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A Love-Hate Relationship with Annuities

By Karen Wentzel, 30 October 2019

Every financial product has advantages and disadvantages, benefits and costs.

For this reason, annuities are no stranger to the love-hate relationship in the financial world. Incorrect product advice and a misunderstanding about the features of annuities may lead to mixed emotions and different opinions, says Karen Wentzel, Head of Annuities at Sanlam Employee Benefits.

Annuities are split into two categories: guaranteed life and living annuities.

Guaranteed Life Annuities

For all life annuities, pensioners carry no longevity or investment risk, as initial pensions and increases are guaranteed for life, and will never decrease.

Pros of Guaranteed Life Annuities

  • Income for life. An annuity is a financial product sold by insurance companies that allows you to set aside money and then trigger a stream of future income payments. Annuities therefore provide an income stream that you cannot outlive. This is more than just a marketing phrase; this is a promise for life. Insurers pool all annuity customers together, and although your insurer does not know exactly when you will die, it has a fairly good estimation of your lifespan by using mortality tables. An income for life is a major plus for budgeting – you know exactly what you are going to get in advance.
  • Peace of mind for you and your family. Annuities can be tailored to meet specific family needs, for example, by providing a benefit that equals 75% of the income of the main member to a surviving spouse, or dependent child. Annuities give you and your family the peace of mind that no matter how long you may live, your payment stream will continue.
  • The road to financial independence. Guarantees reduce the need to rely on families, friends, charities and government to help make ends meet during retirement.
  • Releases you from the responsibility of making investment decisions. Insurers can invest in a wide range of assets. Not only do these insurers offer products with attractive returns that annuity holders could not access on their own, but they also release pensioners of the stress of having to make their own investment choices. This is especially important when cognitive ability starts to decrease during old age.

Cons of Guaranteed Life Annuities

  • The problem of not having enough retirement savings. Since the movement from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes, the reality of the retirement crisis is that only about 20% of members have sufficient savings to maintain their current standard of living. And the problem is getting worse. A large share of households may be forced to significantly reduce their consumption in retirement and will have to rely heavily on their families, charities and government to help make ends meet. Research shows that more than two-thirds of pensioners indicate they do not preserve their savings when changing jobs. No annuity product can fix the problem of insufficient income in retirement!
  • Nothing to inherit. Guaranteed annuities offer you an income for life, but no remaining capital is left as an inheritance or legacy in the event of your death after retirement.
  • Inflation risk. Although annuities provide an income for life that mostly increase annually, there is no guarantee that annuity increases will keep up with pensioner inflation. This includes a big portion of medical expenses which exceeds increases in CPI.

Living Annuities

Living annuities provide pensioners with an income from their retirement savings, offering flexible investment choices and withdrawal rates. In exchange for this flexibility, pensioners take on the risk that they may outlive their savings or experience poor investment returns (known as longevity and investment risk).

Pros of Living Annuities

  • Flexibility. Pensioners are allowed to make investment choices about the underlying assets in their portfolios, and can choose the annual withdrawal rates in a range of 2.5% to 17.5%.
  • You can leave an inheritance/legacy. The remaining capital is not lost in the event of death after retirement, and can be paid out to your nominated beneficiaries.

Cons of Living Annuities

  • The income is not for life. People who live longer than average are significantly at risk of running out of cash. Statistics indicate that people are living longer than expected, while there has also been a significant reduction in mortality over the last decade. Living longer leads to a rapid depletion of capital, and is currently the greatest risk for pensioners. Living annuities unfortunately offer no protection to those pensioners who may outlive their cash. Pensioners carry this risk on their own.
  • You are responsible for your retirement outcome. Living annuities do not only give pensioners more flexibility, but also more responsibility in making the correct investment decisions and withdrawal rates. This may be fine when you are 65, but it is not something you still want to worry about when you are 85.
Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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