What workers really think of their employers' health and retirement plans.
By Cyril Tuohy
Advisor Dan Keady’s favorite four-letter word is “slow,” as in “slow down.” Financial advisors, he said, need to downshift when talking about individual retirement accounts (IRAs), tax-advantaged accounts like Roth IRAs, and annuity investments for retirement.
“We as advisors have been in the business for so many years,” he said. “We hear the word IRA and we have a misconception that people understand the value of IRAs, Roth IRAs and the 401(k).”
Advisors need to stop right there, he said. For some investors, laboring over the differences among the assorted flavors of IRAs is too much. Launching into percentage talk is deadly, sure to turn into a conversation killer.
Keady, a certified financial planner, says he and his colleagues need to put themselves in the mind of the investing public and think about where their clients’ minds are.
For example, people’s minds are on restaurant reservations more often than on IRAs, according to a recent TIAA-CREF survey. Americans also admit they spend more time thinking about buying a flat-screen TV or tablet computer than they do planning an IRA investment, the survey found. The survey, conducted Feb. 13 to 16, polled 1,008 adults ages 18 or older.
The news must come as a disappointment to advisors, particularly with 47 percent of respondents saying they would consider an individual retirement account as part of their retirement strategy, down 10 percentage points from 2013.
But the findings are not exactly new. Market research companies regularly issue comparison surveys about how shoppers spend more time trying to bargain down a retail sales clerk on a $20 pair of fuzzy dice than pausing before moving $5,000 into a foreign real estate venture or an unsuitable investment fund.
We can cut investors some slack, however. Certainly, many people answering the survey are also contributing to an employer-sponsored 401(k). Equating IRA disinterest, therefore, doesn’t mean investors are not interested in or saving for retirement.
Still, the survey highlights how far removed the academic, economic and legislative discussions have drifted from the everyday concerns of taxpayers and working Americans. Thirty years ago, opening an individual retirement account entitled the investor to a $2,000 tax credit.
“Everyone understood,” Keady said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet. “Today I always keep on my desk a clipboard with the individual retirement account phase out and the deduction for income levels.”
Have investors dropped IRA investing simply because it has become too complicated? Aren’t investors following the cardinal rule, which is to stay away from investing in what you do not understand?
IRA investing is more complicated than it was, but investors also have more options, so you’ll have to excuse investors if they don’t show quite enough love for IRAs. Investors only have so much to go around.
It’s hard to beat the convenience of a 401(k) or 403(b) offered through an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If workers can set aside a percentage of income through payroll deductions — the equivalent of retirement autopilot — to fund their retirement, why bother with putting still more aside through an IRA?
Investors age 49 or younger can put aside $5,500 in an IRA between now and April 15 to contribute to the 2013 calendar year. Investors 50 or older can set aside $6,500.
Advisors need to be “setting the table” properly about the value of IRAs in all its incarnations, Keady also said. Think about ads for Apple iPad tablet computers. The ads stress how the machines make life easier, not about processor firepower and add-on features.
“We need to make it easier,” he said. “We need to point to the value of IRAs.” Advisors, he also said, need to think to themselves, “‘I’m going to slow down.’”
Keady said advisors would do well to bypass getting bogged down in tax code details and instead refer to Internet-based retirement calculators that can cut through the contribution rules and convey the importance and effectiveness of IRAs.
“The advisor really needs to be in a spot to walk people through but not drown them in details,” Keady said. “That’s where the calculators really come in. It cuts through all that detail. What can the client do and then work with them to actually get it done?”
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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