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Why Retirement Plans Should Stretch: Equitable's Scanlon

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What You Need to Know

  • COVID-19 may not yet have had as much impact on retirement savers’ thinking as the 2008 slump had.
  • People who retire at age 65 today could live about 32 more years.
  • Scanlon believes the best defenses against uncertainty are customization and flexibility.

The world is complicated enough these days without having to go through it wearing the equivalent of stiff, scratchy work pants that don’t fit well.

The head of individual retirement at Equitable, Steve Scanlon is the executive in charge of making sure the firm’s individual income planning products fit more like a comfortable, well-sized pair of jeans than like a hand-me-down interview suit.

Equitable is the arm of Equitable Holdings that’s heir to the history of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, which has been one of the leading U.S. life insurers since 1859.

Scanlon also is in charge of strategy for Equitable’s individual retirement business. He oversees distribution, product menus, administration of in-force business, mergers, acquisitions, efforts to raise capital, and major relationships with other organizations.

Scanlon previously was head of group retirement at Equitable.

Here are five thoughts Scanlon has about retirement planning, drawn from a recent interview.

1. Gaps in annuity awareness are still out there.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to educate people,” Scanlon said.

Longtime insurance agents may know all about annuities, but Scanlon sees RIAs accounting for a growing share of sales.

“You’re seeing new advisors coming in,” he said. “New people come to us and ask, ‘What is it you do?’”

2. The COVID-19 pandemic may have had more effect on life insurance sales than on annuity sales.

The pandemic “certainly helped life insurance,” Scanlon said. “People revisited their mortality.”

Possibly because financial markets recovered from the March 2020 freeze so quickly, however, pandemic-related turmoil seems to have had less effect on how typical consumers think about retirement planning so far than the 2008 slump had, Scanlon said.

3. Everyone should understand that asset prices can fall.

“You should always be planning ahead for the next correction,” Scanlon said.

4. Mattresses are for sleeping, not for retirement savings.

Scanlon maintains that being too conservative with investments, and hiding money under the mattress, can backfire, given that many 65-year-olds who retire now will live for 33 more years.

“Your money can’t retire,” Scanlon said.

5. Changes happen.

Both clients and advisors are hungry for flexible solutions that can accommodate uncertainty, Scanlon said.

“What we do is try to create choice,” Scanlon said. “We don’t believe one size fits all.”

The key is to figure out what problems advisors are trying to solve for their clients, and to come up with customized solutions that can address what the clients are worried about, Scanlon said.

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Steve Scanlon (Photo: Equitable)