I told Kiwis they needed $2 million to retire comfortably. All hell broke loose. By Janine Starks.


Kiwis are a bunch of rebels. Admit it. There's nothing we like better than riding rough-shod over social norms, proving there's another way.

When it comes to retirement, "I did it my way" should have been the national anthem. There's nothing like a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra telling us he's lived life to the full to make us all believe we're invincible.

It's an endearing quality so I probably shouldn't be surprised at the outcry when I suggested people need a savings pot of 10 times their final salary for a comfortable retirement.

All hell broke loose in cyberspace. We do not like being told we need so much money. I agree, it grates, but unfortunately I have no talent for singing for my supper.

I'll restate my case, of which I'm certain

If you wish to retire on around half your pre-retirement salary, sensible preparation would be saving 10 times its value. Someone on $200,000 pre-retirement needs $2 million to generate $100,000 a year in retirement income. Do your own numbers; earning $80,000 requires savings of $800,000 for a $40,000 smooth transition.

The maths is not wrong. All the numbers are inflation-proofed for 25 years of retirement, that's why it's difficult to pull apart. There's a load of modelling behind them and a 90 per cent chance you won't run out of money. This also makes the reverse true. An equally high chance of having money left in the pot on death. At the tail end of the probability bell curve, those amounts could be large.

If investments deliver some unexpected fat, it could leave a lump sum for later-life spending or an inheritance to pass on. Note the "if". Modelling also has to prepare for the other side of the risk equation and a safe level of income to draw down.

In practice we can create the same amount on a smaller pot of money by taking more risk.

The record shows I took the blows

When I pondered the uproar, it did make me realise I'm a rule-breaker, too.

I certainly don't practice what I preach.

When it comes to income drawdown I use a 50 per cent confidence level of not running out of money. Some people would have heart failure at that, but I don't want unspent lumps left on my death. That requires active monitoring and re-running of the model with a financial adviser.

Then there's the "norm" of a 60/40 equity-bond portfolio. Mine is 70/30 and this would give a number of retirees' constant palpitations. In the current environment I can confirm it takes some stomach.

I planned each chartered course

Another rule-break is the Lifetime Asset Allocation Model. You take less risk as you approach retirement in case there's a last-minute plunge in markets. For those who don't take financial advice and have small portfolios, it's perfect.

Yet it's another case of I-wish-I-told-the-truth-more-often. Do I use the model myself? No. At age 60 and 65 a substantial proportion of a portfolio has time to recover and isn't required yet. My own plan involves a retirement that extends to 90, with a declining income in the elderly years. I'm never going to de-risk at such an early stage.

Regrets, I've had a few, but not this one

Do you really need half your old salary in retirement? With no mortgage or savings required and a $15,000 addition of superannuation, those who can achieve half their salary are likely to have a regret-free comfortable retirement. Many well-off people are wasting this opportunity. Cut your cloth however you see fit, but know the result it gives.

And now the end is near

Of course there are ways of changing your retirement fund size or the income from it at the 11th hour:

1. Turbo-saving to play catch-up in your 50s. Close the cash register and make the demands of your adult family come from one salary. Save the other salary in full.

2. Downsize your home and transfer equity to your fund.

3. An inheritance can add a gush of money of two-to-three times your salary depending on family size and wealth. Invest it.

4. Eat the family bach before you actually sell it. This is achieved by modelling the sale into retirement cashflows at a future date, allowing your retirement income to rise, while still enjoying the use of the asset.

5. Continue to work part time.

6. Rent out non-performing assets, for example your bach or part of your own home via Airbnb.

This involves seeing a financial adviser to twist the levers of risk, probability and cashflow to calculate your personal comfort level. Go do it your way - Frank would approve.

Janine Starks is a financial commentator with expertise in banking, personal finance and funds management. Opinions in this column represent her personal views. They are general in nature and are not a recommendation, opinion or guidance to any individuals in relation to acquiring or disposing of a financial product.  Readers should not rely on these opinions and should always seek specific independent financial advice appropriate to their own individual circumstances.