 6% to 4%) in the second year and so on. These rates are only a rough guide. By being flexible and open, you can improve the chances of your portfolio outlasting your lifetime. How is that?

A JP Morgan study titled ‘ Breaking the 4% rule” found that calibrating withdrawal rates and bond exposure based on investor’s age, wealth, lifetime income and risk profile reduced the risk of either exhausting portfolio assets too soon or amassing substantial amounts of wealth that will go unused. It suggested actively responding to withdrawal rates based on the market environment and individual retirement situation.

Safety is paramount. It is desirable to leave behind some wealth rather than face a situation of a depleted retirement kitty.  Approach a financial advisor who will customize your portfolio based on your age, portfolio value and market conditions at various points in time. 

Takeaway

Don’t ignore equities even after you retire. Adjust drawdown rates based on your individual retirement situation to improve the chances of your retirement nest outlasting your lifetime.

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