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I Did It My Way

06/24/2019
By Jack Towarnicky

Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do … I did it my way.1

They say workers will regret not saving enough for retirement! I agree. But your workers way may not be your way.

“… of Americans with a financial regret, a whopping 56% say their financial regrets have to do with savings. … Saving for retirement is the most commonly cited regret of respondents, and it increases by age. Baby Boomers (ages 55-73) … retirement saving as their top regret (33%), … 23% of the Silent Generation (ages 74 and older) and 22% of Generation X (ages 39-54)."2

What’s a plan sponsor to do if too many workers are not “on track” for a financially successful retirement? Even if you act, how many Gen Xers and Millennials will still arrive at the “double nickel”, look up, with regrets because they failed to save enough. After all, because of turnover, you only have them for part of their careers. Can you (should you?) approach workers (directly or via a financial wellness initiative) to encourage them to change their financial priorities? How will workers respond to suggestions that retirement should be their top savings priority – at the expense of other, short term needs, desires and dreams (having children, buying a home or car, college education or graduate school, a family vacation, etc.)? What about those already in debt (credit cards, student debts, payday loans, etc.)? How can prioritizing retirement savings make sense?

The authors confirm that many workers are dealing with their “past financial blunders,” “addressing (their) financial mistake,” confirming that “everyone makes mistakes … financial or otherwise” and taking action to “acknowledge those blunders and address them.” Some of that behavior change likely results from actions you took as a plan sponsor.

Mistakes? Regrets? In my past plan sponsor roles, I avoided making the mistake of thinking I knew what was best for workers. They were a diverse group. Twenty five years later, I have no regrets about making a dramatic change in how we marketed our 401(k) plan “Drive to your dreams” – we removed the word “retirement” from all our materials! Otherwise, this was a slight, subtle shift:

  • From “saving for retirement”, 
  • To “saving along the way to retirement.” 

What would be the real blunder? Barbara Bush3 and I would be just as concerned about workers who defer their dreams, miss out, or don’t have fun.

So, as a plan sponsor, consider adjusting the framing of your individual account retirement savings plan (401(k) or 403(b)). Consider changes that would morph it into a lifetime financial instrument; to encourage retirement savings by helping participants to achieve their dreams and to meet their financial needs along the way to and throughout retirement.4


1F. Sinatra, My Way, 12/20/68. Accessed 6/11/19 at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E2hYDIFDIU&app=desktop
2K. Smith, Americans say their biggest financial regret is not saving for retirement sooner, Bankrate, 5/29/19. Accessed 6/11/19 at: https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/financial-security-may-2019/
3B. Bush, Commencement Address at Wellesley College, 6/1/90. “… And early on I made another choice, which I hope you'll make as well. … talking about life -- and life really must have joy. It's supposed to be fun. … Find the joy in life, because as Ferris Bueller said on his day off, "Life moves pretty fast; and you don't stop and look around once in a while, you're going to miss it." … At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent. … I want to offer a new legend: the winner of the … race will be the first to realize her dream -- not society's dreams -- her own personal dream. … And may your future be worthy of your dreams.” Accessed 6/11/19 at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6VhmyA4Kd80 and https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barbarabushwellesleycommencement.htm J. Towarnicky, 4My Financial Wellness Solution: The 401(k) as a Lifetime Financial Instrument, Society of Actuaries, 2017. Accessed 6/11/19 at: https://www.soa.org/globalassets/assets/files/resources/essays-monographs/financial-wellness/2017-financial-wellness-essay-towarnicky.pdf

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