Mark Bouris is executive chairman of Yellow Brick Road, a financial services company offering home loans, financial planning, accounting and tax, and insurance.

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Mark Bouris

17 February 2013

Australians are not saving enough for retirement

Australians are not saving enough for retirement

Australians are not saving enough for a self-funded retirement. Or should I say, they are not putting away enough now to live at the standard they want to live at in retirement.

Superannuation has been in the news lately because the government is tinkering with super. But poor savings rates for retirement can’t be all the fault of government.
Superannuation – when introduced in 1992 – broke the rules that said governments and employers carried the burden for funding our retirements. It shifted private retirement savings from a “defined benefit” system (where the employee is promised a certain amount at retirement by the employer) to a defined contribution system, where every employee has to have 9% of earnings put in a superannuation fund.

This shifted responsibility and risk to the individual, many of whom lacked the skills to do it. But there also came with this system empowerment and individual choice for Australians, younger generations in particular, who would have an entire working life to build their savings.

So the fact that few young Australians are optimising this tax-friendly retirement system with top-ups to their employer contributions is an interesting story.

Why are young Australians not engaged with their super? And when I say young, I mean people from their 20s to 30s – people who are out of school and working.

I don’t think this is about whether the super guarantee is 9% or 12 or 15. If people aren’t embracing it at 9% they won’t be any more interested when it’s higher.

I decided to use Twitter to see what people were thinking about retirement, and two clear strands of thinking came back. Firstly, we have a system where all the burden falls on people to make the right decisions, but no one seems to be teaching basic investment strategy in high schools.

While teachers will understandably groan at adding one more thing to an already crowded curriculum, there really has to be an investment primer for teenagers before they join the work force.

The second point concerns modern life: when you get into the phase that brings kids, mortgages and/or career ambition, the last thing you are thinking about is topping up your super and devising a retirement strategy.

A number of respondents simply said that with a mortgage and kids, are you kidding about super?

Which is the nut we have to crack: we need people to top up their super when they’re at their highest earning years in order to provide the income they need to live well in retirement. But for most people these years overlap with mortgages and kids while the cost of living is rising.

There are no easy answers but I will go back to basics and remind everyone that super is their money and it’s their retirement. It’s never too late to become informed and active about super. You may thank yourself for it one day.

I would love to know your thoughts. Talk to me on Twitter.

Mark Bouris is executive chairman of Yellow Brick Road, a financial services company offering home loans, financial planning, accounting and tax, and insurance.

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