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An expert on the best time to look at your superannuation strategy

It’s something that can sneak up on you but for thousands of us, retirement isn’t too far off.  You’ve put in the hard yards, and now the finish line is in view. Or maybe retirement is still some ways away, and your career is either just getting started or in full swing, but no matter what stage of the game you find yourself in, it’s always a good idea to evaluate your super strategy.

A lot of life gets lived between the time you start working and the time you retire; houses are bought, vows are made and babies are born - these major life events impact our finances significantly and force us to re-evaluate our plans for the future. 
Start taking your super seriously
“Super, for most of us, will be one of the most, if not the most significant building block when it comes to retirement savings. It’s also likely to be the longest held investment that we have in our lifetime,” says Keiran McIlwain, Head of Advice and Professionalism at MLC.

However, MLC recently polled over 2000 Australians and uncovered that most Australians - around 58% - don’t believe they’ll have enough wealth to live their desired standards of living in retirement. But, even knowing this, the majority are not being proactive in trying to improve their financial situation.

The Wealth and Retirement Behaviours Survey provides unique insights into the relationships between household wealth, retirement anxiety, and life satisfaction. The survey is run on a quarterly basis and explores concerns about our wealth and desired lifestyle in retirement and the actions we take to achieve our wealth objectives. 

The most recent study showed that 40 per cent of Australians have never reviewed their super fund strategy to ensure it’s right for them. Moreover, 73 per cent of Australians do not know the right risk profile for their age but 66 per cent would change their asset allocation if they knew they were missing out on tens of thousands in retirement savings.

For many of us who opened a super account when we started our first job, our retirement savings will end up being invested for half a century. Let’s just say that a lot can change in fifty years, which means the super strategy that fifteen-year-old you implemented probably isn’t going to cut it for sixty-year-old you. Also, the rules around super often change, which can also open up brand new opportunities for your investments and can help to maximise your savings. These ‘rule-based triggers’ are often complex and not as easy to identify and understand.

“Sometimes there will be a ‘trigger event’ that will flag a need to review your super investment to ensure you’re making the most of your available funds. This may be a change in employment or salary or an increase in your surplus cash flow as you pay off debt”, McIlwain explains.

Obviously, the closer you are to retirement, the clearer your financial picture will be. But that clarity also brings with it its own set of ‘triggers’ as you come to realise your retirement expectations and lifestyle desires. “For example, how often do you want to travel, and how exotic are your plans? Where do you reasonably expect your spending to decrease (no more train and bus tickets or bought lunches), and where might you expect it to increase?” he says.
What’s your plan, stan?
While it can be overwhelming, it’s important to know that you don’t have to go it alone. Talking through your super strategy with a financial adviser could make all the difference. The MLC research uncovered that our overall well-being is negatively affected by our ability to fund our retirement and conversely, positively influenced by our ability to maintain our standards of living throughout different life stages.   

So, too, is carving out the finer details of your retirement and your vision for the future. “For instance, what age do you want to retire? If you have a partner, do you want to retire at the same time? How often would you like to be able to eat out, see a movie, or travel? Are you going to downsize?”, McIlwain asks. “Having some thoughts on paper and a clearer picture of what your ‘target’ is will be really helpful when you speak with a financial planner, and together you’ll be able to set some real goals and implement strategies to make sure you’re on the right track.”

Ultimately, when you have this conversation depends on how close to retirement you are. “If you’re in your 30s or even your early 40s, it’s probably reasonable to say that it might be difficult for you to accurately estimate what annual income you’re going to need once you hang up the work boots.” That can mean setting a solid financial target might be unrealistic at this stage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t open the dialogue around your super strategy, it just means you need to be asking different questions.

“The conversation may instead be focused on your current circumstances and responsibilities, and what capacity you have to make even small contributions to your retirement savings today.”

When to book your next check-up
Kieren says, “optimally, we should all be reviewing our super strategy at least on an annual basis.”

The MLC research also found that the majority of Aussies, about 66% - myself absolutely included, would be compelled into action if they knew they were missing on tens of thousands of dollars in their retirement, which they very possibly could be.

The closer you get to retirement, the more important it will be to check in at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track to reach your retirement goals. If you have a change in circumstances, you’re likely going to need to check in more often. Your financial planner can work with you to prioritise reviews as needed during this stage.

Knowing you don’t have to be solely responsible for such an important investment makes monitoring your super less overwhelming. Just like we’re meant to monitor our physical health and check in with a professional when we notice changes, it’s important to keep track of financial wellness and engage with an expert financial adviser to manage our financial wellbeing.

From the moment we make our very first super contribution, each and every one of us become pet owners, continuing to care for a retirement kitty that never loses its appetite. Throughout our lives, there’ll be times we can feed it well, and times it might go a little hungry. Even as you get closer to retirement, working through current circumstances and evaluating your financial capacity to divert any surplus cash flow to your retirement kitty is still important.

The article was originally published on


Important information and disclaimer

Any advice in this publication is of a general nature only and has not been tailored to your personal circumstances. Accordingly, reliance should not be placed on the information contained in this document as the basis for making any financial investment, insurance or other decision. Please seek personal advice prior to acting on this information.

While it is believed the information in this publication is accurate and reliable, the accuracy of that information is not guaranteed in any way. Opinions constitute our judgement at the time of issue and are subject to change. Neither the Licensee nor any member of the NAB Group, nor their employees or directors gives any warranty of accuracy, or accepts any responsibility for errors or omissions in this document.

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