Here, we explain the different pension investment options, and how your choices might change as you get closer to retirement.
Personal and workplace pension
If you have a personal pension, or belong to a workplace defined contribution pension scheme, and you don’t say how you want your contributions invested, your money will usually automatically go into your scheme provider’s ‘default’ fund.
Default funds are essentially a type of ‘one size fits all’ investment. They are often what are known as ‘multi-asset’ funds, which mean they invest in a range of different assets, including shares, bonds, property, and cash.
Sometimes default funds will tend to focus more on riskier investments such as stocks and shares when you’re younger, and then gradually move your money into less risky investments such as bonds and cash as you approach retirement.
Often pension scheme providers will offer a wider selection of funds to choose from. This may allow you to choose investments that more closely match your appetite for risk. For example, if you’ve got several decades to go before retirement, you may be comfortable putting your money into mainly high-risk investments, typically shares, in the hope of higher potential rewards.
If you’re not sure how, or where to invest your retirement savings, you should seek professional finance advice.
Stocks and shares
Stocks and shares are high risk because their prices go up or down depending on how well people think a company is performing. If share prices fall, then the value of your investment will reduce too, and vice versa. Over long-term periods, however, shares have historically provided better returns than other assets such as cash or bonds, although there are no guarantees.
You can learn more about why share prices move and how this affects your retirement savings in our article ‘What stock market volatility means for your pension’.
Bonds are usually considered lower risk than shares. They are effectively IOUs issued by governments and companies looking to raise cash, so when you invest in a bond, you are basically lending the bond issuer your money for a set period. During this time, you’ll receive a fixed rate of interest, and when the bond matures, you should get the original amount you put in back. However, if the bond issuer runs into financial difficulties, there is a chance you could get back less than you put in. The higher the interest rate offered by the bond, the riskier it is.
When a fund invests in property, this is usually commercial property, such as retail parks and office blocks. Property is known as an ‘illiquid’ asset because it isn’t always easy to sell quickly. Property values can, like any other type of investment, fall as well as rise.
Cash is the lowest risk type of asset, but when interest rates are low, returns will be minimal and may struggle to keep pace with inflation, or rising living costs.
The importance of diversification
When looking at where your pension is invested, the main point to remember is that you should never keep all your eggs in one basket. By spreading your money across a range of different assets, this should ensure that if one type of asset isn’t doing so well, hopefully the performance of some of the others might make up for it. Most default funds will already be well-diversified, but it’s worth checking. Make sure you review your fund choices at least once a year to check that you’re happy with the amount of risk you’re taking, and that the charges haven’t increased. With our ongoing service, we’ll speak to you annually to talk you through this, or contact us whenever you like.
Final salary or defined benefit schemes
If you belong to a final salary or defined benefit pension, the income from this type of pension is related to your earnings when you worked for the employer of the scheme and doesn’t depend on how any underlying investment does. That means you won’t need to make any investment decisions, as these will be made by the company you work for. For more information on finding out where you pension is invested, get in touch with us today!