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Tell Stories About The Long-Lived Among Us

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Yet another survey has come out showing that older Americans have a great deficit in knowledge about, and readiness for, retirement.

For instance, among Americans age 60 to 75 with at least $100,000 in assets, 69 percent indicated they are unfamiliar with the “4 percent rule,” according to The American College of Financial Services, which commissioned the survey.

The 4 percent figure is the rule of thumb that many advisors use as a guide or starting point when developing a client’s annual withdrawal rate in retirement.

Not all advisors work with that percentage, and some complain it is too high, too rigid or too something-else. Still, it gets bantered around a lot in retirement circles at least as a starting point for the retirement discussion. But based on this new survey, many folks who hear the term simply draw a blank.

There’s more. Only 27 percent say they have a written retirement plan in place, even though 63 percent say they have a financial advisor and 52 percent say they are at least moderately concerned about running out of money in retirement.

Also, more than half (51 percent) underestimate the life expectancy of a 65-year-old man. What do you think it is? (The Social Security Administration says that a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3. In addition, it says that about 25 percent of 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.)

Readers have probably read similar findings about about the widespread lack of readiness for retirement and the lack of awareness about major retirement issues such as longevity. My personal files are bulging with such reports.

Retirement plan providers, life and annuity insurers, financial services firms, banks, and researchers are all doing their part to introduce retirement education, guidance, products and services that will help spur more people to get ready. Even the government has stepped up to the plate (with this year’s myRA and QLAC initiatives, for example).

Despite all that information and activity, pollsters are telling us there is still a yawning lack of awareness — and action. The two recessions of the previous decade certainly explains some of the problem. The financial setbacks for some people were devastating.

Even so, the nation still needs to deal with the problem.

Last week, news arrived that Herbert Kurz, the founder, CEO and chairman of the former Presidential Life (now Athene Annuity & Life Assurance Company of New York) had died in November. He was age 94.

I didn’t know Herb, and probably most readers of this blog did not know him. Even so, we can guess that, since the company he formed was an annuity company, he probably established a retirement plan that would last for (what turned out to be) a very long life. He was an insurance guy, so he would have known the importance of doing that.

Thinking about him made me wonder about people who live long. Maybe the retirement focus needs to shift, or expand, towards talking more about people who lived really long lives and a little less about data showing failure to get ready. Tell stories about how they managed financially as well as physically. Present multiple perspectives and impressions from families, friends and neighbors. Make their very long lives become “real.” This includes not only stories about well-off people like Herb but also stories from the mid-market and other demographics.

Those stories will surely include moments of struggle. But they will also send out glimmers of hope about the value of planning for retirement. Advisors can tell those stories to clients; companies to customers; employers to employees; government to citizens. The data can dance in the pauses.

Will hearing those stories help awaken greater motivation to “get ready” for the retirement years? For people who think substantial longevity isn’t in their cards, it just might.

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Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Connect with Linda →

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