Book review: 'Beyond the 4% rule' by Abraham Okusanya
Updated: Oct 1
'Beyond the 4% rule: The science of retirement portfolios that last a lifetime' was published in 2018 by Abraham Okusanya. Abraham first appeared on my radar in 2013 (soon after he had formed his consultancy firm Finanlytiq) when he wrote a piece on Neil Woodford and received a lot of feedback (not all positive!). Abraham has since launched a discretionary fund management (DFM) service named Betafolio (that follows a similar investing style to Tim Hale at Albion). In addition, he has released a piece of software, Timeline, used to evaluate the chances that a portfolio might run out in retirement. I use Timeline in my day-to-day work and used it extensively in the case study for my book, Planning for Retirement: Your Guide to Financial Freedom.
Retirement income history
The book begins by discussing the history of retirement incomes, from the introduction of what was effectively the first state pension introduced by Otto Von Bismarck in 1883 to the pension freedoms introduced in the UK in 2015.
The two retirement income philosophies are then covered. On one side, safety-first advocates believe that essential spending should be covered by income sources that aren’t at the mercy of investment markets, such as state pensions, final salary schemes, and annuities. In contrast, those advocating a probability-based approach believe that investment, inflation and longevity risks should all be considered and used to estimate how likely the retirement pot might be exhausted.
Sequencing risk and withdrawal strategies
The book then covers sequencing risk (or pound cost ravaging, as Abraham likes to call it) and how investment returns during the first decade are linked to portfolio sustainability.
He next looks at the theories that don’t work, from managing volatility in a retirement portfolio, the limitations (Abraham has a less polite interpretation!) of a natural yield approach (living off the dividend income from a portfolio), to the downsides of cash buffers.
Abraham then covers flexible withdrawal strategies (i.e. not just increasing withdrawals by inflation each year) with inflation adjustment options, including Guyton Klinger guardrails and advanced withdrawal rules such as ‘ratcheting’.
The final sections of the book look at what can impact the sustainable withdrawal rate. These include asset allocation, longevity and fees and how these can be used to bake a 'layer cake' of a sustainable withdrawal rate.
Abraham's book was the first that helped to plan a sustainable retirement for a UK retiree, with most books before this tending to be aimed at US audiences (for example, those by renowned retirement expert Wade Pfau). It deserves its place on the bookshelf for those planning for retirement (and those helping them!). That said, I felt that some of the examples in the book were not always as clear as they could be, and the book would’ve benefitted from a case study where the impact of factors affecting SWR was in one place. Fortunately, we've covered this in our series of blog posts on sustainable withdrawal strategies, including Bill Bengen's work and the Guyton-Klinger guardrails!
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