One of the most difficult questions to answer when we were young was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
How could you answer that question when being a grown up seemed so far away? Looking ahead in life is a hard thing to do. Marriage, parenthood, old age, death—the future is inconceivable until it sneaks up on us.
The same is true for retirement, as many baby boomers are starting to realize.
According to a survey from Allianz Life Insurance Co., an overwhelming majority of young boomers (those in their late-40s) believe there is a retirement crisis in America. In fact, 92% of all respondents to Allianz’s study said they believe there is a retirement crisis in this country. Among those in their late-40s, however, the number rose to 97%. Among respondents between the ages of 44 and 54, more than half (51%) said they feel unprepared for retirement. This anxiety over retirement probably explains why more respondents between the ages of 44 and 49 say they fear outliving their assets more than they fear death (77% versus 23%).
So where did it all go wrong? Why have so many boomers found themselves at the doorstep of retirement feeling like they aren’t ready to walk through that door into the next phase of their lives?
It’s actually hard to say. But really, it probably comes down to a multitude of reasons rather than just one.
Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer marketing and solutions for Allianz Life Insurance Co. said the seismic shift that occurred in the retirement income space when employers began moving from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. Employees went from having virtually no control over how much they invested and where they put their money, to gaining a significant amount of accountability for their retirement assets. With the 401(k), the focus became on mutual funds and rates of return and being in control of your income.
“But the guaranteed income stream was lost and that was huge,” Libbe said. “What are you going to do once you retire? Everybody got a shock.”
This begs the question of whether participants were given too much control when the shift to the defined contribution plan occurred. Libbe notes that more recently, the internet can be seen as both a blessing and curse. Although there is a lot of information out there that can help serve as a starting point on investing, it has perhaps led many investors to think they can handle everything on their own just by searching around the web.
“The way I always looked at it is that a lot of employees were given a lot of responsibility for their retirement portfolio without having that financial professional to advise them,” Libbe says.
About 46% of Boomers currently work with an advisor, according to the Allianz survey. Another 29% said they are receptive to advisors. But a quarter of the respondents said they don’t have an advisor and are not open to working with one. Among those that are working with an advisor, 44% said they should have learned more about financial planning. The majority (56%) said they were self-taught. Another 6% said they still don’t know anything about financial planning.
So what do boomers really want from their financial advisor if they are using one? Not surprisingly, 86% said that ensuring the safety of a significant part of their nest egg was “very” or “extremely” important and another 85% said that ensuring guaranteed income was “very” or “extremely” important.
Libbe said that annuities are essentially the only option that can provide guarantee income for life. The only problem, of course, is that annuities have a reputation for being difficult for the average individual investor to understand. Which means that advisors need to be certain they are properly explaining the various parts of an annuity to their clients, while the quarter of boomers who said they are not open to working with an advisor might want to reconsider that stance.
“They can be complex so we usually believe it’s best to have an advisor look at these options and explain them to the individual,” Libbe said. “They can actually be complex in a good way. They don’t just provide a steady stream, they also increase income. But it starts with the advisors so they can easily be understood.”