A Stochastic Control Approach to Defined Contribution Plan Decumulation: 'The Nastiest, Hardest Problem in Finance'

30 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020

See all articles by Peter Forsyth

Peter Forsyth

University of Waterloo - David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science

Date Written: August 12, 2020

Abstract

We pose the decumulation strategy for a Defined Contribution (DC) pension plan as a problem in optimal stochastic control. The controls are the withdrawal amounts and the asset allocation strategy. We impose maximum and minimum constraints on the withdrawal amounts, and impose no-shorting no-leverage constraints on the asset allocation strategy. Our objective function measures reward as the expected total withdrawals over the decumulation horizon, and risk is measured by Expected Shortfall (ES) at the end of the decumulation period. We solve the stochastic control problem numerically, based on a parametric model of market stochastic processes. We find that, compared to a fixed constant withdrawal strategy, with minimum withdrawal set to the constant withdrawal amount, the optimal strategy has a significantly higher expected average withdrawal, at the cost of a very small increase in ES risk. Tests on bootstrapped resampled historical market data indicate that this strategy is robust to parametric model mis-specification.

Keywords: Optimal Control, DC Plan Decumulation, Variable Withdrawal, Expected Shortfall, Asset Allocation, Resampled Back-tests

JEL Classification: G11, G22

Suggested Citation

Forsyth, Peter, A Stochastic Control Approach to Defined Contribution Plan Decumulation: 'The Nastiest, Hardest Problem in Finance' (August 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3674232 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3674232

Peter Forsyth (Contact Author)

University of Waterloo - David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science ( email )

200 University Avenue West
Waterloo, ON
Canada

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