The White House Conference on Aging took place on July 13 and Gale Reece, founder of the I know expo, was in attendance. The topic of financial security was discussed on that day and here’s a synopsis of what was said as reported by Next Avenue, public media’s first and only national service for America’s booming 50+ population.
In his remarks, President Obama said: “Too many people are leaving their jobs without having saved enough for a dignified retirement. It’s not as though they haven’t tried. It’s really really hard.”
Obama noted that most workers don’t have pensions (as many of their parents did) and “a Social Security check on its own often is not enough.” Since roughly one-third of workers lack access to retirement plans at work, the president said that by the end of 2015, the Administration will propose rules to make it easier for states to set up programs allowing “tens of millions” of residents without employer-based retirement plans to save. Illinois recently passed just such a law and about 20 states – including Kentucky – are considering one.
Obama said he wants to make sure that all workers could benefit from the tax advantages of 401(k) and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans. That way, he said, “even if you don’t have googobs of money or fancy financial advisers, you can put away a little nest egg so you’re protected when you’re old.
That led to the White House Conference on Aging’s panel, Planning for Financial Security at Every Age with U.S Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and four panelists: Jean Chatzky (AARP Financial Ambassador and NBC Today Show’s financial expert); Andy Sieg (head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions at Merrill Lynch Bank of America); Robin Diamonte (Chief Investment Officer at United Technologies) and Vickie Elisa (President of Mothers’ Voices Georgia).
When Perez asked what the panelists thought was the most significant barrier to a secure retirement, Sieg said it was the need to “expand the way we think about later life and our bonus years,” since “retirement has been transformed as a concept in society.”
Merrill Lynch has been trying to do this by working with the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology to provide gerontology training for its 14,000 financial advisers. And today, Sieg announced, the firm will soon offer similar training to Human Resources staffers at more than 35,000 companies with its retirement and benefit plan services.
Chatzky thought the biggest barrier to a secure retirement is that “we’re human.” She said: “When you ask humans to plan for retirement, you’re asking them to do things that really anathema to human nature — to save, which they’re not particularly good at — and to do it consistently. Life has a way of surprising us. And then they’re asked to consistently stick with markets when they’re not a lot of fun. And then once they’ve accumulated money, not to pull it out and spend it all at once. We’re asking to climb a mountain previous generations didn’t have to climb.”
Elisa, who spoke candidly of financial challenges she has faced and money mistakes she has made (“I went way, way way off track and ended up in a fiscal nightmare with bill collectors and foreclosure looming”), offered this advice — speaking particularly to women: “You can always find a way to save. Baby steps will get you where you need to go. Reduce your credit card debt to help you secure your economic future.” The challenge, Elisa added, is “staying consistent and keeping your retirement goal ever-present despite what may seem like setbacks.”
Diamonte mentioned some of the progressive ways her company helps its employees save for retirement and to “make it simple.” Essentially, United Technologies makes people save a lot automatically unless they specifically say they won’t. And the firm offers generous cash to help. United Technologies has an “auto-enrollment” 401(k) plan where employees put in 6 percent of pay as soon as they start working, unless they opt out. Then, that amount rises by one percentage point a year. The company kicks in 3 to 5.5 percent, depending on the employee’s age. Diamonte’s firm also does something interesting to help employees’ money last. It has a “lifetime income strategy” where the plan’s money is invested in quasi target date fund that gets more conservative as an employee ages and then it generates lifetime income in retirement. “It’s important for industry to put products in place that give employees lifetime security and flexibility,” said Diamonte. “At ours, you have control over your balance; there are no penalties if you want to take money out in retirement the way there are with traditional annuities.”
Elisa had one request for Washington: “Make the Social Security and Medicare rules more user-friendly.”
That doesn’t seem to be in the cards, but the White House said that the Social Security Administration is providing individuals with an “easily transferrable data file” with information in their Social Security benefit statement so they could look at their Social Security benefits along with their retirement savings.
Financial advisory firms such as Financial Engines, Betterment and Hello Wallet are working on software incorporating this new data. “We’re proud to be working closely with the Social Security Administration to help Americans plan accurately for retirement, said Kelly O’Donnell, executive vice president of Financial Engines.