It can be difficult to save a sufficient amount of money to provide for a comfortable retirement. For someone who’s worked hard to save for retirement, particularly over a long period of time, it can be particularly disheartening to see a chunk of that retirement savings evaporate into thin air because of adverse market movements. Thus most people seek safety when deciding upon the appropriate financial product for their retirement savings.

To illustrate this, my firm surveyed insurance agents – who also happen to be consumers – and asked them a simple question: When you are deciding where to put your retirement savings, which of the following four aspects is the single most important aspect for you?

Out of 2,721 responses, agents answered as follows:

Making sure my money is safe

73%

Having the potential to earn a high interest rate/rate of return

19%

Being able to move all of my money at any time

6%

Protecting and passing along the money at my death

2%

So, you can see that when consumers are deciding where to put their money, safety is generally their top priority. We see this in statistics published by the Investment Company Institute: In each month over the last two-and-a-half years, people took more money out of stock mutual funds than they put in. In fact, from January 2008 through July 2010, investors pulled a net amount of $244 billion out of stock mutual funds. During this same period, they put $589 billion into bond mutual funds.

Presumably, investors have moved money into bond mutual funds out of a desire to achieve greater safety. But have they found it?

Right now, bond interest rates are at historic lows. Consider, for example, the five-year Constant Maturity Treasury rate, which was at 1.41 percent as of Sept. 30, 2010. One year earlier, it was at 2.33 percent; three years earlier, it was at 4.20 percent; and 10 years earlier, it was at 5.93 percent. While it is certainly possible that interest rates could continue to fall, when you consider that the five-year Treasury rate is at 1.41 percent, we can clearly see that there is more room for it to rise than to fall – after all, the rate can never fall below 0 percent.

What happens to the value of money in a bond mutual fund if interest rates rise? The FINRA Investor Education Foundation asked 1,488 randomly selected adults, and here was their answer to the question “If interest rates rise, what will typically happen to bond prices?”:

They will rise

20%

They will fall (the correct answer)

21%

They will stay the same

6%

There is no relationship between bond prices and the interest rate

18%

Don’t know/refused to answer

35%

Given the spread of answers across all the possibilities, plus how few picked the correct answer, you can make only one conclusion from this survey: Many people who put money into bond funds, thinking that they have found safety, most likely don’t understand the risk they are taking. If interest rates rise, the value of their bond holdings will fall, and they won’t understand why it is happening.

This highlights why it is so important for financial advisors to provide our customers with financial vehicles that are truly safe and have guarantees of safety rather than the mere likelihood of greater safety. For example, such products as fixed and fixed indexed annuities provide contractual guarantees of principal and interest. The risk of rising interest rates and sinking financial markets is borne by the carrier, not by its customers. That’s true safety – the safety that our clients are seeking.

Chris Conklin is a licensed agent and principal and actuary of Insurance Insight Group and MyAnnuityTraining.com. He can be reached at 801-290-3320 or chris.conklin@iigsolutions.com.