What makes a good investment strategy?

3 min read

As first appeared in Switzer Daily, Monday 6 November 2017. 

If you have a self-managed super fund (SMSF), then you should be aware one of the obligations that is placed on you as a trustee is that you must have an investment strategy for the fund that is reviewed regularly. But what makes a good investment strategy? How long does it need to be? How detailed?

These are all great questions, but unfortunately there is no single right answer. However, here are 5 considerations that can help you along the way.

1. Diversification

Super law does require that when formulating an investment strategy, trustees must have regard to diversification. Diversification relates to a consideration about the spread of different investments you might have – or thinking about ensuring you don’t end up with all your eggs in one basket. However, there isn’t a requirement that an SMSF’s investments must be diversified, and there are some SMSFs that have large investments in a single asset (or asset class). Most commonly this occurs where the SMSF has a direct property investment, with a comparatively smaller investment in cash in order to make any relevant payments as necessary. 

The big risk being so concentrated with your investments into one asset or one segment of the market is what if something went wrong? What if a property bubble bursts? 

2. Risk and return

The risk involved with, and the likely return from, the investments are also important considerations, and really ties back into the issue of diversification of investment. 

What can sound like an exciting possible return on any particular investment, should always be balanced against a consideration of any risks involved with that investment. The difficulty is that both risk and return are assessments of what may happen in the future. It’s important to remember that any historical performance data availably is purely that – it’s history! It can provide some guidance as to how well a portfolio manager has looked after the monies under their control, thereby providing some insight into their level of governance, but you should always be cautious when it comes to relying on performance history. 

You shouldn’t look at any investment in isolation, and always compare their performance against peers and over multiple periods of time. For example, whilst a share fund that provided an 8% return in the last 12 months might sound relatively good, it’s not if all other comparable share funds were returning in excess of 10%.

In addition to pure investment risk, you need to consider how much risk the members of the SMSF are willing to take on. The answer may be different for each member of the fund, so you also need to think about whether each member has their own investment portfolio in the fund, or whether everything is pooled together.

3. Liquidity

As a trustee, you need to ensure that your SMSF is able to pay its liabilities as and when they fall due. Doing this for the ongoing running costs of your fund, sounds relatively easy. But you can’t forget about the additional liquidity required as members of the fund approach retirement and start to draw on a pension from the fund.

4. Insurance

Trustees are also required to consider the insurance needs of members.  This doesn’t mean that the fund has to hold insurance for the members, but this is actually an important consideration. Given that the trustees of an SMSF are also the members, this is about considering whether you have enough insurance of your own, and if not, should you acquire more coverage through your super. But don’t constrain yourself to personal insurance considerations, even though that’s all that’s technically required. Depending on the type of investments in your SMSF, you should also consider if you need the fund to take out other types of insurance. This could be a vitally important consideration if you hold property.

5. Documenting it all

Ensure you document your plans. The actual investment strategy document can be long or short, but you need to show you have considered the above elements. Most good investment strategies will have two key positions within them.

1. An overall goal that the investments of the fund are trying to deliver. For example, the fund could be targeting an overall return 2% above Consumer Price Index on a 5 year rolling basis.

2. Second, its sets out acceptable investment parameters. For example, it may say the fund is happy to hold between 30% and 60% of its investments in Australian shares, but is targeting a holding of 45%.

These elements taken together give the trustees something to measure performance against. If the SMSF isn’t meeting these objectives, or its investments fall outside of the expressed permitted range, then the trustees need to be doing something to bring it back in line.

Overall, a good investment strategy is one that aligns to the future goals of the members and what they are trying to achieve, and ensures this is done with appropriate consideration of the risks in achieving these goals. 

The good news is that as a trustee of a SMSF, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Professional support can help you understand how your fund has performed in the past and is currently performing, and also help you to identify the requirements of members and select investment to give them a chance of future success.

Bryan Ashenden is Head of Financial Literacy and Advocacy at BT Financial Group

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Information current as at 6 November 2017. This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to your personal objectives, financial situation and needs having regard to these factors before acting on it. This information provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. This information may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material.  Any super law considerations or comments outlined above are general statements only, based on an interpretation of the current super laws, and do not constitute legal advice. This publication has been prepared by BT Financial Group, a division of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL & Australian credit licence 233714. © 2017 Westpac Financial Services Ltd