In a renewed drive to improve retirement outcomes for members, the Sanlam Umbrella Fund (SUF) has launched a ground-breaking new online and telephonic retirement planning service for fund members. A first in the retirement fund industry, the ‘Retire-mate’ service features an online self-help capability packed with information for every step of the retirement savings journey, backed by telephonic support from a retirement benefit counsellor.
Launched at the 2016 Sanlam BENCHMARK Symposium held in Johannesburg last week, the SUF’s new Retire-mate service comes after this year’s BENCHMARK survey revealed that 37% of retirement funds would consider using some form of ‘robo-advice’ or online capability – with most of these funds preferring that a person is still available to assist in conjunction with the digital offering.
Irlon Terblanche, chief executive officer of Sanlam Umbrella Solutions, says the SUF’s Retire-mate service differs from what is typically seen as ‘robo-advice’ in that retirement benefit counsellors play an active role in assisting fund members in achieving the best possible retirement outcomes.
“Robo-advice is usually aimed at discretionary savings, providing algorithm-based portfolio management advice without the use of human financial planners. The Retire-mate service is not so much advice as it is essentially a planning capability offered to members, taking them through decisions that need to be made at every step of the retirement savings journey, from Day One of employment through to retirement and thereafter.”
The online service offers a structured methodology jam-packed with comprehensive and relevant information, including handy calculators, in a sequence of steps assisting members to make informed decisions.
“Members can learn about setting goals, the impact of costs, the benefits of starting early, delaying retirement, and how to catch up if they start late,” says Dominic Sides, a specialist consultant to Sanlam Umbrella Solutions. “There is also detailed information on managing a budget, determining an investment strategy, preserving savings when leaving a job, and steps to take when approaching retirement, including information on different types of annuities and the most suitable option for each member.”
If members get stuck or need guidance, they can phone one of the SUF’s retirement benefit counsellors. These retirement planning specialists have no sales incentives or target, and they provide support and guidance to members free of charge.
In addition to the Retire-mate service, the SUF is also in the process of rolling out several other creative new stakeholder touchpoints, including a mobile app offering a full range of retirement services for members, and innovative digital enhancements for trustees. The mobile app will grant members access to all their retirement information – including benefit statements, educational content and planning tools – in the palm of their hand.
Terblanche says the SUF’s digital innovations, as well as interacting with the fund’s retirement benefit counsellors, will not supplant the need for fund members to obtain professional financial advice, however. “The world of retirement savings is far too complex for an online programme or an app to provide all the information required to make well-considered savings decisions.
“For complicated decisions involving comparisons, and for considered advice on drawing up a comprehensive and holistic financial plan, the in-depth industry knowledge of an expert adviser will remain indispensable,” he concludes.