Plan sponsors, providers have opportunity to help women with retirement

Women continue to lag behind men when it comes to overall financial and retirement planning, so plan sponsors and financial services companies need to do a better job of helping them do both.

Even though reports show that women have made great strides in the past 30 years, in terms of earnings and financial power, they are still at a disadvantage because many of them spent less time in the workforce, took time off for kids or to take care of aging parents, said Delia DeLisser, director of women’s marketing for ING U.S. Retirement. Many worked only part-time and have earned less and saved less than men.

Since they spent less time in the workforce, they have lower Social Security benefits and are going into retirement with less saved, she added. To magnify that, women are living longer than men, about eight to 10 years longer, so they are forced to take care of themselves until the end of their life, with whatever financial resources they have, DeLisser said.

That is a scary statistic from a female perspective, but it also is an opportunity for companies that want to do a better job serving the female market.

“Some research says that women may need to have $100,000 more saved so they can take care of themselves until the end of their life. That, combined with the unknowns we all have around the rising cost of health care and a reduction of Social Security and entitlement benefits, makes retirement planning for women a really important issue, something we all need to focus on,” she said.

ING has made serving women a priority. It has conducted research among its plan participants. What it found is that women “had less saved and were taking hardship withdrawals at a higher rate than men were, eating at their retirement savings,” DeLisser said.

“One of the things we are starting to work on is raising awareness within our organization and among our independent and affiliated advisors to recognize that women need to be better prepared for retirement and [advisors] need to understand them better as a customer,” she added.

The financial services industry has typically been dominated by men, but slowly that is shifting. ING employs about 500 women advisors and is working with all of its advisors to make sure they are not discounting their women clients. “I think part of my role is to educate our sales force about the fact that women are increasingly moving into positions of decision-making power and we need to pay attention to them,” she said.

Companies need to understand how women make buying decisions.  Studies have shown that women as investors are more conservative than men. They take fewer risks and aren’t experienced investors. They are honest about what they don’t know and try to get as much information as they can before they make a decision.

ING wants its advisors to realize that women are emotional about big decisions, especially retirement planning, because they are planning not just for themselves but for their families, she said.

So what can women do to improve their overall financial strategy? The big one is to come up with a plan. Figure out how much money they are going to need for retirement and work out a way to get there using company-sponsored plans, outside savings and retirement accounts and Social Security, said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Another important step is to get the money conversation started, she added. Women should discuss finances and retirement with their spouses, friends or an advisor. Previous generations of women had no knowledge about their family’s finances, so when their husbands died, they were left to pick up the pieces and learn about finances on the fly. Single women were in a worse position because nobody was telling them how they needed to invest or how much they would need in retirement.

A lot of this mentality has carried over into the current generation of women. They don’t understand money or investing, so they don’t give it much thought. Companies need to take a more active role in educating women and men about what they need for retirement. Part of that is making sure they know what family resources are available to them, Collinson said, like employee assistance programs or the free use of a financial advisor as part of their retirement plan.

The 12th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey interviewed more than 4,000 people about their retirement preparedness. The report then broke the results down along gender lines. What it found is there is a big difference between women’s financial priorities and men’s. The top three priorities for women were covering basic living expenses (30 percent), paying off debt (25 percent) and saving for retirement (20 percent).

“The implications are pretty profound if one in four women in the workforce, their greatest financial priority is paying off consumer debt,” Collinson said.

For men, the top priorities were paying off consumer debt (27 percent), saving for retirement (23 percent) and covering basic living expenses (22 percent).

There are many opportunities for retirement plan providers and employer plan sponsors to help workers prepare for retirement, Collinson said. “Employers are in a unique position to have a financial benefits advisor to help with the selection and oversight of their plan and team up with an advisor and retirement plan provider to make sure they are making the most of the educational offerings they have to offer.”

Another thing employers can do is educate workers about the saver’s credit and catch-up contributions. The Transamerica study found that only 21 percent of respondents, who earned less than $50,000 a year, knew about the saver’s credit. “How will they know to take advantage of it if they don’t know about it?” Collinson asked.

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