Reading time: 5 minutes
On this page
Investments exist on a risk spectrum. The higher the return, the higher the risk. So, your comfort with different levels of risk is crucial in determining what kind of assets are appropriate for you to invest in.
As recent market movements and global events have highlighted, different types of risk exist within asset classes as well. For example, an oil shortage can lift the value of shares in the energy sector but reduce the value of companies that rely on heavy use of fuel. And there are different ways of thinking about risk. In theory, gold is a defensive, low risk investment, but if you sell equities in a market downturn and buy gold, you could face income risk from the loss of your share dividends.
You might already have an idea of your personal tolerance for risk but perhaps you’re not entirely sure of where your partner sits on the risk spectrum. Either way, it’s a good idea to get a clear understanding of your individual and/or combined risk appetite and how that fits in with the range of investment options available when it comes to your super.
Risk profile quiz
We’ve put the following quiz together to help you understand your risk profile (choose the answer most appropriate to your situation). We’d like to point out that we’re not academics or psychologists, but we hope this quick questionnaire will help you clarify what kind of investments you’re comfortable with.
1. What’s your favourite leisure activity?
- A. Reading a book by the fire
- B. Going to the beach
- C. Mountain-biking
- D. Canyoning
2. What’s your idea of a (post-Covid) dream holiday?
- A. A coastal weekend getaway
- B. A cruise of New Zealand
- C. A tour of France and Germany
- D. Hiking in Nepal
3. What keeps you awake at night?
- A. Worrying about my family/health
- B. Worrying about my job
- C. Worrying about where I’m going to take my next holiday
- D. Not much at all
4. What is your most important personal life goal?
- A. To be happy and content
- B. To be successful at work
- C. To be wealthy
- D. To be an entrepreneur
5. How much would you be prepared to lose in a market downturn?
- A. Nothing
- B. $500
- C. $5,000
- D. $10,000 or more
6. Would you consider borrowing to invest?
- A. No
- B. Maybe
- C. It depends on the investment
- D. Definitely yes
7. How often could you live with your portfolio having a negative year?
- A. Never
- B. Once every 20 years
- C. Once every 10 years
- D. Once every 7 years
8. How long are you investing for?
- A. Five years
- B. 10 years
- C. 15 years
- D. 20 years or more
9. What would you do with a $20,000 windfall?
- A. Spend it
- B. Bank it in a savings account
- C. Invest it in a diversified equity portfolio
- D. Invest it in some interesting alternative assets with a high-return profile
10. If the share market fell by 20% what would you do?
- A. Sell out of my shares and put the funds in a bank deposit
- B. Sell the shares that had fallen the most
- C. Do nothing and expect the shares to recover
- D. Look for good quality shares at cheap prices to buy
Your risk profile results
Mostly A – Defensive
If you chose mostly A, then you are very concerned by any prospect of losing your money. This is an important consideration when choosing your investment profile and knowing this will help you steer away from investments that make you nervous.
Mostly B – Conservative
You’re more comfortable with risk but still don’t want to take on too much, regardless of the potential return. A conservative risk profile means you are focused on preserving your investments and existing investment income.
Mostly C – Moderate
You are looking for the higher returns that a higher risk profile will deliver. You are comfortable with a year of negative returns here and there as you know that you will be able to make it back over future years.
Mostly D – Aggressive
You prefer to invest in assets that have a higher risk as there is a higher chance of return. You can tolerate big falls in your investments, as you understand that with the risk levels you are comfortable with, you will be able to recoup your losses (and then some) over the longer term.
Whether you have an SMSF or are in a retail, corporate or industry super fund, you will need to decide on an investment profile. For SMSFs this will be included in your investment strategy, but if you invest via a larger fund, you will have a range of investing options available to you.
Super funds now provide a vast range of options to members – some funds even offer the option of investing directly in shares – but they will also include five or six pre-mixed investment options. These options are generally defined by their allocation to growth assets and defensive assets.
Equities, commodities and private equity are considered growth assets. Cash and fixed interest (that is, bonds) are considered traditional defensive assets. Property and infrastructure have both growth and income-generating properties which leads them to being classified as mixed growth/defensive assets. Property and infrastructure can also be held in physical form or as listed securities, which have different risk profiles.
The following table is a rough guide to the kinds of investment profiles that you will be able to choose from, starting with the most aggressive risk profiles, tapering down to the most defensive.
|Risk profile||Percentage of growth assets||Percentage of defensive assets|
Investing over your lifecycle
Your investment profile and asset allocation should be something you review over your lifecycle. Your capacity for risk will be different during different stages of your life.
When you are young and have plenty of time to recoup any losses, you can afford to have larger allocations to riskier growth assets. But as you get older and are more protective of your capital as you get closer to retirement, you may look to switch to a more conservative asset allocation with a higher allocation to defensive assets. Even so, it is still important to keep a reasonable allocation to growth assets in retirement. Depending on your health, you could be retired for twenty years or more.
If you are an SMSF trustee, your investment strategy and asset allocation should be considered annually during trustee meetings. If you have your super in a large fund, you should review your investment option at least every five years or so to see if it is still appropriate.
Many super funds also offer “lifecycle” investment options, which automatically reduce your exposure to higher risk growth assets as you age.
As part of the recently introduced retirement income covenant, which is part of the Corporate Collective Investment Vehicle Framework and Other Measures Bill 2021, trustees of large super funds are also now required to have a retirement income strategy that outlines how they plan to assist their members in retirement.
As they compete with the growing SMSF sector, large APRA super funds are offering the ability to tailor your investment choices almost as much as you could in an SMSF. The direct investment options they offer may be limited to the ASX/S&P 200 or ASX/S&P 300 shares, but they often include exchange traded funds (ETFs), which would enable you to add international equities to the mix.
There are over 200 ETFs available on the ASX, across a range of asset classes, including fixed income and global equities. There are also sector-specific and strategy-specific ETFs, which would allow a very high degree of diversification in a direct investment portfolio.
When choosing direct investments with your super fund, it is just as important to understand your risk profile and apply it to your investment choice. Investing in a global technology ETF would not be advisable for somebody with a defensive risk profile and would be more suited to somebody with an aggressive risk appetite.
There are also parameters around how you can invest in direct investment options. You need to keep a certain amount in another investment option within the super fund (usually around 10%), and there will most likely be a minimum amount that you need to have in super to be able to access the direct investment choice. To limit concentration risk, there may be a maximum amount (around 20%) which can be invested in any one share.
Investments via a direct investment option will be held in your fund’s name, not yours. In addition to certain shares and ETFs, you should also be able to invest via the direct option in term deposits.
Investing for retirement is not just about how much you can make before you retire, it is also about what level of risk you are comfortable with to get there. A decent balance is obviously desirable but so is a good night’s sleep.