Motion blurred shopping cart in market store

Panic Buying Pensions

16th March 2020

What on earth can an empty supermarket shelf have to do with pensions?

We are currently seeing scenes, and hearing stories, of people panic buying items such as toilet rolls. We can see the empty supermarket shelves for ourselves when we do the weekly shop.

Over the past few weeks, fear of missing out (FOMO) has become fear of running out (FORO).

Coronavirus has driven us to take action.

OK, so probably like most people, I don’t relish the thought of running out of an essential household item, but what about the fear of running out of money in retirement? If we could get that message to hit home, would we see people start to panic buy pensions?

We know that we are headed for a situation where people are sleep walking into retirement, in some cases, experiencing a massive wake-up call when they realise they can’t afford to retire. That gives businesses a large headache of having an ageing workforce who can’t afford to retire that they have little choice but to continue to employ.

Auto enrolment has done a job, but has it done a dangerous job of making a large amount of people think that their future financial security in retirement is sorted? Sadly, for many people contributing at the minimum level, that is unlikely to be the case.

The reality is that people are simply not saving enough, early enough. We know it and we need to do something about it. We have to make people realise this fact and take it seriously, while there is still a chance that they can do something about it. We have to get people to take action.

So, stop worrying about running out of toilet rolls – this is a temporary crisis. The manufacturers of toilet rolls can simply up production and supply us with more toilet rolls. We may have to wait a few weeks for them to make and then distribute them for us to see the item back on our supermarket shelves, but what is going to happen if you run out of money? You can’t increase production to get more.

That will likely be a permanent state where you have very few choices of what you can do. For many people they will simply not be able to do anything about it. Pensioner poverty is a very real prospect for a lot of people and they simply don’t realise it.

So, what can we do? Can we use the current situation to get more people engaged with thinking about how they are going to fund their future?

Communication is key, and getting it right is vital.

We need a strategy for communication like we have a strategy for everything else in pensions.

When we think strategically, we understand our audience and their needs, set objectives, think about our success criteria and how we are going to measure the results.

When considering how to engage people with pensions there is always the dilemma of whether to shock people into taking action or encourage them to do so? The latter often using imagery of the incredibly healthy-looking retired couple walking along a beach. The current situation with coronavirus is firmly in the ‘shock’ category.

But shock or encourage? That’s the question. Actually, I believe that it needs to be a bit of both.

We do need to encourage people to take some action now that they will benefit from now, and in the future. Now, with the benefit of tax relief (correct at the time of writing) and the additional benefits of things like life assurance. In the future, by having money that will enable them to have choices of when to retire and the type of lifestyle they want to enjoy once they stop, or reduce, working for a living.

We also need to make it easy for people to see the benefits and take action. Giving people access to communication tools that can help them plan for the future they want is key. We can help them understand that they do need to look after their own financial future and help them do it.

We need to take action, because I doubt our politicians are sitting in oak-panelled rooms discussing emergency measures for the onslaught of pensioner poverty and how to prevent it.

Could it be time for a campaign around the next and most likely pandemic, charging over the hill towards us, Pensionavirus? I think so.

Now, where did I hide that toilet roll?

Karen Bolan

Head of Engagement Strategy – AHC, a Gallagher Company

First appeared on on Pension Funds Online on 16/03/2020.

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