Nov 24, 2012

Dying Age Quiz

Ever heard of Club 27? It turns out that famous pop artists have a preferred age of dying: 27.

Among this 'club', with around 50 unlucky 'members' that all died at the age of 27, are well known names like Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and (lately, 2011) Amy Winehouse.

There's been a lot of (actuarial) discussion whether this club 27 phenomenon is a mortality anomaly or not.

In a statistical study from BMJ (British Journal of Medicine) called "Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? Retrospective cohort study", it's shown that  there's no peak in the risk of death for famous musicians at age 27.

Club 27, or its movie,  is therefore a nice opportunity to study some interesting artists who died young, but not based on any statistical relevance.

Not only some top musicians died young, but also some 'historical' celebrities.

Now take the next quiz to test your knowledge on the dying age of the next famous people who changed the world, each on in his/her own way:

Links and sources:
- BMJ Statistical Study
- Dying Age Quiz of Famous People
Death, Actuarial Science and Rock n’ Roll-the 27 Club

Nov 17, 2012

Pension for Contribution

People are lost if it comes down to their pension. A recent (2012) Friends Life survey found that 68% of Britons do not know the collective value of their pension funds.....

This result is in line with a Dutch 2011 survey, that concludes that 66% has no knowledge of their pension.

Pension illiteracy is clearly a worldwide phenomenon. Pensions are a 'low interest' product. Unfortunately - nowadays - in the double sense of the latter words.

As an actuary, people often ask me at a birthday party : I'm paying a 1000 bucks contribution each year for my pension, but does it pay out in the end? Can you tell me?

Unfortunately most actuaries, including myself, answer this question by telling that this is a difficult question to answer straightforward and that the pension outcome depends on topics like age, mortality, return, inflation, gender, indexation, investment scheme, asset mix, etc., etc.....

To make a breakthrough in this pension communication paradox, let's try to create more pension insight with a simple approach. But remember - as with everything in life - the word 'simple' implies that we can not be complete as well as consistent at the same time. After all, Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorems clearly show that nothing in life can be both complete and consistent at the same time.

Thanks to God and Gödel, we can stay alive on this planet by simplifying everything in life to a level that our brains can comprise. We'll keep it that way in this blog as well.

How much pension Benefits for how much contribution?
First thing to do, is to give the average low pension interested person on this planet an overall hunch on what a yearly investment of a 1000 bucks(first simplification: S1)until the pension age of 65 year (S2) delivers in terms of a yearly pension as of age 65 in case of an average pension fund.

If we state 'bucks' here, we mean your local general currency. We denote 'bucks' here simply as $, or leave it out. So $ stands for €, ¥ , £ or even $ itself.

Now let's calculate for different pension contribution start ages (S3)what a yearly contribution of $ 1000 (payable in months at the beginning of each month; S4), pays back in terms of a yearly pension (payable in months at the end of each month; S5) on basis of a set of different constant return rates (S6). The calculation is on a net basis (so without costs; S7), a Dutch (2008) mortality table (S8) and without any inflation (S9), any pension indexation (S10), any contribution indexation (S11), or any tax influence (S12).

Here's the simple table we're looking for:

Yearly Pension at age 65 on basis of 1000 yearly contribution
Pension Indexation=0%, Contribution Indexation=0%, Inflation: 0%
StartNet Yearly Return Rate

In a graphical view on a logarithmic pension benefits scale, it looks something like this:

To illustrate what is happening, a simple example:
When you join your pension fund at age 40 and start saving $ 1000 a year (the first of every month: $ 83.33) until your 65, you'll receive a yearly pension benefit of $ 4092 yearly ( $ 341 at the end of every month) from age 65 of, as long as you live.

From this table, we can already draw some very basic conclusions:
  • To build up a substantial pension, it pays out if you start early in life
  • The pension outcome is heavily dependent on the yearly return of your pension fund
  • Most pension funds operate on basis of a 'general employee and/or employer contribution' instead of individual employee contributions.
    This implies that younger employees pay more than they should have paid on an individual basis and older employees less. In other words, younger employees subsidize older employees. How much more, you can derive from the tables above and by comparing the individual contributions to the general contribution level of the pension fund.

Pension Indexation
As we all want to protect our pension against inflation, let's calculate the outcome of a 'real pension' instead of a 'nominal pension'. As long term yearly inflation rates vary between 2% and 3%, we make the same calculation as above, but now the yearly pension outcome (as from age 65) will be indexed with 3% (fixed) at the end of every year and the yearly contribution paid, will also be yearly indexed with 3%.
Here's the outcome:

Yearly Pension at age 65 on basis of 1000 yearly contribution
Pension Indexation=3%, Contribution Indexation=3%, Inflation: 0%
StartNet Yearly Return Rate

To get grip at the comparison between a real and a nominal pension, we express the real pension (3% Indexed Pensions and Contribution) as a percentage of the nominal pension:

Yearly Pension at age 65 on basis of 1000 yearly contribution
'3% P&C-Indexed Pensions' as percentage '0% P&C-Indexed Pensions'
StartNet Yearly Return Rate

From this last table we can conclude that if you start saving for your pension below the age of 40 your indexed savings weight up to the indexed pension. Above the age of 45 it is the other way around.

The above figures are the kind of figures (magnitude) you'll find on your benefits statements. You can compare in practice whether your benefit statement is in line with the above tables....

The Inflation Monster
In the last given example, pension is 3% inflation protected as from the moment of retirement.

However, if pension is not also yearly fully indexed (in this case: 3%) during the contribution period, there still is a major potential inflation erosion risk left.

In this case it's interesting to examine what the value of a 3% indexed pension in combination with a 3% indexed contribution is worth in terms of actual money, as inflation would continue at a constant 3% level each year. Here's the answer:

Yearly Pension at age 65 on basis of 1000 yearly contribution
Pension Indexation=3%, Contribution Indexation=3%, Inflation: 3%
StartNet Yearly Return Rate

What we notice is a substantial inflation erosion effect as the pension fund participants get younger.
Let's zoom in on an example to see what we can achieve with these tables.

  • From table 2 we can conclude that - at a 4% return rate - a 40 year old starting pension fund member, with a $ 1000 dollar yearly 3% indexed contribution will reach a 3% yearly indexed pension of $ 4344 yearly at age 65.
  • From table 4 we can subsequently conclude that, based on an inflation rate of 3%, this $ 4344 pension has a 'real' value of $ 2075, if it's expressed in the value money had when the participant was 40 years old (so, at the start).
  • From table 4 we can also conclude that in order to 'compensate' inflation erosion for this pension member, the pension fund has to achieve a return of around 7.4%.
    This follows from simple linear interpolation:
    7,4% = 7% + 1% * (4344-3997)/(4959-3997)

I'll leave other examples to your own imagination.

The effect of a constant inflation on a pension is devastating, as the next table shows

Inflation Erosion
  • Pension indexation=3%
    as of age 65
  • Contribution indexation=3%
  • Inflation=3%
From table 5 it becomes clear that Inflation erosion is indeed substantial.
If you have a fully indexed pension from age 65 (who has?) of and you're N years away from your retirement, an inflation of i% will erode your pension with E%. In formula:
Set inflation to 3%. If you're 40 years old and about to retire at 65, you've got 25 years (N=25=65-40) ahead of you.

If your pension of let's say $ 10,000 a year is not indexed during this period, you can buy with this $ 10,000 no more than you could buy today with $ 4,800.

Your pension is eroded due to inflation with 52% = 1- 1.03^-25. So only 48% is left.....

I trust these tables and examples contribute a little to your pension insight. Just dive into your pension, it's financially relevant and certainly will pay out!
Remember that all results and examples in this blog are approximations and simplifications on a net base (no costs or taxes are included). In practice pension funds or insurers have tot charge costs for administration, asset management, solvency, guarantees, mortality risk, etc. . This implies that in practice the results could differ strongly with the results as shown in this blog. The examples in this blog are therefore for learning and demonstration purposes only.

The above calculations were made in a few minutes with help of the Excel Pension Calculator that was developed in 2011 and updated in 2012.
With help of this pension planner you can calculate all kind of variations and set different variables, including different mortality tables (or even define your own mortality table).

You can download the pension calculator for free and make your own pension calculations.
More information about pension calculating with this simple pension calculator at:

Enjoy your pension, beware of inflation....

Links & Sources: