An Australian expert tells us a lack of financial literacy and education contributes to most retirees not wanting to spend their superannuation.
“The financial services and superannuation sector has been focused almost solely on investment and supporting the growth of accumulators who are entering or part of the workforce,” he said.
“There has been limited, if any, investment into education on retirement, outside of a few resources, which means the basic understanding of superannuation for most Australians, let alone retirees is very low.
“The lack of education and understanding has meant that many entering retirement simply have no idea how long their capital will last, nor how much they can reasonably spend without having a major impact on this.
“The result is a default to what the government says is an ‘appropriate’ amount which in reality, is aimed at ensuring super balances are reduced to zero in someone’s 90s.
“Put simply, most retirees aren’t empowered or informed enough to know how much they can really spend.”
Does this sound familiar?
Thanks to David Harris for drawing my attention to this article entitled
Government to look at advice as it probes Australians’ reluctance to spend super
Apparently, the Australian Treasury believes problems with financial advice are impeding Australians from accessing their super
I have spent half my career believing we can make savers into their own CIOs, I don’t want to spend the other half as my personal pension actuary.
Let’s take a step back.
The vast majority of us know enough about cash management to stay solvent and enjoy life provided we have a wage coming in. We do not need a financial adviser to tell us what we need to earn, nor an adviser to tell us how to spend our earnings. We just get on with finding the right job to give us satisfaction in and out of the workplace.
When it comes to pay reviews, we expect our salaries to go up with inflation but we don’t walk out if sometimes they don’t and sometimes we have to take a step back in pay, when for instance we want to work less hours or we take a less demanding job. In such circumstances we adjust our lifestyles to meet the challenge of reduced money coming in.
So far so good.
So what’s different about retirement?
Let’s start with the premise – as is more true in Australia than the UK, that most people don’t reach the point they want to wind up work, with a replacement income to meet their ongoing needs. Let’s assume instead that they have a capital reservoir from which they can draw to pay themselves the income they no longer get from work. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. As has been noted before on this blog – turning a pot into a pension is the nastiest hardest problem in finance.
If you are a financial economist , you trust the markets and buy an annuity, but since we had the freedom not to, only 10% of us actually choose to swap pot for pension. That’s with the annuity culture we have in Britain – in Australia virtually no-one buys an annuity – why not?
People clearly find it hard to exchange a pot for a pension because of the massive “regret risk” of making the wrong decision
- could interest rates go higher and leave me withing I’d waited?
- am I really likely to live long enough to benefit from this?
- do I trust the insurance market?
- could I spend the rest of my lifetime regretting a decision I take in a moment?
These are only three of many questions that stop people committing to a course of action which is both logical and one that in the long-term will give them great comfort.
Unlike choosing a job, we find it hard to choose a pension, so most of us don’t. If it was that easy – we would.
Is advice the solution?
Putting aside capacity issues, would have an adviser to tell you how to spend your pot, help? Probably yes, so long as the adviser was there, and therein part of the problem. “An adviser is for life , not just retirement” or so most advisors tell us. The need for advice is ongoing, advisors don’t want one-off transactional work and you don’t want an advisor who tells you what to do and then waltzes off , never to be seen again.
For most people, engaging a financial advisor comes with the obligation to keep in touch and that’s usually because you sign over all or a proportion of your pot to his or her charge , allowing an advisory charge to be docked each year to pay for that advice. This suits a lot of people- witness the success of the wealth management industry.
But there are three snags that come to my mind
- the aforementioned capacity, there aren’t enough advisers to go round
- affordability, the fees for the kind of work an advisor does are beyond what most will pay
- decency, advisors are under a consumer duty not to charge fees that do not offer value for money, even if someone was prepared to pay, advisers might not feel comfortable taking the money
This is where the Australian Treasury needs to do more thinking.
Done for us.
The one successful mass-market financial strategy of the past twenty years is auto-enrolment. It gives the silent majority a reasonable solution and leaves the vocal minority the opt-out into what they want. The opt-out is critical and it’s something that we do very well.
Unlike Australia , we can opt-out of retirement saving and unlike Australia , we can opt-out of voting. By staying in and saving and voting, we have exercised choice, or at least feel we have not been compelled.
We should learn from this when it comes to turning pots to pensions
Compulsory annuitisation was unpopular and resulted in a populist policy known as “pension freedom” , which is presenting the same problems over spending as faced in Australia.
Some call for compulsory guidance (through a mandatory trip to Pension Wise) but Pension Wise does not seem to have left a lasting impression on those who use it.
Should we draw David Harris’ conclusion?
We have yet to find the advisors or the inclination among the British public, to pay others to tell us how to spend our money. If we consider advice necessary, then we should abandon any pretence that saving for retirement involves a pension “plan or scheme”.
The public has been sold the idea that their workplace saving will result in an income in retirement which – combined with their other resources – will keep them solvent. Nowhere at the point of sale was the need to take advice part of the deal.
Auto-enrolment is the answer, a nudge towards a default in retirement solution that we can opt-out of. The answer is not advice, the problem is to find a nationally acceptable pension that isn’t an annuity.