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A financial plan can help you prepare for market volatility with the right mix of stocks, bonds and other assets in your portfolio.

This article originally appeared on the RBC Wealth Management content hub on February 5, 2020.

It’s been just over a decade since the last recession when the TSX lost 35 per cent of its value — or about C$700 billion — but the event remains fresh in the memories of retirees who were living off their investments at the time.

The market correction in the fourth quarter of 2018, and the increased volatility overall in the past couple of years, are reminders for older Canadians to ensure their income needs will be met when they slow down or stop working altogether.

How to find the “right” equities mix

The right mix of stocks, bonds and other assets comes down to an investor’s risk tolerance, income and spending habits and, of course, their retirement goals.

While every investor’s personal circumstance and risk tolerance is unique, a standard practice for investors is to hold a percentage of stocks equal to 100 minus their age. For a 60-year-old, for example, it would mean 40 per cent of their portfolio would be in equities.

“Equities are still an important part of any retirement portfolio,” says Howard Kabot, vice president of financial planning at RBC Wealth Management. “You may want to reduce your exposure to equities as you retire, but not completely come out of them.”

Retirees are often advised to reduce their equity exposure as they age, to better prepare for potential market shocks. This rule may be good for some, but not followed as strictly today, given people are living longer and may need to stretch their retirement savings.

Determining that ideal mix begins with having a personalized financial plan.

“Whether you’re in your 20s or 70s, if you’re not sure what your goal is, and don’t have a written plan letting you know how you’ll reach that goal, you’re not going to know what decisions to make, especially in a market downturn,” says Allison Marshall, vice president of high-net-worth planning services and financial advisory support at RBC Wealth Management.

If you maintain the discipline and perspective during a market downturn — with a plan in place — that will go a long way to overcoming the stress of where the markets are on a day-to-day basis.

A. Marshall

The benefits of a financial plan

“A financial plan provides projections to allow people to decide if they can retire at the desired age, such as 60 or 65, or if they need to continue to work to build their savings to the level required to meet their retirement funding,” says Abby Kassar, vice president of high net worth planning services at RBC Wealth Management.

A financial plan for retirees includes various projections to help determine if their assets will provide them with the income required to fund the retirement they want.

A financial plan should also include alternative projections, using different rates of return, to account for a possible market drop and the impact on the value of the assets and investments.

“The last thing you want is to be in a position where you’re forced to draw out funds during a downturn,” says Marshall. “If you maintain the discipline and perspective during a market downturn — with a plan in place — that will go a long way to overcoming the stress of where the markets are on a day-to-day basis.”

Have your “financial house” in order

To help prepare for a recession, retirees should also ensure they have their “financial house in order,” says Kabot.

“It’s actually a good approach for everyone, in good times and in bad,” he says.

  • For pre-retirees who are looking for more income as they age, Kabot suggests paying down debt, starting off with loans that have the highest interest rate.
  • As for income, he says people with defined benefit pensions can rest easy, given those payments are likely to remain intact.
  • Retirees should also have a tax-efficient strategy for how and when to collect government income such as the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, says Kassar.
  • Lastly, Kassar says retirees should make sure they have a Will and power of attorney in place to ensure their assets are passed on based on their wishes.

Having an updated, comprehensive Will and estate plan may reduce the stress on beneficiaries because they’ll understand what to do with the assets they’re given. Having a Will can also prevent a forced sale of assets, such as stocks or a home, during a recession, when values are likely to be lower.

Regardless of which way markets trade in future, Kassar, Marshall and Kabot agree pre-retirees and retirees should have a financial plan that answers the big question: “What do I want the rest of my life to look like?” Once that’s established, and they have a roadmap, they can enjoy their retirement — in good economic times, and bad.