America is facing a retirement crisis.
While there is quite a bit of debate as to how severe the crisis may be, who is most affected, the kinds of repercussions that many workers and retirees face and what needs to be done about it, we know that by and large, Americans are not saving enough to cover their retirement expenses. And when this is the case, there are not only economic implications, but moral ones as well.
There is ample research to support this. For one, CNN Money has reported that 40% of Americans cannot come up with $400 in the case of an emergency. We are also seeing dangerously high levels of workers who do not have access to a workplace retirement savings plan. When people are not saving enough to handle immediate expenses, it’s even harder to save for the future, which makes it easy to understand why many could be in dire straits deep into their retirement years.
Before we get into some solutions, let’s explore underlying factors that could be causing this impending reality. One aspect that is often not discussed is the fact that we are living longer. The idea of retiring around the age of 65 and accessing the money you worked hard for all your life was developed when the average lifespan only reached the late 60s. In other words, only a few years of retirement were expected.
With the average life expectancy now reaching over 78, Americans are living longer than they planned for during their prime working years. While technological advancements and lifestyle changes have allowed for more and more people to live into their 70s, 80s and 90s, many did not expect to need that much for retirement when they retired nearly 20 or 30 years ago.
And living longer on insufficient retirement savings doesn’t just affect one person — it affects family members too. Younger workers are already saddled with student loan debt and rising housing costs, yet they are often the ones who need to take care of elderly family members. This can feed a dangerous cycle by preventing younger generations from saving for their own futures.
With this in mind, there is both an economic and moral case for financial services firms to take steps that can help make a difference. After more than 40 years in the industry, I have seen a few things that resonate with individuals, employers and advisers.
First, companies should consider refining benefits packages to offer plans that make a real difference. Ping pong tables and unlimited sick days are nice, but they don’t move the needle for the average rank-and-file employee who is looking to cover necessary expenses and save for retirement.
Benefits don’t need to be just monetary either. Financial services companies are experts in managing money, but the financial expertise embodied by company leadership does not always filter down to younger, less experienced workers. As executives, we should help as many people as we can learn skills related to financial wellness, such as budgeting, investing basics and debt management. These types of human resources programs are proven to not only help employees better save and manage their money, but also reduce overall stress and increase productivity. Consider creating a framework to help employees understand financial fundamentals that they can apply in life.
The crisis we face is real and we need to take action. This reality has significant implications, and the financial services industry and employers across the board have an obligation to help. It will not only help attract and retain talent, but also help more Americans save for their futures, which is what matters most.
About the Author
Gary Anetsberger is the CEO of Millennium Trust Company, LLC, and has over 40 years of experience in the financial services industry.