Remember those Freedom 55 ads that always seemed to be on TV in the ‘80s and ‘90s? I recently went down a YouTube rabbit hole and re-watched some of them and, well, let’s just say they’re as ridiculous as I remember.
In one 30-second spot from the early ‘90s, a downcast businesswoman reads the paper as an equally despondent-looking businessman drives a car on a dark-and-stormy day. An omniscient narrator suddenly implores the sad-sack woman to imagine herself in the future and just like that she’s transported to her future self 25 years down the road. This future woman is now solo and in the driver’s seat of a cherry red convertible as the sun shines almost as brightly as her smile. She’s wintering in some place with palm trees and has taken up surfing.
Watching this ad had me laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes. I was admittedly also a little misty because it reminded me that retiring at 55 is definitely not in the cards for me — nor is it for many employees these days.
The median retirement age in Canada in 2020 was 64.6, according to Statistics Canada, but a Mercer Canada report last year predicted many millennials won’t realistically be able to comfortably retire until they’re 70.
In other words, Freedom 55 was already looking more like Freedom 70 for many, and that was before the coronavirus pandemic blew up everyone’s personal, professional and financial plans for the foreseeable future.
The only thing that feels certain right now is uncertainty. Case in point: a survey by CIBC in the fall of 2020 found that 40 per cent of respondents were worried about the impact of the pandemic on their savings and retirement. There’s seemingly good reason to worry, as 23 per cent of those surveyed also said there were unable to contribute to retirement savings since the coronavirus crisis began in early 2020.
Of course, the pandemic has hit working Canadians’ wallets fairly unevenly — while some have struggled, others have flourished. The 24-year-old software startup employee in our Cover Story, for example, has been able to save more money over the past year as his expenses have shrunk. In the story, our associate editor Blake Wolfe dives deep into the journeys of six employees at different points on the road to retirement, including: two baby boomers (born between 1946-64), a gen-Xer (born between 1965-1980), two millennials (born between 1981-1996) and a gen-Zer (born between 1997-2012).
The deeply personal stories, perspectives and outlooks on long-term financial planning of the six people profiled in our Cover Story are as unique as their fingerprints. Employers aiming to support employees with retirement planning would do well to keep in mind that there’s clearly no one-size-fits-all strategy here.
Helping employees at all ages and stages, from entry level to almost retired, reach long-term financial goals is bound to take time, effort and money on the part of employers. Many organizations are understandably worried about bottom lines in these uncertain times, but surveys have found providing pension benefits for employees is worth it in the long term. Indeed, in 2018, Accenture found 78 per cent of U.S. and Canadian employees and retirees with pension plans it surveyed said the availability of pension benefits was a critical factor in deciding whether or not to accept a job. The survey also found pensions were a strong retention tool, as 73 per cent of respondents said they stayed with an employer due to pension benefits.
And while the stereotype is that only employees close to retirement (read: baby boomers) really care about the nitty-gritty of retirement, the same Accenture survey found 88 per cent of millennials said they had an interest in retirement planning, while 86 per cent were intrigued by retirement coaching. As a millennial, I can attest to increased interest in retirement planning over the past few years as I get older and (hopefully!) a bit wiser.
These days, I certainly feel much older than I did last March (the feeling wiser part depends on the day) and I’m not the only one. Morneau Shepell Ltd.’s latest mental-health index shows Canadian employees’ psychological health remains low amid with the likelihood of more lockdowns and the spectre of a third wave looming over 2021.
While I’ve never wanted a convertible (too impractical) or to learn to surf (too dangerous) like the woman in that classic Freedom 55 ad, as we stare down the second year of the pandemic I do find myself fantasizing more and more about retiring somewhere with palm trees. The dream of a better tomorrow keeps me motivated to work hard today for my employer.
While the production values of those Freedom 55 commercials haven’t aged very well, the underlying promise the advertisers were selling viewers on is just as relevant now. The promise that today might be gloomy, but someday the sun will come out is as alluring as ever.
During these dark times, employers can play a critical role in helping employees financially plan for the brighter days to come. I’d bet a good chunk of my retirement savings that employers actively helping employees turn their retirement dreams into reality will continue to win the race to attract, and keep, top talent by a country mile.
Melissa Dunne is interim editor of Benefits Canada.