Seeking a sustainable retirement income with liability-driven investing

Key takeaways

  • Demographic shifts mean more people will reach retirement in the next decade or so than ever before.
  • Today’s defined contribution plans employ excellent accumulation strategies, but on reaching retirement, participants can find themselves without an adequate plan to convert their lump-sum payment into a sustainable level of income.
  • While traditionally available for large defined benefit plans, we believe liability-driven investing (LDI) can be just as effective for individuals.
  • By matching a participant’s desired minimum income to a portfolio of fixed-income assets and the remainder to a growth portfolio, LDI can provide a structured and consistent income for participants.

It’s a well-established fact that the developed world is growing older. In the United States, for example, the number of adults age 65 or over grew from 19 for every 100 Americans of working age in 1980 to 25 for every 100 in 2017. In the next 10 years or so, that figure is expected to grow to 35 for every 100.¹

These remarkable figures are a result of the increasing numbers of baby boomers—the term given to the generation born between 1946 and 1964—reaching retirement. Baby boomers represent nearly 20% of the American public, and every day, some 10,000 of them celebrate their 65th birthday.²

The rapid rise in the number of people reaching retirement is taking place at a time when employers are shutting down traditional defined benefit (DB) plans as a result of rising costs and onerous regulations. In their place, many employers have introduced defined contribution (DC) programs, which shift the responsibility for funding retirement from the employer to the individual worker.

The rise of target-date funds in DC plans

The majority of DC plans today use target-date funds as their investment strategy, with more than three-quarters of plan sponsors now offering them as their plan’s primary default investment vehicle.³ By streamlining what was once a complex series of investment decisions into a single yet powerful step, target-date funds have helped more participants set aside a sufficient portion of wealth for their retirement.

While target-date funds provide an effective accumulation strategy with little maintenance required from the participant, managing the decumulation of savings postretirement can be a greater challenge; depending on the type of target-date fund offered by their employer, participants can often find that their fund matures on the day they retire, requiring them to single-handedly calculate how best to manage their savings over the length of their retirement, however long that may be. And while some plans offering target-date solutions can keep a participant invested through retirement, they generally lack a specific drawdown plan to protect against longevity risk. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, these changes are leaving an increasing number of people struggling to ensure that their accrued savings and benefits last through retirement.⁴

Illustrative chart how income can increase over time as investment income generated from growth assets are converted into hedging assets over time.

Traditional options for retirees amount to taking a lump-sum payment or buying an annuity, but both have drawbacks: Annuities can be expensive, while most of us are ill-equipped to invest or manage a large lump sum. Besides, cash flows from traditional asset allocation portfolios can vary depending on performance and aren’t designed to reliably match income needs for a client from year to year. For participants looking for a more structured approach to managing their retirement income, we believe liability-driven investing (LDI) represents an effective alternative.

A personal LDI plan

It’s a strategy that’s traditionally been the preserve of large DB plans, but we believe it can be just as effective for individuals.

LDI typically uses a bond’s principal and coupon payments to match a plan’s liability. For example, a 10-year bond bought at $80 and maturing at $100 can be used to fund a $100 liability due in 10 years. By allocating to both fixed-income assets and growth assets, DB pension plans are able to target cash flow consistency alongside upside potential and inflation hedging.

While the strategy may appear complex at first glance, applying such an approach to an individual’s retirement savings doesn’t need to be complicated. The first step is to determine the participant’s required minimum income level over a specific time horizon. This becomes the liability, which can be matched with a fixed-income portfolio, creating a minimum payout level. Anything above that minimum level can be invested in growth assets. Gains in the growth strategy can be automatically locked in, sold, and the proceeds converted into fixed-income assets, thereby securing a higher minimum level of income. This approach, which we call dynamic LDI, ensures participants aren’t placing their savings in a systematic, long-duration fixed-income strategy at a time when bond yields remain low.

An illustrative chart demonstrating how expected income can increase over time by utilizing a dynamic approach to liability-driven investing. The chart illustrates how allocation to growth asset is converted to fixed-income assets over time, essentially locking in any gains in these assets.

Each payment the participant receives is a combination of gains from the equity growth portfolio, interest, and return of capital as fixed-income holdings periodically mature, thereby delivering an ongoing income stream. With each passing year, a greater proportion of the total portfolio is converted into fixed-income assets as gains in the growth assets are locked in. It’s also worth noting that as the market value of the entire portfolio experiences gains and losses, the income remains protected as the fixed-income holdings mature.

The strategy can be regarded as an extension to a participant’s DC plan that has reached maturity at retirement age. Once the existing target-date fund matures, participants are free to roll their assets into an LDI approach. Eventually, there’s no reason why plan sponsors couldn’t offer the strategy to employees prior to retirement as a listed option on their DC investment lineup, or perhaps even as the default option.

A more structured approach to retirement planning

An unprecedented number of people will reach retirement age over the next 10 to 20 years, just as generous corporate DB plans are vanishing. The outcome is likely to be a sizable proportion of the population retiring from DC plans and finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to transfer a lump-sum payment into an annual income that can be maintained for the balance of their lives.

We believe dynamic LDI can meet the challenges of retirement by targeting a minimum level of consistent income (derived from the participant’s fixed-income assets), while keeping up with inflation (thanks to their growth assets). Individuals should be able to benefit from what’s traditionally been available to institutional investors and, in the process, enjoy security and peace of mind in retirement.



1 “Growth in Retiring Baby Boomers Strains U.S. Entitlement Programs,” the Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2018. 2 “Do 10,000 baby boomers retire every day?,” the Washington Post, July 24, 2014. 3 “PSCA Releases Results of The Plan Sponsor Council of America’s 60th Annual Survey of Profit Sharing and 401(k) Plans,” Plan Sponsor Council of America, December 2, 2018. 4 “The nation’s retirement system,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, October 2017.”

Investing involves risks, including the potential loss of principal. Financial markets are volatile and can fluctuate significantly in response to company, industry, political, regulatory, market, or economic developments. These risks are magnified for investments made in emerging markets. Currency risk is the risk that fluctuations in exchange rates may adversely affect the value of a portfolio’s investments.

The information provided does not take into account the suitability, investment objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. You should consider the suitability of any type of investment for your circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice.

This material, intended for the exclusive use by the recipients who are allowed to receive this document under the applicable laws and regulations of the relevant jurisdictions, was produced by, and the opinions expressed are those of, Manulife Investment Management as of the date of this publication, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. The information and/or analysis contained in this material has been compiled or arrived at from sources believed to be reliable, but Manulife Investment Management does not make any representation as to their accuracy, correctness, usefulness, or completeness and does not accept liability for any loss arising from the use of the information and/or analysis contained. The information in this material may contain projections or other forward-looking statements regarding future events, targets, management discipline, or other expectations, and is only as current as of the date indicated. The information in this document, including statements concerning financial market trends, are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate and may be superseded by subsequent market events or for other reasons. Manulife Investment Management disclaims any responsibility to update such information.

Neither Manulife Investment Management or its affiliates, nor any of their directors, officers, or employees, shall assume any liability or responsibility for any direct or indirect loss or damage or any other consequence of any person acting or not acting in reliance on the information contained herein. All overviews and commentary are intended to be general in nature and for current interest. While helpful, these overviews are no substitute for professional tax, investment or legal advice. Clients should seek professional advice for their particular situation. Neither Manulife, Manulife Investment Management, nor any of their affiliates or representatives is providing tax, investment, or legal advice. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

This material was prepared solely for informational purposes, does not constitute a recommendation, professional advice, an offer, or an invitation by or on behalf of Manulife Investment Management to any person to buy or sell any security or adopt any investment strategy, and is no indication of trading intent in any fund or account managed by Manulife Investment Management. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee returns or eliminate risk in any market environment. Diversification or asset allocation does not guarantee a profit nor protect against loss in any market. Unless otherwise specified, all data is sourced from Manulife Investment Management.

Manulife Investment Management

Manulife Investment Management is the global wealth and asset management segment of Manulife Financial Corporation. We draw on more than 150 years of financial stewardship to partner with clients across our institutional, retail, and retirement businesses globally. Our specialist approach to money management includes the highly differentiated strategies of our fixed-income, specialized equity, multi-asset solutions, and private markets teams—along with access to specialized, unaffiliated asset managers from around the world through our multimanager model.

These materials have not been reviewed by, are not registered with any securities or other regulatory authority, and may, where appropriate, be distributed by the following Manulife entities in their respective jurisdictions. Additional information about Manulife Investment Management may be found at

Australia: Hancock Natural Resource Group Australasia Pty Limited, Manulife Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited. Brazil: Hancock Asset Management Brasil Ltda. Canada: Manulife Investment Management Limited, Manulife Investment Management Distributors Inc., Manulife Investment Management (North America) Limited, Manulife Investment Management Private Markets (Canada) Corp. China: Manulife Overseas Investment Fund Management (Shanghai) Limited Company. European Economic Area and United Kingdom: Manulife Investment Management (Europe) Ltd. which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Manulife Investment Management (Ireland) Ltd. which is authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland Hong Kong: Manulife Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited. Indonesia: PT Manulife Aset Manajemen Indonesia. Japan: Manulife Asset Management (Japan) Limited. Malaysia: Manulife Investment Management (M) Berhad (formerly known as Manulife Asset Management Services Berhad) 200801033087 (834424-U) Philippines: Manulife Asset Management and Trust Corporation. Singapore: Manulife Investment Management (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. (Company Registration No. 200709952G) Switzerland: Manulife IM (Switzerland) LLC. Taiwan: Manulife Investment Management (Taiwan) Co. Ltd. Thailand: Manulife Asset Management (Thailand) Company Limited. United States: John Hancock Investment Management LLC, Manulife Investment Management (US) LLC, Hancock Capital Investment Management, LLC and Hancock Natural Resource Group, Inc. Vietnam: Manulife Investment Fund Management (Vietnam) Company Limited. 


Serge Lapierre, FCIA, FSA

Serge Lapierre, FCIA, FSA, 

Global Head of Liability-Driven Investments, Financial Engineering, and Quantitative Research, Multi-Asset Solutions Team, Manulife Investment Management

Manulife Investment Management

Read bio