If you're wondering what to do about your superannuation at the moment, you're not alone.
The Coronavirus pandemic (among several other factors) caused stock markets to fall all over the world in 2020. In Australia we saw the benchmark ASX200 Index fall more than 30% in March 2020. Although the stock market has recovered strongly in 2021, it remains volatile with ongoing lockdowns and changing restrictions around the world.
So should you be making changes to your super investments to decrease your exposure to risky assets during periods of uncertainty? And is now a good time to switch super funds or move your super to cash? To help answer these questions, Finder spoke with superannuation investment experts from QSuper, Sunsuper and Chant West.
Diversified super portfolios shouldn't be too greatly impacted by market volatility
Senior investment research manager at Chant West Mano Mohankumar told Finder super funds have performed better than we all thought they would. Despite all the share market falls in 2020, growth super funds (those with 61 to 80% allocation to growth assets) still managed to finish the year with a positive return. They did experience falls of about 6% during the worst of the year, but they were able to recover.
"This loss for growth funds is minor in the whole scheme of things particularly given the tremendous returns super fund members have received over the past decade," said Mohankumar.
According to Chant West, in 2019 the top 10 growth funds all returned above 16% for members. In 2020-21 they did even better, with the median growth fund returning about 18% and some of the top funds returning over 24%.
QSuper chief investment officer Charles Woodhouse acknowledged the stock market losses in 2020 and ongoing volatility, but reminds us that other asset classes are performing well. So if your super is invested in a diversified mix of assets (this is the case for most Australians), the impact from the share market alone won't be too significant at this stage. Woodhouse also confirmed that QSuper has no plans to limit its exposure to stocks in the near future.
"There has been considerable volatility in listed share markets over the past month (March 2020) which resulted in the worst week for shares since the Global Financial Crisis. While this has been unsettling for investors there have been some markets, long-term sovereign bonds for example, that have generated very strong returns during this period," said Woodhouse.
"History has shown that reacting quickly to market volatility instead of taking a longer-term view with a well-balanced portfolio can be costly. QSuper's investment team manage their portfolios with the potential for this sort of negative event in mind, so the structure of the Lifetime Option is not expected to change due to the coronavirus."
Sunsuper chief economist Brian Parker agreed that Sunsuper's multi-asset portfolios won't be limiting their exposure to shares due to the short-term impacts of coronavirus.
"At Sunsuper, we don't invest money on the basis of our own, or anyone else's short-term economic or market forecasts. We carefully construct portfolios with a view to meeting medium to long-term investment objectives. However, falling markets also provide opportunities to acquire assets at cheaper prices, and we have modestly increased our exposure to Australian and international shares," said Parker.
Should you move your super to cash?
This depends on your age and how you feel about risk.
If you're close to retirement
You could reconsider your investment mix and move your super (or at least part of it) away from shares and into more defensive assets. Parker said older Australians still need to have some exposure to shares, but not as much as younger members.
"For older members, it's important to remember that we all hope to live a long time, and in order for our wealth to last as long as possible, we need to maintain some exposure to growth assets such as shares. However, it's generally not a good idea to have excessive exposure to shares – a sharp downturn just prior or just after retirement can do significant damage to retirement plans," he said.
"For those members who feel they may be over exposed to shares and are very worried about the impact of a market downturn on their retirement, they may need to consider moving to a more conservative strategy. However, there are two key things to remember. Moving to a more conservative strategy after markets have already declined, locks in a loss of capital. And a more conservative strategy by its nature delivers lower long-term returns, and is not likely to capture the full benefit when share markets eventually (and inevitably) recover," said Parker.
If you're young
The general advice is to stay invested in growth assets while you're young and have plenty of time to ride out any market falls. It's important to remember superannuation is a long-term game. If you're in your 20s, 30s or 40s your super will stay invested for another 30, 40 or 50 years, so it's important not to get too caught up in short-term market movements.
"For younger members – those with 15, 25 years or more until retirement, a market downturn (like the covid market crash) is one of many they will experience during their working lives. For the majority of Australians, our biggest tip would be to do nothing about their super at the moment. Market downturns, whatever their trigger, are inevitable and temporary. Every crisis, every downturn, every recession comes to an end bar none. And it is highly likely that this downturn will be no different," said Parker.
Mohankumar at Chant West agrees, saying: "Members need to remember that superannuation is a long-term investment. There will be good times and some bad times. To most people, we would say remain patient and don't panic. We would caution members that attempting to time the market is a risky proposition."
Since March 2020 when the share market crashed, it has since rebounded by more than 50% (as of October 2021). If you had switched your super from a high growth option to cash in March 2020 after the share market fell steeply you would have missed out on this rebound. Yes, the market may fall again, but it will also rebound again eventually.
Should you change your super to high growth?
If you're still in your 20s, 30s or 40s and have an investment time frame of at least 10 years, a lot of super funds will recommend members stay invested in high growth or growth funds. If you're very uncomfortable with risk, and don't like the idea of your balance potentially going down on occasion, you could stick with a more balanced option instead which aims for less volatility.
It might suit you to switch to a high growth option if:
- You're young (in your 20s, 30s or 40s)
- You plan to stay invested for at least 10 years
- You're comfortable with some level of market volatility
- You understand super is a long term investment
You can learn more about high growth super funds and compare your options in our dedicated guide.
Is it the right time to switch super funds?
If you're not retiring soon (within the next five years), the general consensus among industry experts is to leave your super invested in the share market rather than switching to a lower-risk cash option. However, that's not to say that you should stick with a high-fee, poor-performing super fund.
If you can reduce the amount you pay in fees early on in your life, you can retire with much, much more later. Previous research by investment platform Stockspot found that young Australians could retire more than $300,000 richer by switching from a high-fee super fund to a low-fee super fund early on in life.
Use the table below to compare super funds against your own.
Compare super funds below
Use our comparison table to compare super funds based on performance, fees and insurance options.
*Past performance data is for period ending June 2023 and fee data is updated monthly.
What should I do with my super in a recession?
One of the best things you can do with your super to prepare for a recession is: make sure you've only got the one fund (and consolidate if not); make sure you're not paying too much in fees, and; try to stick with your long-term strategy and not make panicked decisions.
For more information, take a look at our guide on how to prepare your finances for a recession for tips on building up your savings, paying down your debt, managing your investments and what to do about your mortgage.
Find other ways to save
It can be pretty stressful dealing with your finances, especially in these uncertain times. However, spending a little bit of time on your bills can help you save money and further stress in the long run.
Here are some guides on how to save some money on your daily expenses. There are plenty of things you could do, from checking your energy rates, switching to a low-interest credit card, or simply dropping parts of your insurance that you don't need.