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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

Hartford: Consumers Less Confident About Retirement

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NEW YORK — New research shows that consumers are more nervous about retirement costs- but that active efforts to plan relieve some of the anxiety.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford, (NYSE:HIG) released the survey results during a recent press briefing.

Researchers polled 751 consumers ages 45 and older over the summer.

The speakers who appeared at the press conference included three Hartford executives and Joe Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“People’s confidence surrounding financial security has been severely shaken over the past year,” says Jim Davey, director of the investments and retirement division at Hartford Life. “As a result, they’re returning to the basics, rethinking what’s important to secure their retirement, including the need for professional, financial advice.”

How to fund food, shelter and other basic needs–the dominant concern of survey participants–spiked in 2009 to 65%, said Davey. That contrasts with 50% of survey respondents in 2008 and 24.5% in 2007 who identified meeting daily expenses as their top financial concern in retirement.

More than 31% of the survey participants who said they had planned for retirement reported being “very” or “extremely” confident of having enough income for retirement. Only 10% of the participants who have not planned said they are confident about their retirement income.

About 58% of the active planners said they are on track to retire, compared with 39% of the non-planners.

About 9.6% of the active planners said they know where to go for financial advice, compared with about 42% of the non-planners.

About 19% of all participants said the economic crisis could force them to postpone retirement by 2 years or more.

“People are learning to adapt to the situation they find themselves in as a result of the downturn,” Coughlin said. “They’re engaging in retirement planning not simply because it’s a good and rational thing to do, but also to take control. Planning and taking action is a holistic way of coping and moving forward to be adaptive to a situation.”

Coughlin added, however, that many boomers fail to make time for financial planning because so many other work- and family-related priorities compete for their attention. The increasing “velocity and complexity” of daily life is particularly stressful for working women, he said.

“In order to get people to focus on retirement planning, advisors have to define the need as urgent,” Coughlin said. “And the planning has to be personal: You have to communicate with clients in a way that will get them to take action.”

Few participants said they are confident in their own financial planning capabilities: 83% now say they are less confident about their financial planning knowledge.

About half of the participants said retirement planning and financial planning are too complex or too difficult.

But “the good news is that employers and plan sponsors are responding to the need for financial advice,” said Jamie Ohl, director of the retirement plans group at Hartford Life. “About 50% of firms that offer 401(k) plans now provide financial advice to their participants. This is up from 40% in 2007.”

John Diehl, a senior vice president at Hartford, questioned the premise of a recent Time magazine cover story suggesting that the 401(k) plan should be thought of as being the third most important retirement planning vehicle.

The advent of the 401(k) plan may be the single most important development in retirement planning history, Diehl said.

“What’s the alternative to the 401(k)?” Diehl asked. “The debate around guaranteed income is a good one to have. But I don’t think that denigrating the 401(k) as a retirement plan asset is appropriate to this discourse.”

Confidence in employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plans plummeted along with workers’ confidence in their ability to manage 401(k) plan assets, Hartford found.

More than 34% of survey participants said they are “not at all confident” that the income from their employer-sponsored pension plan will be guaranteed for as long as they live in retirement, and 45% said they are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident.”

During the previous 3 years that Hartford commissioned the survey, fewer than 5% of participants said they were “not at all confident” in pension plans, and only 15% said they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident.”

Diehl said planners can help consumers both in good times and hard times.

“As a planner, you have to ask yourself what value proposition you offer clients,” said Diehl. “If you base your value solely on the ability to secure excess returns for them in the market, you’re only as good as yesterday’s market.”

Also at the press conference, Coughlin said consumers should consider non-financial issues, such as the possible loss of ability to drive a car, along with financial issues when engaging in “longevity planning.”

“Longevity planning should be part of one’s education,” said Coughlin. “Increased longevity is a crisis we need to address now because, chances are, we’re going to be living 30 years longer than our grandparents did.”


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