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14 Aug 2015

Retirees Face Reality Check

People nearing retirement in New Zealand are in need of a reality check according to a new survey, with people either expecting too much or completely unsure of how much money they will need. The Commission for Financial Capability and the Financial Markets Authority analysed the expectations of people over 50 regarding retirement, with the Colmar Brunton commissioned survey highlighting a worrying gap between what people think they will need and what they're prepared to do about it.

The online survey asked questions of 1052 people currently living in New Zealand, with all respondents over the age of 50. While only 6 percent believed they could get by on New Zealand Superannuation alone - at a rate of $375 for a single person and $576 for a couple - 60 percent hadn't worked out how much extra they needed to meet their lifestyle expectations. That means only 34 percent of people were aware of their financial needs, or a little over one-third of respondents.

It's not just a lack of organisation, however, Kiwis also have unrealistic financial expectations and are unwilling to take financial risks. Of those questioned, 83 percent wanted to avoid high investment risks, with 71 percent believing people should choose lower risk investments. While this conservative approach is all good and well, survey respondents had much higher expectations of the low risk investments they were comfortable taking. The general view was that 5 percent was a low return, 9 percent was medium, and 15 percent was high. 

According to David Boyle, general manager of investor capability at the Commission for Financial Capability, people are still basing their returns on what they would have earned before the financial crisis. While 8-9 percent bank returns were possible before 2007, 4 percent returns before tax are more likely today. "There is nothing worse than having to change your lifestyle to meet your income at retirement," says Boyle, who thinks people should consider taking on slightly more risk to meet their income expectations.

New Zealanders are out of step with reality according to the survey, with people either needing to change their expectations or be prepared to take on more risk to get the income they desire. "The gap between people's expectations about retirement and the reality is quite large," said Boyle, adding "Those in that situation [aged 50-plus] haven't given much thought around planning for the future, and let's face it, it's not something you get excited about."

It's not all bad news, however, with Dr Claire Dale of Auckland University's Retirement Policy and Research Centre encouraged by some of the findings. 54 percent of people aged over 50 and still working said they had a solid financial plan for their retirement, with Dale saying "Generally, I'd say it shows a better picture than I would have expected." The survey also showed a bright future for people who were already retired, with a majority either saying they had "all the things we want" or "some luxuries on top of the basics" and only 4 percent saying they were "struggling to make ends meet".