In fact, SMSFs have become so popular that today more than a million Australians have made the choice to chart their own course to retirement.
However, navigating the complex world of investment and staying afloat in a sea of compliance and regulation is tricky, particularly when there is political and policy uncertainty.
Then, there are the market fluctuations that need to be weathered. All of this puts the spotlight on the challenges faced by those who choose to self-manage their investment for retirement as head of an SMSF.
So, what can you do to steer your SMSF through the dual headwinds of policy and financial uncertainty, and chart a safe course to comfortable retirement?
1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, or two
While it may seem like common knowledge, according to data from ASIC, many Australian SMSFs are overexposed to local shares and cash, with about 30 per cent of the total holdings of SMSFs in domestic shares and 25 per cent in cash.
Given that Australia represents a small slice of the global share market, it’s reasonable to suggest that this doesn’t reflect a well-diversified holding. On top of this, a large share of SMSF investments are made in domestic property, with SMSFs investing more than $110 billion (collectively 15 per cent of total holdings) in both residential and non-residential property.
Other investments types, such as trusts, can give SMSFs the option to diversify away from shares and large direct investments in property. Of course, no one size fits all, and the best advice is always to discuss your options with a financial adviser so that you can build a diverse portfolio that will carry you through troubled waters and accelerate through calm seas.
2. Don’t set and forget
Policy changes and below average performance can have a significant, long term effect on the performance of your SMSF. By taking an active role in the management of your fund during the accumulation phase, you can respond to the changes in policy, or changes in the performance of the various asset classes much more readily.
We’re not talking about constantly having your eye in the looking glass. Monitoring your SMSF shouldn’t be a daily activity but certainly it’s not a set and forget for years on end either.
Talk through your options with your financial adviser, ask them questions about the policy frameworks that affect your investment choices, and discuss the short, medium and long-term performance of your asset choices.
Understanding your portfolio through regular review can also set you up to better respond to financial shocks. In the event of an adverse financial event, you need to know where your investments are, and how they will be affected.
With your hand on the tiller and your focus on your destination you will be much better placed to make the adjustments needed for a smooth journey and safe arrival.
3. Don’t wing it
While you will always need to respond actively to changes in policy and fluctuations in markets, you also need to set a course for your SMSF that reflects where you are now and where you want to go in terms of retirement savings. Think of your plan as the big picture chart that maps your refuelling stops and landing points along the way.
If you don’t have a map for the direction of your SMSF, then you can’t know when you have been blown off course, or if you remain headed in the right direction.
Here are a few basic tips to help with your planning:
- Get good advice. Find a financial planner who you can really talk to and who you feel understands your situation and goals very well. This doesn’t happen overnight. Get to know them; talk to others who work with them and make sure you like the ‘cut of their jib’.
- Set your goals together and focus intently on how you will make them happen. This takes time at the start but gets easier over time. And remember, a good goal is one that’s written down and which is measurable.
- Know your appetite for risk. What suits your friend, your partner, your neighbour may not be the way to go for you. Be honest – with yourself and your adviser – about how you want to approach investment risk. It’s also important to note that the returns you will look for, and your appetite for risk, will depend on your stage of working life. By discussing these factors with your financial advisers, you can develop the right plan for your SMSF, one that sets out fixed goals, but is responsive to the uncertainties you are bound to face.
- Don’t be afraid to re-set the compass. If you feel you’re getting blown off course or your goals change (we’re all human after all), then adjust your compass and set sail again. Coping with uncertainty is a challenge in every facet of life, and it can be particularly daunting when it involves your hard-earned money and planning for retirement.
However, with the right advice and the right strategy, it’s possible to sail smoothly towards a happy retirement with an SMSF. For more on navigating uncertainty, check out the lessons that can be learnt from instability in global markets or if you’re looking to diversify your portfolio, learn more about Trilogy’s investment opportunities.
*Any information provided by Trilogy is general information only and does not consider your objectives, financial situation, or needs.
Philip Ryan is managing director at Trilogy Funds.