Practice Management

Save Two Dollars – And Call Me in the Morning

By Tom Foster

Stress and anxiety … headaches and nausea … insomnia … relationship issues … problems at work. Many Middle Americans are beset by a variety of health and personal problems, all of which they say are triggered by a single issue. It’s a problem that financial advisors who support retirement plans have an opportunity to cure – or at least help.

What is this terrible condition that is causing so much angst and agita? Is it a dreaded disease or mental health condition? On the surface, it seems more of a problem for a medical doctor, psychologist or counselor than a financial expert.

The culprit seems to be Middle America’s lack of financial security as identified by the MassMutual Middle America Financial Security Study.1 Overall, 37 percent of the study’s respondents report feeling “not very” or “not at all” financially secure, while the majority (54 percent) describe themselves as “somewhat secure.” The research was conducted on behalf of MassMutual by Greenwald & Associates and polled 1,000 working Americans ages 25-65 who earned annual incomes of between $35,000 and $150,000.

While nearly half (48 percent) report an improved sense of financial security during the past year, just as many (48 percent) say they worry about their household’s financial situation at least once a week or more. One in four who earn less than $45,000 annually worry about money every day.

Concerns about finances have tangible, negative repercussions for many people’s health and personal relationships.  Money worries cause stress (57 percent), impair people’s social life (40 percent), and hurt marriages or romantic relationships (27 percent), according to the study.  Meanwhile, those who worry about money at least once a week or more say their troubles cause health issues such as anxiety (51 percent), headaches (38 percent), insomnia or difficulty sleeping (35 percent), nausea or stomach issues (20 percent), and clenched jaw or grinding teeth (19 percent).

Some income levels reported more problems than others and women reported experiencing more headaches (45 percent vs. 32 percent) and insomnia (44 percent vs. 27 percent) than men.

Four in 10 Middle Americans (41 percent) said they worry about money at least once a week while at work, the study found. Half (49 percent) of Americans who are less affluent – those earning less than $44,000 – reported bringing their financial concerns to work at least once a week and 20 percent said daily.

That’s potentially a big problem for employers.  The study shows that the health issues caused by personal financial problems may contribute to rising costs for health care, disability leave and lost productivity.

So what’s a financial advisor to do? Short of donning a white coat and stethoscope, that is.

Those surveyed indicated concerns about a wide range of financial issues, including lack of preparation for retirement, struggling to make ends meet, and potential changes in the healthcare system. Many expressed a need for more education about retirement savings and personal financial management.  Eight in 10 respondents (84 percent) earning less than $44,000 annually “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with the statement that they are behind on preparing for retirement compared with 55 percent of those earning more than $75,000 annually. Nearly half were unsure about whom to go to for financial advice or guidance.

Advisors that support retirement plans may have an opportunity to step up educational sessions about retirement savings, investments and even basic money management. Many employers reported they want their advisor to provide more education, according to MassMutual’s 2016 Winning Combination Study2.  It’s clearly a huge need for most employees as well.

When it comes to retirement savings, do your utmost to help retirement savers understand they have time on their side. Many workers may need to start small and build towards goals. Suggesting ways to find savings such as reducing costs for smartphones, cable TV, dining out and other nonessential expenses may be another way to help. Many people spend money without really thinking about the impact: one in four survey respondents admitted to having a spending problem.

The most important lesson: start sooner rather than later to put the power of compounding to work. Watching their savings grow, even in smaller increments, may improve Middle Americans’ overall sense of financial security, help them understand the benefits of compounding and regular savings, and potentially build on their new savings habits.

Consider enlisting the help of your retirement plan provider, who likely has tools, educational materials and even educational specialists who can lend a hand. Some specialists will even meet one-on-one with employees as well. Coordinate with them to make sure you’re on the same page.

But retirement savings is only a start. Employers often look for additional help for their employees to meet a wider range of financial security needs. Advisors should consider incorporating other benefits into their retirement plan practices such as life or disability insurance, critical care or accident coverage. These benefits can be available on a voluntary or employee-paid basis to provide financial support when employees need it most. Because the coverage is available at group rates, it can be affordable and payroll deductible.

Helping people find ways to build their retirement savings and enhance their financial security may seem like a small step. But Middle Americans who feel less-than-financially secure report suffering from many problems as a result, not the least of which is ill health, according to MassMutual’s Middle America study. Providing them with the tools necessary to build greater financial security may help reduce their stress, make them feel better and improve their health, both physical and financial.

In a way, retirement advisors are being asked to become their clients’ financial doctor. You can start by writing a simple prescription for financial wellness:  Save two dollars and call me in the morning.

 

E. Thomas Foster Jr. is head of strategic relationships for retirement plans for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

12017 MassMutual Middle America Financial Security Study, https://www.massmutual.com/~/media/files/MM-Financial-Security-Study-GEN-POP-617

22016 MassMutual Winning Combination Study, https://www.massmutual.com/~/media/files/rs7153_brochure.pdf

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