Sunday, March 16, 2014

”Background” Check


We’ve never invested in a vacation home, but for a number of years now, my family has made relatively regular trips to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And while we’ve visited many places over the years, Gettysburg remains special, both because there are places that we know, and have visited many times, and because there are (still) things to discover. Over time we’ve also shared that experience with friends and members of our extended family, and their participation adds an additional, fresh perspective, even to sites we have visited many times before.

On March 18, EBRI and Greenwald & Associates will release the results of the 24th annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS). With a perspective longer than many retirements, it’s likely to garner a lot of attention, as well it should. The focus tends to be on retirement confidence (or the lack thereof), specifically at the extremes—those “very” and “not at all” confident in their prospects for a financially comfortable retirement.

Attention will also likely be given to what can be done to improve the levels of confidence. Previous iterations point to some consistent factors: having more retirement savings is perhaps the most obvious connection to retirement confidence, as is participation in a workplace retirement savings plan (which, as you might expect, is linked to having more retirement savings). The RCS has also found that something as fundamental as having taken the time to do a calculation of retirement needs has a positive effect on confidence, even though those who had done such an assessment tend to set higher savings goals.

For this year’s RCS, as we do every year, we make it a point to ask a battery of consistent questions, to develop trend lines that allow us to see how attitudes change over time, throughout a wide variety of market and regulatory cycles, not to mention the advent of transformative technologies such as the Internet. Of course, we also include certain topical questions to get a current sense of worker—and retiree—responses to things such as prospective tax law changes, plan design features like automatic enrollment and contribution acceleration, and the use of various technologies in retirement planning. We’ve asked not only how much they have saved, but how much they think they should have saved, and—more recently—how much they think they should be saving now to provide that financially secure retirement.

Perhaps most importantly, we pose those questions to both current workers and current retirees, so as to gain a unique and informative perspective on the realities of retirement from those already living it, alongside the expectations of those for whom retirement remains a future event.

There’s a particular spot on the Gettysburg battlefield where we always try to take a family picture—the background doesn’t change, but it’s interesting to watch how much we’ve changed over the years.

Similarly, the RCS provides an invaluable and consistent background—along with a fresh and interesting perspective of today’s environment, as well as insights on future trends—that can help us all better prepare for a more financially secure retirement.       

- Nevin E. Adams, JD 

Note: The results of the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) will be available at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, March 18, at www.ebri.org.  Information and findings from prior surveys are available at www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs.

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