Pensions Freedom

Have you heard about pensions freedom? Are you approaching retirement and thinking that this is excellent news, you can have your entire pension? Well you are right, but as ever there is a catch. You are free to self-destruct, it is your right to do so (and I’m not being patronising).

On the one hand freedom is good right? but with it comes responsibility (why do I sound like a Spiderman scriptwriter). By responsibility I mean, once you spend it, whether thats taking it as a lump sum or buyng an annuity or leaving it as a Flexible Access Drawdown pension, once it has gone – that’s it. Nothing left… except any other pension income you may have such as the State pension.v_for_vendetta

So this is all about knowing what you have and what you need. Something that no British Government has ever managed to get right for themselves, yet here we are, with new freedoms. So you have to figure out how long you will live to work out how much you can afford to take out each year. Actually rather more than that, you have to predict future inflation rates, mortality rates, investment returns and tax rates…. to name a few “elements”. Of course you could get a financial planner like me to help by doing some cashflow modelling and explaining the options and reviewing progress regularly or you could do it yourself.

Today I learned about a term called the IKEA effect. This is when we place a disproportianately high value on something that has been partially made us. Go on look it up. This is precisely what happens to DIY investors… that portfolio I built, its not bad. Actually the truth is rather different. I mean no disprect to IKEA or DIY investors. This is about a price-point in the market – what you can afford. Arguably you will have to live with both (furniture and your DIY portfolio) but your portfolio has to last your lifetime. I’m all for consumer empowerment and the removal of elist jargon and ivory towers, but information is not the same as experience or indeed knowledge. I wonder if you remember the John West tinned fish TV adverts? its the fish that John West rejects that make them the best. In other words, selection, some might call it curation – is vital.

Building the right portfolio to last for life is a fairly daunting challenge, for a few this isn’t going to be much of a problem, but for the vast majority of people it will be. Most people do not pay attention to the holdings in their ISAs or pensions. Most are in the funds or more likely single fund, that the adviser put them in when they started their pension. Little attention has been paid to assessing the level of contributions needed, frankly its more like lucky dip… and who can blame them! the jargon is a huge barrier, statements are fairly unclear and the rules keep changing, little wonder people don’t spend much time looking after one of their largest assets. Yet suddenly at the point of retirement, they are expecting to become investment experts. Whilst the Government may say that people should be trusted with their own money, thats fine if it relates to the straight-forward stuff of running a budget and basic banking, but when it comes to understanding asset allocation, volatility, sequencing risk, safe withdrawal rates, reductions in yield… well frankly its taxing even for the experts. Your pension is not a shelving unit from IKEA, its more like fitting a pace-maker, one that has to keep you going.

My advice is to get advice – don’t get sucked into short-term thinking and getting some degree of satisfaction from raiding your pension to show your displeasure with the pension company.  Certainly there are better pensions, but you really need to get sensible advice to explore your options properly. You wouldn’t build a house without architectural plans (I hope)… the same is true when it comes to designing a portfolio for life.