Spin fails reality test

Have you noticed that every second advertisement for retirement investment advice features the same couple: fit, good-looking, smiling broadly as they holiday in the lap of luxury.

Have you noticed that every second advertisement for retirement investment advice features the same couple: fit, good-looking, smiling broadly as they holiday in the lap of luxury.

The hair is grey but superbly cut. The bloke's head has no bald patches. And they look closer to 40 than 65.

It's an idealised image of a retired couple with not a care in the world and, of course, plenty of money.

Little wonder, then, that research commissioned by industry super funds found most people don't identify with it.

Researcher Nicole Torkar presented a less perfect picture of retirement based on her work with 14 focus groups and 18 detailed interviews, overlaid by a quantitative survey of 2000 people aged 18 to 75.

What she found was a general lack of engagement, particularly among younger respondents, who feel retirement is a long way off. But more worryingly, it was noticeable among older people, too. Respondents said things like: "To be honest, I don't see super as an investment, not in the way you view investment in property or shares." Or "My house is worth $500,000 and my super is only $80,000."

Younger respondents had more pressing financial demands, such as HECS debts, mortgages and credit card repayments. There was a general distrust of government and expectations tax rules would change before they retired. They couldn't control super or get access to it when they wanted.

The study also showed that just over half of respondents thought they would not have enough money to live on in retirement, compared with 28 per cent who had enough.

Unsurprisingly, they didn't like fees eating into their super, particularly women who had ped out of the workforce to rear children only to find fees chewing their super up when there was no new money going in.

Daily reports of volatility on stockmarkets raised concerns about super safety. Nearly one in three feared their fund could go broke.

Nearly four out of five said they did not know much about super and this lack of understanding wasn't helped by the complexity of their annual statements.

Young casual workers said it was too hard to consolidate multiple accounts or that the amounts were too small to bother about. One in five had no idea how much super they had.

Worse, one in four didn't see super as being their money, with two-thirds thinking it belonged to the employer.

Thirteen per cent carried on with their previous fund when they changed jobs. Only 7 per cent researched super funds before making a decision on where to put their contributions.

Asked whether it was important to lift contributions, many said it was more important to put money into reducing their mortgage rather than contributing to super or they preferred to invest in property.

Comments included, "I can't even think I'll ever get there" in relation to having enough super. Or, "It's just so far away, I'll think about it tomorrow."

Lack of time and lack of income reduced interest in super.

Respondents looked at the retirement ads - the yacht, the architect-designed beach house and said, "That's what you do when you win Lotto." The survey also showed a great divide in expectations. Torkar said that on one hand you have someone who has $750,000 to retire on and worries about having enough, while at the other end of the spectrum you have people who can't imagine ever having that much super.

Worse, the recent transition-to-retirement changes are viewed as only helping those on high incomes avoid tax and those with large assets to tip into their super fund to get more tax-free income.

But they see their houses as a cashable asset if they really get stuck.

There is an air of resignation among those in their 50s and 60s when they realise they won't have enough super but feel that somehow they will manage in retirement. And about one in five can't see themselves retiring at all.


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