Covid-19 magnifies retirement savings crisis

By Georgina Crouth Time of article published Apr 27, 2021

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South Africans are facing a long-term retirement crisis, which has been magnified by the pandemic – and women are most vulnerable.

This is the scary message to emerge from the third annual Retirement Reality Report by investment firm 10X, released in October last year. The report is based on a Brand Atlas survey of the lifestyles of 15.1 million South Africans with an income of over R8 000 a month. The findings are corroborated by National Treasury figures.

10X said a key issue that cropped up “time and again” in the reports was that people felt they could not afford to save for retirement, but they “really cannot afford not to save for retirement”.

Before the pandemic, many were already treating retirement savings as a “nice-to-have”. Covid-19 has magnified the crisis: in the 2020 report, which was conducted during the early part of the pandemic, almost half (49%) of respondents said they had no retirement plan, compared with 46% in 2019.

“Forty percent believe they can save for retirement in less than 25 years, but they fail to understand that the first 15 years of employment are really important in guaranteeing a successful retirement outcome,” 10X’s head of investments, Chris Eddy said. “People aren’t saving enough. It’s not just about having a plan – that alone won’t solve the problem; it’s about understanding the drivers.”

Worse is the fact that more than 60% of South Africans cash in their pension savings when they leave a company.

Eddy says the report shows that people want to preserve their lifestyle but have not thought through the implications of not saving: 75% worry they don’t have enough to retire and 77% say they will need to continue working in retirement – and yet almost 70% expect to enjoy the same standard of living in retirement.

“The 49% who have no plan say they don’t earn enough money to save, but in fact, they are prioritising their current lifestyle at the expense of their future self. A 5% to 10% drop in lifestyle now will make a 50% to 90% change in retirement.

“Eighteen percent say they don’t save because they don’t plan to retire – but given South Africa’s population dynamics, the flood of younger people entering the workforce – it makes it more difficult to defend that position in the long term.”

Mica Townsend, 10X’s business development manager, says few respondents can say their plan is well thought-through and executed: 20% have a plan, but it’s “a bit vague”.

Women are worse off

The situation is worse for women: often their careers are interrupted by pregnancy and childcare, and the latest StatsSA data says women earn about 30% less than men (a 7% increase on last year’s data). “Fifty-three percent of women have no plan, versus 45% of men. Twenty-seven percent of men have a pretty good idea of their plan, but only 22% of women (can say the same),” Townsend said.

“What makes the problem worse is that those women who are saving tend to do so in cash investments. They are conservative in nature.”

More women identify as savers (32%) than men (28%) while 13% of women identify as investors as opposed to a much higher percentage of men (22%).

“We know that simply saving your money is not enough: cash is not going to grow fast enough to give you a nest egg that you can survive on and won’t keep pace with inflation,” she said. “What you really need is a high-equity or a well balanced diversified portfolio. You simply can’t just put that money in the bank. Women, typically, are not investing the assets that they need in order to grow their retirement savings.”

Traditionally, women leave these decisions to a partner, instead of making financial preparations for themselves. “Once that person to whom you delegated those decisions is no longer around, how are you going to manage?”

Hard lesson

The pandemic, Eddy said, fast-forwarded South Africans to a potential future where they no longer have an income and little-to-no savings to fall back on.

But lessons can be learnt from how a crisis can cause a dramatic lifestyle downgrade. “If there is to be a positive from our state of economic and financial disaster, perhaps it is the increased awareness of our vulnerability to life’s unexpected broadsides,” he said. “In giving a glimpse into the future, of what it feels like to be suddenly living off a low income and the strain of great financial insecurity, it may finally convince people that they cannot afford to ignore planning for retirement.”


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