What’s worse?

What’s worse?

When you finally get to retire from your pension fund or retirement annuity you are faced with a significant (and very important) choice about what kind of annuity you will purchase (with the compulsory portion of your fund).

Simply put, there are 2 choices: a conventional life annuity (through an insurance company) or a “newer” Living Annuity (usually through a unit trust company). The differences are explained below…

Life Annuity: you purchase an annuity from an insurance company and they guarantee to pay you the annuity until your death when the capital “disappears” i.e. it dies with you. You have the following life annuity choices:

  1. A single life annuity where the capital dies with you.
  2. An assured annuity where an insurance policy is purchased to pay out the capital on your death.
  3. A joint life annuity (with your spouse) where the annuity would cease on the death of the second annuitant (and the capital as well). This form of annuity is often structured so that annuity decreases by a third on the death of the first person (this allows for a greater initial income).
  4. Annuity rates change on a weekly basis (according to the prevailing interest rates) and quotes would have to be obtained at the time of purchase.

Note: Most quotes do not automatically show an escalating income and it is essential that there is an escalation on the income taken – you do not want to have the same income in 10+ year’s time!

Living Annuity: you purchase an annuity from a (linked product/UT) company and have to draw an income of at least 2.5% (huge.96.482469max 17.5%) from the capital. You take the risk in that the annuity is a function of the capital amount and if the capital is badly invested, or the income draw too high, you could erode your capital. The theory (and practice in my experience) is that as long as you have growth at a greater rate than the income drawn, you will get an ever increasing income. On your death, any remaining capital passes on to your beneficiaries who must use it to provide an income for themselves.

  • You can move from a living annuity to a life annuity if you ever change your mind, but you can’t move from a life annuity to a living annuity.

Over the years, Living Annuities have received a lot of bad press (sometimes rightly so) usually because the proverbial little old lady has “lost all her money” because the money was inappropriately invested – i.e. it was put into the “wrong” unit trust funds and/or she was taking much too much income and now the capital has been eroded…

To try to combat this, ASISA (Association of Savings and Investments in South Africa) has recently introduced a standard of good practise for Living Annuities. While this might go some way to try to improve the sale and management of living annuities, what amazes me is that they have still not done anything about life insurance companies that continue to sell/market the traditional life annuities that don’t have any inflation linked escalations on the income. In other words, with this kind of life annuity, if you live for 30 years after retiring, you will still be getting the same income as when you first retired. (* see note below)

6a00d8341c500653ef00e54f0f05ac8833-800wiMy question to ASISA (and the FSB) is this: what is worse, a badly invested living annuity or a traditional life annuity without any escalation on the income? Are they not essentially the same thing as in both cases, the investor is much worse off over time? And if so, why has there not been a move to stop the sale of non-escalating life annuities?

Note: *The (only) reason that I can see that companies do this is because the initial income looks so good, especially when compared to an annuity with an escalation on the income. For example on R400000, the fixed annuity rate is ±R3700 pm compared to a±R2200 pm on an escalating annuity. You will be better off on the escalating annuity after 10 years (infl @6%pa).