Investors might soon> have greater access to information about their target-date funds, but there is some debate over whether they ll benefit from it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday said it would propose new rules that would require target-date retirement funds to offer more upfront information in an effort to stop misleading marketing to investors.
Target-date funds are organized to adjust the amount of money an investor has in equities to curb their risk as they approach retirement or throughout their retirement.
The SEC s proposal comes as the fund industry debates the appropriate structure of target-date products. Fund firms have struggled with finding right balance between equities, which have higher earning potential to carry investors through retirement, and traditionally safer investments like bonds, which promise a smaller return but won t be destroyed in a down market.
Funds heavily invested in equities got badly hurt during the market s decline in 2008. That left some investors close to retirement with smaller nest eggs than they had anticipated.
The proposed amendments would require an explanation of a fund s holdings at the point of retirement the so-called target date -- next to the fund s name in its marketing materials. The rules would also require that those materials include a table or chart showing how the asset allocation would change over time. The changes would also require firms to make clear in their marketing materials that funds shouldn t be selected solely on their target date, that such funds are not guaranteed investments and that the stated asset allocation could change.
Some critics argue that the proposed changes are unlikely to help investors. Oliver Pursche, managing partner and co-portfolio manager at Montebello Partners, says target-date funds by nature leave investors vulnerable because, although their allocation strategies are dynamic, they're still based on risk assessment at a single point in time, without regard for the changing economic environment.
Here s what two financial advisers had to say about the SEC s proposal:
Who s Talking: Jim Holtzman, adviser, Legend Financial
The Gist: The SEC s proposal seems to be sound, says Holtzman, but it will be helpful only if investors take the time to read the new information and disclosures.
Retirees who put money in a 2011 fund were surprised when they lost upwards of half their savings in 2008 because they hadn t looked at the fund s allocation, Holtzman says. An SEC review found that different funds that targeted the same retirement date had equity allocations of between 25% and 65% at that date. That discrepancy underscores how important it is for investors to know what they re buying, says Holtzman, adding that the SEC is on the right track.
What year the target-date fund is calibrated for almost doesn t matter, he says, adding that asset allocation is the most important thing, and [investors] have to understand how much money is at risk, so they know their loss exposure.
However, Holtzman is worried about how the new information will be communicated. Marketing materials can be glossed over. Some prospectuses are so big typically 40 to 70 pages and full of legalese that no one reads them, he says.
Who s Talking: Lewis Altfest, chief executive and principal adviser, Altfest Personal Wealth Management
The Gist: More information could help investors, but the larger problem is that target-date funds just can t deliver what investors are seeking.
For the most part, target-date funds promise something they can t deliver when something really dramatic in the market happens, he says. Investors believe, If I do what these people say, at the end of the period I m going to be home free, he says, and that s just not the case.
Investors are vulnerable if the market takes a hit at the time of retirement and they have too great a percentage invested in equities. You thought you were safe and then you have a moment of truth that you might have to work a few more years, or accept a lower standard of living, says Altfest. So knowing a fund s allocation is crucial.
Investors should also realize that target-date funds are different from other targeted funds, like a fund for college to be completely withdrawn by a certain time. In this case you re 65 and have another quarter of a century, to let the investment redeem itself, he says. In other words, investors take the money out throughout their retirement not all at once.
So perhaps a mandated education should steer investors away from a single, terminal date, he says.
Moreover, the industry needs to educate investors about volatility. Just as there s no assurance their money will be available in full at age 65, there s also no assurance that the market will stay down.
The correct thing to do is to hold the funds when the date has occurred, particularly to hold them when the market has declined sharply, he says. However, that has to be expressed as an opinion, not a fact.