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Revealed: The 5 biggest barriers to retirement planning

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The fact that so many Americans are not adequately preparing for retirement has been widely documented. However, in considering potential solutions to meet this challenge, the role of life insurers, annuity companies and other financial institutions, along with their intermediaries, is often overlooked.

The financial services industry has certainly devoted considerable resources to this effort, spending billions to market a growing number of products and services designed to address retirement needs. Furthermore, there are thousands of professionals of various stripes — financial planners, advisors, brokers and insurance agents — ready, willing and able to help consumers put together a formal retirement savings and income plan.

So why have the industry’s efforts to crack the retirement market apparently fallen short, judging by the number of people who feel unprepared financially? And what can the industry do to more effectively reach and serve this growing segment of future retirees?

To help the industry come to grips with this conundrum, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services conducted a survey among nearly 4,500 consumers from a wide range of age and income groups. Our goal was to generate insights into how financial institutions might develop new approaches and solutions by better understanding the attitudinal and behavioral constraints preventing consumers from taking more firm control of their retirement destiny.

See: 5 tips on ‘meeting the retirement challenge’

We did a deep dive into the problems facing the majority of respondents — 5 8 percent — who do not have a formal retirement savings and income plan in place. This planning gap widened the further the respondent was from their expected retirement date — rising to 70 percent among those who don’t expect to leave the work force for 15 years or more.

The survey found that planning makes a big difference in the confidence level of consumers, as respondents with a formal plan to generate retirement savings and income were four times more likely to feel very secure (52 percent) about their post-working lives compared to those without a formal plan (only 13 percent).

In addition, Deloitte’s survey suggests that there is a relationship between the use of professional advisors and feelings about retirement security. Indeed, the survey found that 40 percent of those using financial advisors felt very secure about their retirement, versus only 22 percent of those who do not seek professional advice. A big reason why is that 66 percent of respondents with a financial advisor had a formal plan for retirement savings and income, versus only 28 percent of those without an advisor.

Planning inertia

The survey identified a number of reasons why inertia on retirement planning persists despite extensive efforts by insurers and annuity companies, as well as banks, mutual funds, brokerage firms and their intermediaries, to help consumers address this challenge and enhance their retirement security.

Analysis of the survey data revealed five main barriers inhibiting many Americans from taking a more disciplined approach to setting retirement goals, and putting in place the required mechanisms to achieve a secure future. These interconnected barriers are:

  1. Conflicting priorities: While retirement was a leading concern for a majority of the survey respondents, many cited difficulty balancing such long-term needs with other, often more immediate financial priorities.
  2. A failure to communicate: Financial institutions often do not effectively reach those who may need retirement planning advice and solutions, particularly via the workplace. And even when they do, they don’t necessarily address such needs as part of a broader financial plan taking into account other priorities.
  3. A lack of product awareness: Many consumers are simply not familiar with a number of retirement product options at their disposal.
  4. Mistrust in financial institutions and intermediaries: A significant number of individuals do not have a high degree of trust in anyone working for the financial services industry, whether in offering objective advice or delivering on what they promise when it comes to filling a consumer’s retirement needs.
  5. A “do-it-myself” mentality: A significant segment of consumers either don’t want, or feel they don’t need, professional advice in retirement planning. For many, this might be a short- sighted decision, given the complexity of retirement finances, the lack of awareness about the product options available, and the potential value an advisor could offer.

Potentially, many of these barriers could be overcome by adopting a more holistic approach, in which retirement needs are accounted for early in a customer’s lifecycle and in conjunction with other financial priorities. Changing the mindset of both consumers and retirement services providers to encourage a more integrated planning discipline is therefore a very important step in resolving the retirement dilemma.

But this is not the only step needed to make consumers feel more secure about their retirement. There are other initiatives financial institutions and their intermediaries might consider to help them overcome the lack of trust and dearth of product familiarity among many consumers, while perhaps prompting more of those with a “do-it-myself” mentality to reconsider and seek professional advice.

In future columns over the next several weeks, we’ll more closely examine the barriers listed above, and suggest how the industry’s operating models and marketing approaches might need to evolve so that life insurance and annuity companies and their intermediaries might more effectively reach and serve consumers in tackling their retirement needs.

In the meantime, a full report on the survey results and their implications — “Meeting the Retirement Challenge: New Approaches and Solutions for the Financial Services Industry” — can be accessed with this link.

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