WHAT WE LEARNED ON TOUR WITH THE STONES

If you want to get 1.5 million Americans to acknowledge that they might live longer than expected, just meet them at a Rolling Stones concert. The iconic rock band exemplifies living life to the fullest and pursuing your passions regardless of what critics — or your birth certificate — might say. So, the Alliance for Lifetime Income became the sole sponsor and hit the road with the No Filter tour this summer, visiting 14 cities in a little over two months.

At the concerts, we parked a giant truck out front with games and free merchandise. The phrase “Retire Like a Rockstar” was emblazoned across the truck’s side to highlight the need to plan against running out of money in retirement. A “Long Live Annuities” banner hung prominently to emphasize an important income tool that, quite frankly, should be more popular with both consumers and financial professionals in light of declining employer pension offerings.

The not-for-profit Alliance launched a little over a year ago to start a national conversation about the retirement income crisis and provide education about protected lifetime income through an annuity as one potential solution. With 49 percent of Americans citing running out of money in retirement as being a greater concern than declining health, the timing seems appropriate. U.S. Census Bureau data also supports the idea that now is the time for retirement education. The U.S. is just five years away from having the most 65-year-olds in its history, meaning over 4.5 million Americans will reach the traditional retirement age. But, for many like me, 65 will not mean receiving a gold watch and heading to the golf course seven days a week. And I’m not alone.

In addition to more people living longer, people are also afraid they won’t have enough to retire. A May 2019 Alliance survey of 3,119 U.S. adults, showed that eight in ten non-retired Americans (80 percent) express anxiety that their savings may not be enough to live on in retirement, knowing that retirement could last 20, 30 or more years. Moreover, only 28 percent of non-retired Americans have made an effort to determine their likely monthly income needs in retirement — arguably one of the single most important questions a financial advisor can highlight and address.

Over the course of the summer at the concert venues, I observed (in-person with thousands of people) some of the anxieties brought to light by this research. Despite our initial hesitation about trying to elevate our cause with excited fans, people we talked to largely thanked us, both for making them aware of the problem and offering them information on ways to protect their retirement. With one in five non-retired Americans “unable to indicate any next step in planning for retirement,” I suppose we should not be surprised. But I don’t want to tell a negative story.

Financial advisors have good reason to be optimistic about our collective ability to address — and reverse — the looming retirement income crisis. Concertgoers at each stop of the tour were highly engaged in understanding more about their investment options and risks when planning for retirement, especially when we pointed them to our RISE Score™ tool — a free resource people can use to estimate their income security and the extent to which they are on track with their current retirement income plans. In a way, our educational efforts doubled as a series of focus groups in which real people spoke to the prime issues identified by the Alliance survey.

Many expressed concern for being able to withstand the rising cost of healthcare in retirement, as well as unforeseen expenses. “Having a secured monthly income would be a great relief because I don’t want my two girls to have to be responsible for me,” said a Boston concertgoer.

Others articulated a general familiarity with annuities, including the monthly payments they produce throughout one’s retirement, often by virtue of knowing someone with a pension. “My father had an annuity and it grew for fifty years,” said one Stones fan in Chicago. “His initial investment was like twenty-thousand. And it turned into a retirement fund for my children.”

Perhaps most commonly, people expressed the desire to have a guaranteed monthly retirement paycheck that they could always count on for however long they live — a benefit only an annuity can provide. One individual, I spoke to on their way into the show told me, “It sounds amazing to have that guarantee… It’s kind of like you’re still getting a paycheck.”

Others spoke about wanting to reduce the vulnerability posed by volatile markets. “It’s something a little different than the 401(k) plan that goes up and down depending on the stock market… To know that I am not losing money, I think, is almost more important than making money,” said a Chicago concertgoer.

What we see in the data is that retirement planning, including taking the steps required to ensure income security, is a virtuous circle. It begins with optimism for retirement, which leads to talking with others about retirement, thinking seriously about retirement and, ultimately, adhering to a strong financial plan.

The Alliance’s tour with the Stones this summer was one of the ways we are working to engage Americans nationwide in those basic acts of discussion. Ultimately, that conversation is as much about listening as it is about educating. What I heard on the road was a hunger for retirement income security and simple information and tools to achieve it. But even more so, a need for people to share their own financial planning stories and their interest in finding someone to help guide them in writing the next chapter.

An increasingly familiar song says, “You can’t always get what you want…” but in the case of the No Filter tour, I think the Alliance most certainly did.

Jean Statler is the executive director of the Alliance for Lifetime Income.

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