A great deal of the life industry’s marketing efforts these days are devoted toward educating consumers on the notion of outliving their retirement savings. The natural solution, of course, is to buy an annuity or some other product that provides income over time, so no matter how old you live to, you can support yourself without going back to work or moving back in with your grown children, who now have families of their own to look after.
I am of a mixed mind on this. I agree that lifetime products are a fantastic way to supplement one’s income later in life. What I don’t necessarily agree with, though, is the notion that it is either bad to work late in life (even until the day you die) or to live with your adult children. I know these concepts both run counter to conventional wisdom these days, but I think that the nature of retirement is changing fundamentally in this country, and has already done so to a large degree…it’s just that the boomers, who are now turning 65 at a rate of some 10,000 a day, are learning it after the fact.
We all know that for most, retiring right at 65 is either difficult or impossible, especially thanks to the great retirement fund wipeout that happened at the start of the Great Recession. This has delayed many plans to stop working at 65 and enjoy a life of leisure for years afterward. And while it sure does seem nice to spend 20 or 30 years fishing and sipping lemonade, is that really such a realistic portrayal of what to expect? Mortality among the recently retired spikes because people who have worked for decades can’t just switch that off and replace it with building model trains. And there are more than a few people out there who simply have no interest in retiring. When I interview producers, I often ask if this business is something they do or if it is something they are. They always answer it is something they are. Plenty of professionals who dedicate to their craft feel likewise. Is it really so wise to expect us to just jettison that part of ourselves once we hit a certain age? I don’t think so.
Likewise, the notion of being a burden to one’s family is something I wish the industry would stop pushing. We consider the nuclear family the only way to go in this country, but what I’m seeing is an eventual return to many more extended families as millions of boomer parents simply cannot afford to live on their own any more. (Extended families are developing the other way, too, as more Millennials simply never leave home and eventually won’t be pressured to because they will be around to care for their parents.) Surely it won’t be so bad for families to grow larger and more mutually supportive. Also, to consider one’s own parents to be a burden under any circumstance strikes me as a fairly cold way to regard the people who brought you into the world and cared for you when you were helpless. Besides, I can think of millions of grandkids who would welcome Grandma or Grandpa moving in permanently. Maybe instead of planning for us to live alone forever, we should plan for additions to the family home so we can live longer together.
Retirement is by no means a bad thing, but honestly, a lot of our expectations are built on post-WWII financial and social realities that have less and less to do with what we now expect from our lives. The question is, can the industry help folks figure out a more modern notion of what retirement is and can be, and in turn, design/sell products toward that? That, my friends, strikes me as the great challenge facing the industry, going forward.