Choosing the Right Benchmark for Your Retirement Asset Investments

Mar 17, 2024 | Uncategorized

By: Amar Shah, CFA, CFP®,

How can you best benchmark your retirement investments?

Investment planning for retirement is a complex process that requires careful financial decision-making. A crucial part of this process is assessing whether your retirement assets are on track to meet your future needs. To do this effectively, many individuals and financial advisors use benchmarks to compare their investments to an index. But what exactly is a benchmark, and how can you select one that suits your situation? In this article, we’ll delve into the significance of benchmarks for retirement investments and provide guidance on choosing the right one for you. 

Understanding Benchmark Importance

The choice of benchmark for your retirement investments is not to be taken lightly, as it forms the basis for evaluating your investment performance. Benchmarks can be subjective and changeable, which is why it’s crucial to have a reliable framework for judging your investments to make sound long-term decisions.  A benchmark that is too conservative might give a false sense of security, leading you to believe your investments are performing well when they could be underperforming relative to your goals. Conversely, an overly aggressive benchmark could push you into taking on more risk than you’re comfortable with.

Factors Influencing Benchmark Selection

A benchmark is a standard or point of reference used to measure the performance of an investment or portfolio. In the context of investment planning for retirement, a benchmark serves as a guide to assess whether your retirement savings and investments are growing at a rate that will enable you to achieve your retirement goals. When considering an appropriate benchmark for your investments, it is important to take into account factors that impact retirement.    Common factors include: 

1. Time Horizon:  Your time horizon is the length of time you have until retirement. A longer time horizon may allow you to take on more risk in your investments, while a shorter time horizon may require a more conservative approach. 

2. Risk Tolerance: Your risk tolerance is both your ability and willingness to withstand fluctuations in the value of your investments. A benchmark that aligns with your risk tolerance can help you stay committed to your investment strategy during market downturns. 

3. Retirement Goals: Your retirement goals, such as the lifestyle you envision and the age at which you plan to retire, can influence the benchmark you choose. If your goals involve extensive travel and require a higher rate of return, you may need to select a more aggressive benchmark. 

Your desired retirement lifestyle can influence your selected benchmark.

4. Market Conditions: Market conditions can also impact the choice of benchmark. During periods of high market volatility, a more conservative benchmark may be appropriate to reduce the risk of large losses. 

Key Components of Common Benchmarks

Several indexes put together at certain weightings can create a benchmark.  Benchmarks are commonly comprised of indexes that are widely used to evaluate the performance of retirement assets. Some of the most popular components of a benchmark include: 

S&P 500 Index: The S&P 500 Index is a widely followed benchmark that tracks the performance of 500 large-cap U.S. stocks. It is often used as a benchmark for the overall stock market. For more about the S&P 500, go to S&P 500 – Wikipedia.

Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index: The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is a benchmark for the performance of the U.S. investment-grade bond market. It is often used as a benchmark for the fixed-income portion of a retirement portfolio. For more information about this index, see Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index – Wikipedia.

Sometimes, firms combine several indexes to create a blended benchmark.  For example, the 60/40 portfolio is a simple benchmark that consists of 60% S&P 500 Index and 40% Bloomberg U.S. aggregate bond index. It is often used as a benchmark for a balanced retirement portfolio. 

Three Types of Benchmarks for Evaluating A Portfolio 

1. Dynamic Benchmarks: Dynamic benchmarks are benchmarks that change based on the assets you hold.  Sometimes, investments change over time based on your individual circumstances. For example, if you have a long-term horizon until retirement, you may choose a more aggressive benchmark. However, if you are in retirement, you may switch to a more conservative benchmark to protect your assets. Dynamic benchmarks answer questions related to investment selections that are outperforming or underperforming peers.  

2. Static Benchmarks: Static benchmarks, on the other hand, remain constant regardless of your circumstances. For example, you may choose to use the S&P 500 Index as a benchmark for your retirement assets, regardless of your age or risk tolerance. Static benchmarks answer questions related to relative performance. For example, if a portfolio manager signals a risk-off environment and is tracking the risk of the S&P 500, you will be able to tell if that was the right decision by comparing the static benchmark to the portfolio manager’s risk-adjusted returns.  

3. Financial Planning Related Benchmarks: Financial planning-related benchmarks are benchmarks specifically designed to help you achieve your retirement goals. By considering factors such as your time horizon, risk tolerance, and retirement goals, you can select a benchmark that aligns with your retirement needs. For example, you may choose a benchmark based on the amount of income you will need in retirement rather than on the performance of a specific index or asset class, i.e., This may be a fixed number like 5% annual rate of return. Financial planning benchmarks answer the age-old question: am I on track?   

Strategic Benchmark Selection for Retirement Success

Choosing the right benchmark for your retirement assets is an important part of retirement planning. By considering factors such as your time horizon, risk tolerance, and retirement goals, you can select a benchmark that aligns with your investment strategy and helps you track your progress toward a financially secure retirement. To learn more about our customized investment planning strategies, check out Tailored Financial Planning Approach – Client First Capital.

However, having one benchmark may not tell the whole story. We recommend having several benchmarks to give you the whole story of your investments.  A dynamic benchmark to value current holdings to its peers. A static benchmark to measure the underlying risk vs return of the current environment.  A financial planning-related benchmark to make sure you are hitting your goals.    These types of benchmarks together can be used to evaluate and contextualize the relative performance of retirement assets and give you a better understanding of your investment progress towards your retirement goals.

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