Longevity and sequencing risk: using alternative investments to address pre- and post-retirement issues

Investors often have competing needs from their investments - the need to build wealth through attractive return potential and the need to avoid losses by lowering risks. Balancing these needs through alternative investing can offer potential solutions for investors.

Aug 6, 2017 | Walter Davis and Ashley O'Connor

Investing in financial markets requires investors to balance return and risk, short-term and long-term goals, and cyclical and structural factors. To do so effectively, investors must also balance the human emotions of greed and fear. Greed drives investors’ desire to build wealth by seeking investments with attractive return potential, while fear drives investors’ desire to avoid losses by investing in low risk investments.

These two emotions are particularly acute for individual investors who have identified (and become emotionally attached to) a specific goal for their savings, be it retirement, funding a college education or buying a house. In such situations, investors want to ensure they generate attractive returns on their investments so they have sufficient wealth to fund the event, while at the same time avoiding damaging losses that could permanently impair their ability to do so. This issue is even more complicated for investors seeking to provide for a comfortable retirement, given the significant variables involved (such as the unknown duration of retirement and highly variable expenses) and the potentially devastating consequences of failure to achieve the goal.

This challenge is not limited to individual investors. Institutional investors, such as defined contribution pension plans, defined benefit pension plans, insurance companies and government-sponsored retirement plans, all face a similar dilemma. In many cases, these investors have plans that are underfunded and need to generate strong returns to meet future liabilities, while at the same time avoiding losses that would undermine their ability to do so.

In technical terms, the two primary risks that these individual and institutional investors face are longevity risk and sequencing risk. Translated, longevity risk is the risk of living longer than your savings last, while sequencing risk is the risk of large negative returns occurring at a time that makes losses difficult to recoup.

The solution to longevity risk is to seek investments that offer attractive return potential in order to help build sufficient wealth to fund retirement. Conversely, the solution to sequencing risk is to seek stable, low-risk investments in order to avoid potentially devastating losses that could permanently impair the investor’s ability to fund retirement. The challenge for investors is to build a portfolio that balances these competing needs.

This paper explores the issues and challenges associated with longevity and sequencing risk, especially in the current market environment, and examine how alternative investments offer investors potential solutions for these risks.

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