• Bruce Cameron

Hybrid annuities: Retirement fund defaults may be the cheaper options

Those retirement funds offering default annuities, which include the hybrid option, are probably offering you the best retirement option, particularly if you have not saved enough for retirement.

A hybrid annuity attempts to mix the best outcomes from an investment-linked living annuity (living annuity), where you take the risks, and a with-profit smoothed guaranteed annuity where a life assurance company takes most of the risks. Hybrids can use inflation, fixed or with profit annuities. Research has, however, shown that new with-profit options, targeting inflationary increases, are more optimal for use in hybrids.

John Anderson, who heads research at Alexander Forbes, says that if an annuity (living, guaranteed or hybrid) is offered by your employer-sponsored retirement fund as default, your costs will definitely be lower.

And depending on the composition of your living annuity and the underlying guaranteed with-profits annuity you can reduce costs significantly.

Anderson says the lower costs are a result of government intervention and retirement funds being able to use their group purchasing power to negotiate better fees to benefit you.

One example is the Alexander Forbes default living annuity options. The passive funds cost a lot less than active funds. Alexander Forbes also uses an institutionally priced unit trust for the funds underlying the with-profit annuity in their hybrid. Other examples are where PPS and Sygnia use passively managed funds underlying the with-profit annuity in their hybrids, reducing the costs further. Typically, charges, as set out in a document by National Treasury overall, could be around 2.5% a year – and in some cases, costs can be even more than this.

With the new default options, the overall costs are far lower than this, with savings of up to 2% per annum. This could translate to pensioners extending their income for up to four years more before reaching a “point of ruin”.

On March 1, 2019 was the last year a number of defaults for retirement funds were put into place by National Treasury. One of these defaults was on an annuity (pension) strategy.

The government has said your retirement fund may select a pension for you. It is what is called a “soft” option. You do not have to take it up. You must agree to the default by selecting it in writing from the full range of available pensions from an outside commercial provider or any other annuity provided by your fund.

With the default, you are allowed to take up any option you like from the range of investment-linked living annuity (living annuity); or a guaranteed annuity of any type, from a level annuity to one linked to inflation, or a with-profit annuity.

Retirement fund members need to receive retirement benefit counselling on annuity choices before they retire.

You will not be charged for this counselling, which is paid for by your fund and at a minimum takes place six months before you retire. The benefit counselling is provided by your fund or a retirement fund administrator.

The annuity can be offered by your fund (an in-fund annuity) or by an assurance company or a Linked Investment Services Provider (Lisp) (an out-of-fund annuity).

The government wants pensions to offer reduced costs and make the choices appropriate and transparent. The pension funds regulator, the Financial Standards Conduct Authority (FSCA), is about to finalise a draft Code of Standards for Defaults on both living annuities and with-profit guaranteed annuity policies. Many of the standards have already been accepted and introduced in default portfolios.