Retirement used to be heralded as the “golden” period of our lives. After a lifetime of work, people earned the right to take it easy for the rest of their lives. But pick up any news story on retirement these days and you are more likely to find predictions of doom. While conducting research here at the International Foundation concerning retirement security, I’ve come to realize the retirement situation is not so simple.
While an overwhelming proportion of articles say a retirement crisis is on the way, not everyone agrees. As examples, consider
- The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed “The Imaginary Retirement-Income Crisis” by Andrew Biggs and Sylvester Schieber, which reprises their article, “Retirees Aren’t Headed for the Poor House.”
- Malcolm Hamilton of the C.D. Howe Institute authored “Do Canadians Save Too Little?,” which concludes only middle-income persons are at risk.
[Related: Money Matters: Your Budget]
At least some people charge that the retirement crisis is a tale of fiction created for the self-serving motives of politicians and those in the financial services industry. Arguing the current retirement-savings system has failed helps promote changes in government retirement security benefits and tax incentives for retirement savings. Other commentators are kinder—They say the reports are well-intentioned scare tactics motivated simply by a desire to get people to save more.
[Related: Enhancing Employee Financial Literacy | Benefit Bits Video]
I’ve come to the conclusion that instead of debating whether there is or isn’t a retirement crisis, what is really important is what individual people think and how well-prepared they are for their retirement years. Some retirees will have sufficient resources to pay their bills and experience a stress-free life after work, but there is no doubt—Unless changes are made, there is a group of retirees that is going to struggle financially.
We may not know the precise number of people facing a “nightmare” vs. “golden years,” but the research makes it clear: (1) these people exist, (2) there are probably a lot of them, and (3) they may be of any age or income level.
Employers, retirement plan sponsors and administrators, and vendors increasingly are recognizing they have an important role in helping at-risk workers avoid a retirement nightmare. Perhaps not everyone will have “golden years,” but it would be nice for them to have a retirement free of the worry that they might outlive their retirement resources.
[Related: Watch on demand—Does Financial Education Belong at Work?]
Recent reports from the International Foundation concerning retirement security (Canada, U.S.), include suggestions how to help those in the workplace determine their retirement goals and where they stand with respect to accomplishing these goals. The practical tips include:
- Encourage workers to picture their retirement. Envisioning where they want to live, what they want to do, etc. helps people determine how much it will cost to make their retirement dreams a reality.
- Deliver basic retirement information. Many people simply do not understand the benefit programs and saving/investment vehicles available to them through government, their workplace and elsewhere that can help them achieve a secure retirement.
- Offer retirement planning tools. Calculators, projection tools and questionnaires that people can use to assess their investment risk tolerance and asset allocation models can also help workers determine how much they need to save. They also help workers determine whether they are on target for their retirement goals.
- Provide access to financial advisors. Retirement planning requires knowledge and effort. Shlomo Benartzi, a behavioral economist, conservatively estimates about 90% of workers have neither the knowledge nor the desire to be actively involved in managing their retirement savings and would prefer professionals do it for them. Professionally managed accounts, benefits information and education programs help address these obstacles, but there is simply no substitute for personalized, objective financial advice.
With information, education and access to personalized advice, some individuals will be relieved to discover they are on track for a secure retirement. For those who are at risk, the same strategies can help motivate them to take action and make smarter decisions.
[Related: Retirement Security Strategies Checklist for Plan Sponsors]