Last November, I took a few days off after attending a conference in Orlando and drove to Tampa for a long weekend to relax and visit a few old friends. Along the way, I stopped off for gas near Lakeland, Fla., which I had seen a quarter century ago when I first discovered Tampa on a business trip.
What I saw in about 30 minutes left me slightly shaken. What was it? A trailer park filled with 60-year-olds whose primary transportation vehicles were bicycles. Now bicycling may be a great form of exercise, but I couldn't help but wonder how these folks would be getting around in their eighties and nineties. Then again, if they could have afforded automobiles, that, too, would present logistical issues for nonagenarians.
In this month's cover story package, senior editor Jeff Schlegel and contributors Eric Reiner and Dan Moisand examine three different areas of the whole retirement quandary. What's becoming crystal clear is that the experience of retirees in the second half of the 20th century was more of an aberration than the norm. Retirement as we know it and as financial services companies define it in their marketing campaigns is a thing of the past.
Schlegel cites a new book by UCLA economist Dora Costa dubbed, The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990, in which she noted that in 1880, 75% of men over age 64 worked. Many were farmers who simply transitioned less physically taxing agricultural tasks to younger workers.
Even in 1950, 47% of men over age 64 were working. That number is only 20% today. Let's remember that in 1950, folks in their eighties and nineties were freaks of nature; now they number in the millions.
Individual advisors' experience with clients is also illuminating. Atlanta-based advisor Andy Berg tells Schlegel he has clients with $7 million to $8 million who have potential problems when it comes to affording retirement. Before you get out the violins, it's instructive to hear that Mount Sterling, Ky.-based advisor Melody Sterling has clients with less than $1 million who will be fine.
Moreover, research is emerging that reveals savings and spending are more important than investment acumen in determining whether a client enjoys a comfortable retirement. This, in turn, raises a whole host of questions about advisors' priorities and whether the obsession of many with asset management is far off target.
Rethinking all the conventional wisdom about retirement is clearly healthy for the profession. After a decade in which clients suffered from two of the four worst bear markets in the last century, core principles need to be re-examined. At the same time, it could prove dangerous to extrapolate the recent past into the near-term future.
Evan Simonoff, Editor-in-Chief
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