9 August 2022

Changing Behavior for a More Secure Retirement

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One of the keys to financial security in retirement is behavior; in particular, before retirement—and the earlier the better. That was the underlying message of an expert panel in a recent webinar concerning  retirement readiness.

In "Retiree Reflections: Lessons Learned for The Next Generation," a June 22 Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) webinar, panelists discussed retirees’ views on their situations and how their decisions led to that, as well as what employers can do to empower future retirees to build a sound financial future and retirement.

Panelists included Bridget Bearden, Research & Development Strategist, EBRI; Demi Hannon, Senior Director, Global Financial Benefits and Well Being, Boeing; and Stephen Rubino, Senior Vice President, Head of Workplace Innovation, Edelman Financial Engines.

Coulda Shoulda 

Bearden cited research EBRI and Edelman Financial Engines conducted concerning 1,109 retirees aged 55 to 80 with assets of $50,000 – $5,000,000.

Key findings include:

Current retirees wish they had saved more and planned earlier for retirement.

Twenty-five percent of retirees reported that their former employer offered financial planning assistance, potentially reflecting a timing difference or an awareness gap.

Many retirees lack a formal financial plan for retirement.

Half of respondents said that they would have changed their financial habits if they had known doing so would have improved their current situation, said Bearden. That rose to 53% of those without a financial plan, and to 57% of those with less than $500,000.

About half—49%—said they wished they had started planning for retirement earlier, said Bearden, and 55% of those who have $500,000 or less said so. Furthermore, 40% of those with $500,000-$2,000,000 and 57% of those with less than $500,000 said that they would have changed their financial habits during their working years in order to improve their financial situation in retirement. And 72% of those who said they would have changed their behavior said that they would have saved more or started saving earlier.


Going into retirement, said Bearden, retirees’ top concern was not saving enough, and inflation was the third most important concern. That changed, however—inflation went to the top and was the biggest concern of 54% of retirees after retirement and was the most frequently cited top-of-mind concern.

Financial Plans  

The study, as well as the panelists, discussed the vagaries of respondents’ approaches to financial planning and stressed its importance.

Bearden noted that in the study, 81% of retirees said that they had identified their financial goals for retirement. However, for a majority that was informal—53% said that they did not have a written financial plan or strategy.

The reasons those who had not identified financial goals for retirement cited for their failure to do so included:

lack of knowledge;


preferring to live in a spontaneous manner;

not seeing a need to set them; and

unexpected events that got in the way.

Action Steps  

Panelists had a wide range of suggestions regarding things employers can do to help employees to prepare for a more financially secure retirement.

Rubino identified three things that can help employees who are approaching retirement and more actively preparing for it:

1. Comprehensive and personalized income planning. “It’s very clear that employees struggle with how to bring it all together,” said Rubino.

2. Support from a trusted advice professional.

3. Leveraging a 401(k) investment lineup and payout flexibility.

Financial Health. Hannon also stressed the importance of financial health. “Financial health is just as important as physical and mental health,” she said, adding that often, discussion of financial health is “another important component that’s missing.”

Start Early. Hannon suggested that instruction about the importance of finances and financial health should start early. “It’s important to start teaching about finances and about the importance of financial health earlier in schools,” she argued.

Plan Design. Hannon reported that Boeing’s approach is to start with making sure that employees have, and are using, the right plan design. And in doing so, she said, they look through the lens of what the outcome is going to be for the employee.

Personalized Plans. Hannon and Rubino stressed the importance of employees having personalized plans for financial health and retirement preparations. “Employees should have something tailored to them,” said Rubino. He reported that Edelman encounters people who think they need to meet a financial threshold to qualify for a financial plan. “Part of it is getting rid of this misnomer,” he said, adding that “the beauty of offering something like this is that they have access” to such a plan. And those with a personalized plan, said Hannon, may have a higher risk tolerance.

Technology. Enhancing the digital experience can help, Rubino suggested. “Access to help needs to be modernized. We can do a lot in technology, making it easier to access,” said Hannon. She noted that younger employees are on their phones when they think about financial planning, and argued that therefore their access needs to be quick and easy. “We have the opportunity to make all of our tools sleek,” she said.

Remember Those Closer to Retirement. Hannon said that it’s important to engage people closer to retirement as well and “to make sure they understand the myriad decisions that need to be made at retirement.”

A Note of Hope 

Hannon is optimistic about younger generations, and reported that they are seeing newer employees at Boeing not wasting any time and “making their investment choices and saving right away.”

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