Saving and accumulating for retirement takes decades. As a result, most people will spend a very long time working towards the goal with only small, incremental progress along the way. And it can be very hard to stay focused and motivated to achieve a long-term goal when there’s no sense of progress.
Fortunately, the most straightforward indicator of forward progression is simply to see a retirement account balance that grows over time. But the challenge is that just viewing the balance gives no context to where it stands relative to the retirement goal being pursued. It’s just an abstract number.
An increasingly popular strategy to give context to the progress of saving towards a (retirement) goal is the funded ratio – where the current account value is presented as a percentage of the total savings necessary to achieve the goal (or at least, be on track for the goal with an assumed growth rate).
The virtue of the funded ratio is that it takes an abstract account balance and relates it directly to a goal or outcome, and can give savers a sense of accomplishment as the percentage slowly and steadily climbs towards 100%. The bad news, though, is that once account balances grow large, the funded ratio itself can become highly volatile as markets move up and down, and the discount rate used to calculate the funded ratio can unwittingly turn into an indirect absolute return benchmark that is difficult to keep up with.
Unfortunately, the sensitivity to assumptions means the funded ratio can ultimately be just as problematic as many other approaches to quantify investment results and progress towards goals. Nonetheless, the rising focus on trying to benchmark portfolios against the goals they’re meant to achieve means it may become an increasingly popular approach in the coming years, notwithstanding its flaws!