PANC 2015: ‘Stressed Out and Stretched Thin’

John Hancock Retirement Plan Services presents the findings of its Financial Stress Study.

John Hancock Retirement Plan Services started its annual Financial Stress Study a year ago because the company “wanted to know what prevents people from saving for retirement,” said Patrick Murphy, president of John Hancock Retirement Plan Services, speaking at the PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

“Finance is the No. 1 cause of stress, and while there are competing priorities, retirement planning remains a top concern,” Murphy said.

John Hancock learned through the study, conducted by Greenwald and Associates, that 45% of working-age households don’t own a retirement account. Workers between the ages of 25 and 64 have an average balance of $2,500. For those near retirement, ages 55 to 64, the average balance is $15,000, Murphy said, and total savings is $104,000. This is according to the National Institute on Retirement

The survey also indicated that 75% of people have experienced moderate to high stress in the last six months. Sixty-six percent of people say their finances cause stress, and of this group,  61% say the stress manifests itself psychologically or physically. Forty percent feel anxious, 39% feel overwhelmed, 24% have insomnia, 22% have headaches and 16% have an upset stomach.

“Overall, financial stress in the workplace costs employers $300 billion a year in lost productivity and absenteeism,” Murphy said, citing data from the Word Health Organization.

NEXT: What employers can do.

The good news, Murphy said, is that employers are beginning to recognize this problem and are taking action. Seventy-six percent of employers said they are somewhat or very likely to create a financial wellness program in the next six months. “Companies are starting to think more about the emotional wellness of their employees,” Murphy said. “Stress management is a critical component of a company’s wellness strategy, and can be addressed through workshops, webinars and targeted communication tools.”

Asked about their long-term concerns, the first thing workers cited was saving for retirement (69%), followed by paying down debt (65%) and managing Social Security and Medicare (42%). More than one-third (36%) of women fear that they could one day be poor, compared with 20% of men. Forty-five percent worry about saving for a child’s education, 59% of households earning less than $50,000 worry that Social Security won’t be there for them, yet 79% say having a retirement plan helps ease worries.

“What can you do?” Murphy asked the audience of advisers. “Implement intelligent plan design with auto features,” he said, adding, “six is the new three,” referring to 6% replacing 3% as the automatic default savings rate. “Ten percent of workers opt out of 3%, but 11% opt out of 6%,” he noted. “If the participant is under 30, if you automatically enroll them, their retirement readiness doubles.”

Financial education is also key, Murphy said. “Thirty-six percent of respondents said getting financial education would help their situation,” he said. “Forty-two percent have started saving for retirement, 43% say they are ahead or on track, but only 20% have determined what they need. It’s clear: people need relevant and targeted communications and education. Help them with budgeting. Remove psychological roadblocks for saving.”

NEXT: How to reduce financial concerns.

John Hancock Retirement Plan Services has created a financial wellness program called My Best Next Step Program that allows workers to become more engaged in their retirement plan, Murphy said. At plans where this is offered, 70% of participants use the program, he said. It takes the process of financial wellness and breaks it down into small steps, and participants agree that it helps, he said.

Forty-six percent of participants say one key way to reduce financial concerns is to set aside money for basic retirement expenses. Another 46% say paying off their mortgage can help, and 44% say paying down debt is the answer. However, in reality, Murphy said, only 23% of workers have established a budget, 22% have an emergency fund, and 20% do not know what they will need in retirement.

“People are not taking the action they need,” he said. “We can help by providing financial management and budgeting solutions to guide people through their financial obligations, through webinars, communication campaigns and online tools. The fact of the matter is, retirement planning is a top concern; 43% of people believe they will retire later than planned. Seventy percent think they should save more than 10%, but only 37% are doing so. There is a disconnect. You have to address competing needs, including financial stress. If you don’t, you will become irrelevant.”