Retirement Stress Test 2 - Sequence Risk

Sep 1, 2019


What’s the trickiest part of a successful retirement plan? 

Of the many retirement risks - like inflation and longevity - perhaps the most challenging one to manage is Sequence of Return Risk (aka Sequence Risk)

What is it?
Simply put, sequence risk, is the danger of the timing of your withdrawals having a negative impact on the longevity of your assets.  Put another way, selling investments to generate income during a down (bear) market is more costly than the same withdrawals in a up (bull) market because you need to sell more of something if the price has gone down to generate the same amount of required income.

When is it an Issue?
Sequence of returns risk emerges when you begin regular withdrawals from your investment portfolio to fund retirement expenses.

Why is it an Issue?
Your portfolio will most likely be at its peak value at the beginning of retirement as it is the culmination of your life savings.   Your investments are therefore at their point of greatest vulnerability, since any loss will be felt on the entire nest egg

Once withdrawals begin, the order of your returns from year to year (whether positive or negative) matter as much as your average returnWithout the proper strategies place, an unkind market in early retirement, could significantly increase the risk of early asset depletion.

Let’s Illustrate
Jane and Jeremy are saving for retirement. They both start with a $1,000,000 portfolio and both experience the same compound rate of return of 5.32%.

Who do you think will have more money after 9 years?

Notice that Jeremy has the same sequence of returns, just in reverse order


Both Jane and Jeremy end up with the same value of $1,513,433.


This was an old favorite when I used to teach financial planning to municipal employees because it’s a trick question.

However, as stated earlier, sequence risk becomes a big problem once you start withdrawing from your portfolio.

Now let us assume the same conditions as above with one exception: Jane and Jeremy require retirement withdrawals of $75,000/year from their portfolio.

Jeremy ends up with 35% less than Jane.


This example clearly illustrates the risk.  After 9 years, Jeremy has a portfolio that is 35% less than Jane’s even thought they:    

·         Both started with $1,000,000,
·         Both experienced the same compound rate of return of 5.32%, and
·         Both withdrew $75,000 /yr for 9 years.

How Do You Protect Yourself from Sequence Risk?
It is crucial to establish a plan to protect yourself from sequence risk if you are retired or transitioning to retirement.

Without divulging our ‘secret sauce’, we encourage you to seek help from a professional to implement some of the following sequence risk reduction strategies:

·         Buffer asset strategies,
·         Safe withdrawal rates,
·         Avoiding portfolios that are too risky/volatile,
·         Creating a diversifying portfolio income stream, and
·         Annuitizing some of you income.

Want to know more? Please give us a call (604) 733-8888 or (250) 752-5100 or send us an email.

Lorenzo Pederzani, CFA, CFP®, FCSI® | Portfolio Manager
HollisWealth®, a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc.

This information has been prepared by Lorenzo Pederzani who is a Portfolio Manager for HollisWealth®. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the Portfolio Manager only and do not necessarily reflect those of HollisWealth.  HollisWealth® is a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc., a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.