In the retirement security Olympics, it's a sweep for northern Europe. Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland won the top three spots in Natixis Global Asset Management's fourth annual ranking, released on Tuesday. The U.S., with a score of 73 percent, strolled in at No. 14 out of 43 nations (right after Luxembourg) in the global retirement index.
Norway joins a number of top 10 countries in having a compulsory workplace savings program. It requires employers to fund private retirement accounts with 2 percent of a worker's earnings earnings annually. That pales next to Australia, No. 6, where employers must kick in at least 9.5 percent.
The retirement leaders, with scores of 77 percent or better: Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Canada.
The bottom 10, whose highest score was 57 percent: India was last, at 12 percent, preceded by Greece, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, China, Spain, Cyprus, Mexico, and Portugal.
At first glance, it looks as if the U.S. made a big jump from last year, when it came in 19th. But that result isn't apples-to-apples. This year's report focused mostly on developed nations, while last year's ranked 150 countries. The methodology changed, too, to a five-year average for real interest rates and inflation, up from a three-year average. That affects a part of the index called “finances in retirement,” one of the report's four sub-indexes that determine the overall ranking. If the new methodology had been applied to last year’s data, the U.S. would have come in 15th.
The U.S. did reach the top 10 in two of the four sub-indexes, including the one that measures the stability of finances in retirement, which gets the most weight in the overall ranking:
This sub-index looks at the ratio of working people for every retirement-age person, the level of bank non-performing loans, inflation, interest rates, tax pressure, government indebtedness, and governance. The U.S. score, while high, was damped by the nation's "relatively high levels of public debt and increasing tax burdens." As the report said, "rising expenses in the long term seem inevitable as more boomers reach retirement age."
While the move to auto-enroll employees in retirement plans is a positive in the U.S. and elsewhere, the Department of Labor estimates that about a third of U.S. employees have no access to a retirement plan. Once employees are enrolled in a plan, an even bigger challenge is getting them engaged with it, said David Goodsell, who oversees investor research for Natixis.
A 2015 Natixis survey of 401(k) plan participants in the U.S. found 60 percent saying they put from 1 percent to 7.5 percent of salary into a retirement account, with 40 percent of those people contributing from 1 percent to 5 percent. Many respondents cited personal debt as an obstacle to saving more. Just 36 percent of workers over age 50, who can defer an additional $6,000 of salary above the standard 401(k) cap of $18,000, did so.Many financial planners recommend saving 20 percent of your income, an ambitious goal for most Americans—and for pretty much anyone around the globe. The report didn't say whether employee contributions were matched by employers.
The U.S. also did well, at No. 7, in the health-care part of the index, which might come as a surprise to many Americans frustrated by the costs and hassles of their health-care coverage. This measure looks at health spending per capita, the level of uninsured health spending, and life expectancy. The U.S., the report said, has the highest health expenditure per capita of the 43 countries in the index, and ranks sixth for the level of uninsured health expenditures. It was No. 30 for life expectancy.