Retirees are the least financially stressed of Australian generations, Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley said, prompting him to question why the government should call for comprehensive income products for retirement (CIPR) or an increase to the super guarantee.
Daley said older Australians had been “relentlessly” told by the financial industry to worry about their future, when research has shown they are comfortable, happy and unnecessarily frugal in retirement.
“A lot of the discussions in this space assume we’re talking about a policy problem, when it’s actually a commercial problem,’’ Daley said at the 2018 Investment Magazine Post Retirement Conference, held in Sydney on March 20. “Retirees are happier about life than just about everyone else. So what policy problem are we trying to solve here?
“Yes, people are worried because we have told them to be worried. We want people to worry less and the answer is (for the financial industry) to stop bombarding them. The message is wrong.”
Daley said other research, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, shows people spend less than expected in retirement and can have as much as 90 per cent of their wealth remaining when they die.
“What we discover is that, by and large, people aren’t drawing down anything like their savings in retirement, and most super balances grow until age 75,’’ he said. “People are not drawing down [much] until their mid-70s…less wealthy retirees spend down about 5 per cent and wealthy retirees accumulate 3 per cent.’’
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) standards were partly to blame for pessimism about funding retirement, Daley argued, because the association changed the description of its “comfortably affluent” standard to “comfortable”, implying that anyone who did not meet the standard was living uncomfortably.
ASFA defines “comfortable” retirement income as $43,665 a year for singles and $59,971 for a couple.
“Most people don’t reach the ASFA standard when they’re working,” Daley said. “We tell them to be worried relentlessly, based on a standard being used that is completely inappropriate.”
He suspects some spending patterns are based on fears of unexpected big expenses in retirement, which CIPR would not address. It eases worries about life expectancy but can’t help with lump sums.
“We have retirees looking comfortable, they have money to spare,” Daley said. “They don’t have a longevity issue because we have a well-targeted safety net (in the age pension).’’
Debate about lifting the super guarantee from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent was also misguided and would probably hurt Australia’s most financially stressed group – people aged 18-65 on lower wages.
“Every time you make the super guarantee go up, you make wages go down,’’ Daley said. “The most miserable are single parents and couples with younger children, and the obvious solution is to make these people save more?’’