What is liquidity risk in retirement?

Neal Sinclair

By Neal Sinclair, Business Development Manager at Glacier by Sanlam

Liquidity refers to how easily an investor can sell an asset, for example a house, shares or unit trusts (collective investments) for cash, which can then be used to meet either ongoing expenses or an emergency once-off expense. If the asset takes a significant amount of time to sell or the investor experiences a loss when selling, then this is referred to as liquidity risk.

Liquidity risk also needs to be carefully considered in retirement, and in this article I am going to explore how this could potentially be experienced in retirement. 

Let’s consider an example –

A client, Joe, has the following income streams and assets:

A life annuity which pays him R40 000 a month, a holiday house in Cape Town valued at R10 000 000, rental property in Johannesburg which generates R10 000 a month in income and a gold coin collection which Joe believes to be worth R4 000 000.

Joe recently fell and broke his leg and whilst the hospital expenses were covered by his medical aid and some expenses were covered by his medical savings account, Joe is going to need to raise an additional R3 000 per month for the next eight months to pay for his rehabilitation expenses.

Joe cannot approach the insurer for an additional R3 000 from his life annuity as he opted for a traditional life annuity at retirement. He also cannot adjust the rental amount he receives as the lease agreement is not up for renewal and the tenant may choose to vacate the property should the rent be increased by R3 000.

In this example Joe has assets that he can sell, however they are not very liquid assets as the house in Cape Town for example will take some time to sell and in addition, he may not want to sell the house just to cover R3 000 for eight months.

Joe then decides to sell some of his coin collection to cover the shortfall in income.  He approaches a coin dealer who makes him an offer for a portion of the coin collection. The offer made by the dealer is significantly lower than what Joe was expecting.  He had anticipated receiving at least market price for the coins.

Because of his situation, Joe decided to sell the coins to cover the shortfall in income for the eight-month period.

What could Joe have done differently at retirement?

I firmly believe that a retirement income stream needs to consider the potential need for emergency and unforeseen expenses.

One strategy that Joe could have adopted was to split his retirement capital between three or four different solutions.

  • Firstly, a traditional annuity to provide longevity protection and certainty for expenses such as medical aid premiums, food and property expenses.
  • Thereafter, he could consider having two or three living annuities.  This will allow him more flexibility into the future to transfer one of them to a life annuity, thereby guaranteeing a portion of his income.  

With a portion of the one-third that Joe took in cash, he could have placed some funds in either a money market fund or a conservative unit trust to serve as his emergency fund.

Glacier Financial Solutions (Pty) Ltd and Sanlam Life Insurance Ltd are licensed financial services providers.

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