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Do we need to rethink the concept of retirement?

10 April 2014 Jonathan Faurie
Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

The science fiction industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that has captivated the minds of billions of people. Its influence is so great that it has sparked the invention of certain technology that we see today, and has developed a subculture dedicated to believing that science fiction is real.

However, despite the existence of these purists, we have always been able to make the distinction between fiction and reality. But how easy is it to make these distinctions in this day and age? Technological developments have proven that the impossible is in fact possible and medical advancements have made it possible to push the limits of the imagination.

Because of this, we need to challenge our current thought patterns and ask ourselves if our current views are really becoming outdated; particularly when it comes to investment and saving towards retirement.

"Is retirement an idealistic industry-driven concept or is it really the picture perfect period of peace and reflection worth striving for as a natural progression?" asks Patrick Barker, Private Client Portfolio Manager at Cannon Asset Managers.

Retirement planning's journey through time

In most countries, the concept of retirement is relatively recent, having been introduced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Until then, short life expectancy and the lack of financial provisions, such as pensions, meant that most workers continued to work until death.

If we look back at this period, the early 1900s saw this concept developing from almost deliberate invention. A variety of interest groups wanted to move older people out of the labour force so as to accommodate younger ones.

Manual labour dominated the working environment and it was not expected that one would live beyond age 63. As life expectancy grew, this evolved into the youth subsidising the pensions of the elderly.

"The social security system in the US was established around exactly this fact. People would pay towards this in taxes but seldom benefit because they never lived long enough. In 1937 when the system began in the US, there were about 20 workers paying an annual tax of $30 to support each retiree. By 2011 when the first baby boomer turned 65, there were about two workers per retiree paying an annual tax of up to $15 000," says Barker.

Change your old way of thinking

Nowadays, most work is mind and knowledge based and with medical technology, people are living longer.

It is expected that children who are born from 2033 could live beyond 400 years old. We have already identified more than 60 genes responsible for our aging, and there is enough evidence to suggest that living for thousands of years is possible.

Dr Aubrey De Grey, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, believes that the first person to live to 150 years has already been born, and the first person to live to a 1000 is likely to be born less than 20 years after that person reaches 150.

As humans gain a better understanding of how to manage physical health, and scientists are developing ways to extend life expectancy, we will extend our lives.

This poses a challenge financially and psychologically, and places a different perspective on how you plan your life. If we believe that retirement is invalid as a concept and that we should retire when we cannot work anymore, perhaps our planning process will change. How much we accumulate and need to accumulate changes and how we invest changes.

Putting coping mechanisms into place

After further lowering the retirement age to around 60, countries have more recently extended it because their social systems cannot fund retirees, and work contracts are starting to be re-structured to accommodate longer working terms.

In addition, far fewer people can afford to retire now, given a lack of planning or understanding of inflation, compounded by the fact that people are living far longer than their money lasts.

"How should we deal with these realities? What about waking up with a purpose? There is enough evidence now to support the notion that life is purpose driven. Research conducted on tribes in the world which have been unaffected by modern "civilisation'' has focused on their long life expectancies. The main reason that could be put forward for such longevity is that the elderly all have a function in the tribe and therefore wake up every day with a purpose," says Barker.

There are many stories of people retiring and passing on soon afterwards or becoming so dis-heartened with life that they end up depressed and lonely. This has been attributed mainly to a lack of purpose and a disconnection from what they have known all their lives. This is based on the belief that everyone has a purpose or reason to be in the world which is the foundation of some philosophies and religious doctrines.

Will we become a community based society?

Will we become more of a community-based world in which we use the wisdom of age to synergise with the energy of youth? Will employment agencies emerge that cater for the 65-year plus market, placing people into companies accommodating their ability while working shorter hours?

Perhaps we will realise we have less of an unemployment problem but rather an employment problem because we refuse to acknowledge the wisdom of trained and experienced older people. In numerous countries, this is starting to change, which will be encouraging to many.

Employment agencies are emerging with a focus on the over 60s and placing people in positions that accommodate their energy levels and abilities. An example of this is contracting people to work three days a week for five hours a day and rotating this to fill the time completely.

How should the financial services industry respond to this? Should it continue to tell investors the story about retiring and putting their feet up knowing that this possibly does not serve their best interests? Or should it expand their awareness and edify their validity in society by encouraging them to plan to be in a position to retire but to aim to carry on contributing to society?

This would certainly result in solving the financial problem of living longer, or having not provided enough for forced retirement, and it would also provide people with a quality of life until they cannot contribute anymore.

Editor's Thoughts:
Changing the mind-set of society is a hard thing to achieve, especially in South Africa where it has taken government such a long time to consider retirement reform. But this is only one part of the solution, government should be considering creating jobs for older workers who simply cannot afford to retire comfortably, and advisers need to highlight the longevity problem to policyholders when planning for retirement. Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts


Added by Kevin, 10 Apr 2014
I have noted with interest that almost always, only the concern of outliving ones money features when assessing retirement/pensions/annuities. If you have saved well and invested wisely, it is possible to change this to "The longer I live, the wealthier I will become", provided of course, equities et al continue to provide reasonable returns. Perhaps its time for us older people to start pooling our knowledge and resources, and create new business ventures that will address this new longevity challenge. Anyone interested??
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Added by Cynical Simon , 10 Apr 2014
Well Timed.! What goes hand in glove with out thinking about retirement is our thinking about employment.These issues are complex and complicated, but very crucial.

Can not FIA start the ball rolling by commencing the process?

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Added by Fergus signs the blues, 10 Apr 2014
[["It is expected that children who are born from 2033 could live beyond 400 years old. We have already identified more than 60 genes responsible for our aging, and there is enough evidence to suggest that living for thousands of years is possible.

Dr Aubrey De Grey, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, believes that the first person to live to 150 years has already been born, and the first person to live to a 1000 is likely to be born less than 20 years after that person reaches 150."]]

1.) First up. This was a good read.

2.) If the above mentioned quote from your article proves to be true, this'll mean that folk will need to work much longer. Employment opportunities are scarce enough for new entrants; how will the labour market copy with this changing scenario.

3.) The grand plan to colonise Mars had better get a move on, 'cos we're going to need more space A-SAP.
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Added by Ian McDonald, 10 Apr 2014
At Last! Someone has identified and opened up discussion on the real issue of pensions reform. The current system was only created to support the needs of the industrial revolution and does not address the needs of today's employees, never mind the future. Perhaps a return to something akin to the "village concept" or "tribal system" is required. Let's discuss it before it's too late.
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Added by Edsaid, 10 Apr 2014
No doubt, great article! But the ramifications of of such an altered new reality are mind boggling. We'll need to have fewer children, more planets and way better medical, agricultural and transportation technology for it to work. The future is sci-fi like indeed
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Added by Jaco, 10 Apr 2014
What an uplifting and inspiring piece of work!
A beautiful island amidst a sea of serious and legal and selfish and taxing issues.
Thank you very much.
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Added by Lucille, 10 Apr 2014
Exactly my outlook. I have never advised clients that it would be wonderful to retire, rather the opposite!
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Added by Rosemary, 10 Apr 2014
I agree wholeheartedly with this article. We are going to have to change the way we view retirement and how we plan for it into the future........
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Added by Geoffrey Dean, 10 Apr 2014
great article!
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