Younger super fund members will be better off in one of their fund's more aggressive investment options than with their fund's standard balance option, where most have their retirement savings.
That's the conclusion of researchers at Monash University and Melbourne University after analysing 27 years of superannuation returns.
Most fund members, especially younger members, are in their fund's middle-of-the-road option but by taking a bit more risk, they have more than enough time to recover from market downturns.
The standard balanced options can have anywhere between 40 and about 75 per cent of the money invested in "growth" assets ,such as shares and listed property, with the rest in income-producing assets such as fixed interest and cash.
They are optimised as the best fit for most members, but can be less than ideal for those in their 20s and 30s.
Lead researcher Dr Banita Bissoondoyal-Bheenick, from Monash University's business school, says in the event of a very bad downturn, such as the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, it takes up to 10 years for a fund member in an aggressive investment option to recover.
Nevertheless, the returns of aggressive and growth funds are better over the longer term, which in the case of a young fund member can be up to 40 years of working life.
Fund members have to check how the option is invested rather than relying on the title of the option as there is little consistency in their names.
Options with names like "high growth" typically have exposures to growth assets of more than 80 per cent.
The situation has become more complicated with more funds rolling out life-stage or life-cycle options.
Sometimes they are replacing the fund's standard balanced option as the default option for those who don't choose a fund.
Members are put into an option depending on the decade of their birth.
The investment options will often go by names of birth decades - 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s.
As the cohort ages, the funds adjust the "glide-path" (the tilt between riskier investments and income-producing investments) automatically without the fund member having to do anything.
The asset allocation is adjusted first, aggressively, up to about age 40 after which time the risk is reduced as the fund member ages.
Bissoondoyal-Bheenick says it's likely younger fund members would be better off being in a high-growth option than a life-cycle option, however analysis of life-cycle options was outside the scope of the paper.
Bissoondoyal-Bheenick says that it might even be appropriate for those who are not all that young, such as those in their 40s, to maintain a high-growth exposure.
That's especially so giving the increasing life expectancy and particularly for those who expect to remain in the workforce for longer.
However, Bissoondoyal-Bheenick stresses what a fund member does will depend on their goals and preferences for risk.
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