How Segregated (Seg) Funds Work
Segregated (seg for short) funds are professionally managed investment funds holding pooled investments, with a life insurance component.
With predefined investment objectives and policies, a professional manager selects the assets the seg fund will hold. Many individuals pool their money for the purpose of investing in stocks, bonds, and other kinds of securities by purchasing shares or units. The price per unit fluctuates in relation to the market price of the securities the fund holds.
Fund investors get a share of the fund’s ongoing investment earnings or losses, based on the number of units they own. When they redeem or sell units, the redemption value or price they get depends on the number of units redeemed, the unit price at the time of redemption, and any applicable fees.
The advantages of segregated funds during market turbulence Seg funds can offer growth when the market increases in value. Seg funds allow investors who have only a little capital or limited investment knowledge to invest in a diversified portfolio of assets. Individual investors share the expenses of running the fund, such as employing a professional manager who buys and sells assets. They are very liquid; in other words, individual investors can cash out at virtually any time by redeeming their units with the fund issuer.
1. Diversity can reduce investor risk The more diversified a fund is, the greater the mix of assets it holds in its investment portfolio. As with all investment products, there are various kinds of investment risk, such as inflation risk, declining market risk (referred to as bear market), default risk, currency risk, interest rate risk, and political risk.
2. Safeguards certainties The most compelling reason for buying a seg fund policy is capital protection. While GICs also offer a guaranteed return, they are limited in their growth potential. Since seg funds are invested in capital markets, they have a greater capacity for appreciation. Segregated fund contracts have special features offering certainties over and above those offered by other investment funds.
3. A maturity benefit The seg fund’s contract at maturity date, or at death, may guarantee a minimum percent of your invested capital to be returned (by a life insurance company). Typically, at the time of maturity set in the contract, some companies permit a resetting of the new guaranteed capital amount and a renewed maturity date.
4. Money security options Regardless of market performance, at maturity you are entitled to receive most or all of your initial invested capital back (or more if the market has performed well), less any withdrawals. Note: Examine the conditions of the contract.
6. Estate planning benefits As with the certainties of the maturity benefit, some insurance companies allow individual contract owners to reset the death benefit periodically to lock in increases in the value of the segregated funds the contract has invested in, equal to at least a percentage of gross contributions.
This benefit is payable directly to the beneficiary of the contract upon the death of the insured person. If a beneficiary is named and the death benefit paid to him or her, monies can be protected from probate, government estate administration fees, and any attending legal fees incurred.
7. Why seg funds appeal to senior investors This is of particular value when an investor is nearing, or has begun, retirement and cannot afford to lose capital invested during a volatile market. Even if the fund’s actual unit value declined, your seg fund investment contract may guarantee that you will get back a very high percentage of the initial capital invested.
Also, at maturity, you will get back the guaranteed minimum amount or, if the market has risen in value, a higher amount. This means less worry, as you will know with certainty the minimum amount of money you will have when the contract matures (some return up to 100% of the original capital invested). This is particularly good for those who intend to pass the money on to the next generation if it is not needed for income or emergency during any period of market devaluation.
8. One or more beneficiaries Segregated fund policies allow you to designate one or more beneficiaries, much like a life insurance policy. At the time of your death, the proceeds from your seg policy may not be included with the rest of your estate. The proceeds from your segregated fund policy pass directly to your beneficiaries.
Note: The provisions of a seg fund contract, such as the guarantee periods and the MER, may be dependent on age and insurance underwriting. There are many new seg funds being developed offering various guarantees (and periods related to those guarantees). You should note that individual contracts have their own restrictions on the age to which you can invest. In addition, the level of payout can vary depending upon your age.
9. Potention creditor-proof investments Depending on jurisdiction, some seg fund policies might be protected from creditors for an investor’s lifetime if the policyholder ever faced a lawsuit or bankruptcy. This is because seg funds include insurance-related contracts. There must be an irrevocable or preferred beneficiary (or multiple preferred beneficiaries)—a child, grandchild, parent, or spouse—named on the contract. This can be beneficial for self-employed small business owners who take more financial risk (such as consultants, dentists, lawyers, and accountants). Equally, since those who own a significant number of shares in a corporation or serve as an officer or director of a corporation may be liable if lawsuits are filed against that corporation, they also can benefit from this creditor protection. For example, a sexual harassment or environmental lawsuit could affect a small business owner or corporate officer. Losing a serious lawsuit can put both your business reserves and personal investments at risk.
Note: Subject to certain restrictions, these strategies should be discussed with a qualified financial advisor. The creditor protection is allowed as long as money was not placed in the seg fund with the intent to protect the capital from an impending financial crisis. In most cases, however, the creditor protection is valid when the lawsuit or bankruptcy (in the case of both personal and business situations) is unexpected. Recent court rulings have shown that creditor protection may not always apply. You should seek legal advice to determine under what circumstances (especially intentional quick-fix shielding of money) a seg fund policy might not offer such protection.
Seg funds are best suited for the investors involved in long-term wealth creation and preservation of capital.
Capital protection appeals to a variety of people, including:
• Everyday investors who are conservative and yet want higher returns than GICs offer;
• Pre-retirees who need growth but can’t afford to lose money;
• Seniors who require estate protection and certain capital guarantees; and
• Businesspeople who have exposure to personal liability and want to protect their assets.