Australia’s retirement income ‘bulge’ requires urgent, comprehensive fix

Melissa Fuller

Melissa Fuller

Leading consultants to the financial services and superannuation sector Rice Warner has outlined the scale of the retirement incomes bulge facing Australia’s ageing population, its policymakers, superannuation funds and product manufacturers.

The next 15 years will see more Australians leaving or winding down from the workforce than entering it. On Rice Warner analysis, Australia’s ageing nation will comprise two million men and 2.3 million women in retirement drawing a pension from their superannuation savings by 2029.

This represents a shift to around 40 per cent (or $1.3 trillion – in 2014 dollars) of Australia’s retirement savings assets being converted to some form of retirement income stream. Currently that number sits at 30 per cent (or $492 billion of total superannuation assets) in today’s dollars.

At a personal level, many retirees will not have adequate savings for their retirement. Rice Warner’s latest Retirement Savings Gap research, commissioned by the Financial Services Council, measured (at 30 June 2013) a $727 billion savings gap. This is $67,000 per person less than the amount required for an ‘adequate’ retirement, which would pay retirees up to their life expectancy (more than 20 years).

Compounding this issue is longevity risk: half of Australia’s retirees will live well beyond their life expectancy age.

“It’s great we are all living longer, but the fact is too many retirees will simply run out of money and be forced back on the Age Pension,” said Rice Warner CEO Michael Rice, who has led Rice Warner’s many contributions to the Abbott government’s Financial System Inquiry (FSI), chaired by Mr David Murray.

The FSI’s recent interim report specifically mentions the issue of retirement savings policy, calling for solutions to the problem. “The picture of Australia’s retirement demographic ‘bulge’ is not new. But new ways are needed to address the underlying problems of adequacy, funding and product design – even the fundamental need to deliver people more choice, greater dignity and a better standard of living in retirement,” Mr Rice

“The problem represents a looming challenge requiring a comprehensive range of solutions from industry and government. Our own investigations show today there is not one Australian superannuation fund provider that has in place the right default retirement incomes package to meet the wave of retirees preparing to shift their super into pensions,” he said.

The Rice Warner Retirement Incomes Solution

Mr Rice said the current default option of the superannuation industry is to treat retirement income as handing over a lump sum payment to members when they retire.

“Superannuation fund members are currently given no default option for managing this lump sum. We believe there are better ways to approach this, and have devised what we think is the first comprehensive solution,” Mr Rice said.

Melissa Fuller, deputy CEO, Rice Warner and a leading advocate for the unique retirement savings needs of women in Australia, said the great anomaly is that Australia has a world class retirement savings system but “lags when it comes to an effective and comprehensive retirement incomes system.”

Ms Fuller said the Rice Warner Retirement Incomes Solution, which effectively takes into account the needs of members through the various phases of retirement, provides a comprehensive alternative.

“Rice Warner believes the essential solution is to separate the money needed for any lump sum at retirement and to invest the balance long-term to provide inflation and longevity protection,” Ms Fuller said.

“The account-based pension is converted to a distributing trust so members can derive income from stable fund earnings (and any tax refund from franking credits). Meanwhile, the capital would be projected to grow steadily in real terms. The risk of market volatility impacting the underlying assets is also reduced as the member is not spending his or her capital.

“We’ve received keen interest from some leading superannuation funds about implementing the Rice Warner Retirement Incomes Solution,” she said.

“Our thinking is based on many years of data and insight in this sector, and draws upon numerous submissions, research reports and intellectual property invested by our firm on behalf of clients and various government and independent inquiries held during that time,” she said.

‘We look forward to continuing our contribution to the debate in Australia, particularly as these issues become ever more prevalent in the future planning for the national interest.”

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