The Straits Times says

Deriving more retirement choices

A good plan. That is simply still the best step one can take to prepare for the years when working at full tilt might not be possible for health or other reasons. What is good for an individual will depend on particular needs, preferences and circumstances. But without a realistic plan and the will to realise it, one might come up short, especially when costs rise over time. This ought to guide Central Provident Fund members when weighing choices being offered to improve CPF schemes.

The CPF's fundamental mission remains unchanged: to help Singaporeans "have a secure retirement, through lifelong income, healthcare financing and home financing". One problem with the old CPF schemes was their one-size-fits-all approach to social security. That blanket approach expected citizens to leave their benefits from the CPF to decisions of the state, which would act in their best interests. While this was done, in the spirit of collective security that the CPF embodies, the approach did not sit well with those who believed that they could put their money to better use were they free to do so.

The CPF Investment Scheme sought to address that sentiment by giving members the option to invest their Ordinary Account and Special Account savings in a range of investments to enhance their retirement security. Unfortunately, not all investors are equally market-savvy, and the danger of lower-than-expected profits, to say nothing of losses, represented the downside of the freedom to use CPF money individually. Thus, a new balance had to be struck between the fund's protective role and the fact that, ultimately, the money in it belongs to individuals with differing needs and expectations.

This is the balance proposed by the Lifetime Retirement Investment Scheme that would give more options to investors who want to invest their CPF funds for higher returns but may not know how to do so.

Also in the works is a new CPF Life plan that would offer the choice of escalating payouts to keep pace with inflation, but payments would start lower than those under the current default plan. As always, choice comes with responsibility. To actively oversee returns on savings calls for discipline to monitor risks in a volatile world. Lay CPF members also need some financial literacy to decide how their funds should be invested.

All options, no matter how attractive outwardly, come with trade-offs which must be weighed in deciding what is best for a particular member. Given the prevailing weaker rate of returns in markets, it might be best to base calculations on conservative estimates. A prudent approach will help to strengthen a plan, and the earlier a strategy is drawn up, the better. The risks in not having a plan and under-providing for retirement are real. The CPF exists to help minimise those risks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Deriving more retirement choices'. Print Edition | Subscribe