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Affluence No Guard Against Retirement Worries, Poll Finds

Affluence and peace of mind no longer automatically go hand in hand, a new survey sponsored by Wells Fargo & Co. indicates, and the implications are sobering. In a survey of 800 Americans with investable assets of $100,000 and up, 23 percent said they are not confident they will have saved enough for retirement, compared to 75 percent who said they were confident. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive with people age 25 to 75 in August and September, also suggests that even affluent investors appear to misunderstand their options for ensuring their security in retirement. For example, 12 percent of those surveyed said they expected to work until 80, either at their current job or something similar, in order to cover expenses that their retirement savings couldn’t fund, says Karen Wimbish, executive vice president at Wells Fargo’s Retail Retirement unit.

“How many companies are thinking of having a lot of 75-year-old employees?” Wimbish says. “We thought in the affluent space we would see more realistic plans and behaviors.” The survey reported that 54 percent had detailed written retirement plans, but here the devil was in the details—28 percent said the plans excluded how much savings would be withdrawn, while 30 percent excluded life expectancy and how long the savings needed to last. The median withdrawal rate from a retirement portfolio in the survey was 8 percent annually, fairly rich by most standards.

Yet investors sense that they need to do more. The survey said more than a third believe they need to cut back “significantly” on spending to save for retirement; among investors with assets of $100,000 to $250,000, the share rises to 48 percent. Four in 10 said their biggest fear over retirement was they would do “all the right things today and it still won’t be enough for tomorrow.” And 21 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 60 and 75 said they didn’t know when they would be able to retire.

So-called “red zone” investors—those with five to 10 years to go before retirement—feel more pressure to catch up following the hits that their nest eggs took after the 2008 crash. “It’s not the time to make up for lost ground with some risky strategies,” Wimbish warns, and financial plans need to take market volatility into account. Part of the problem that investors have trouble grappling with is the necessity to manage retirement plans more closely than in the past, when defined benefit plans made up a bigger share of the retirement income landscape, she says. “I don’t think people have come to grips with what that means for them,” she says.

The financial advisory industry may be struggling with it as well. A report by Aite Group last month surveyed top executives in the marketplace; some said that advisors need new models to encourage better practices around clients’ draw down of assets during retirement. It’s a theme that resonates with Wimbish. Advisors at Wells Fargo this year started limited testing of a new tool called Income Illustrator; it uses Monte Carlo simulations and other methods to show how their retirement income would be affected by changes in interest rates, spending habits, and other factors. Wells Fargo plans to roll out the tool to all its advisors next year.

“This industry has been all about accumulation of assets. Now the tide is shifting,” she says.

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