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Personal Finance

Why Kenya millennials may just never retire

The word retirement is a distant and unmelodious sound to most millennials. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The word retirement is a distant and unmelodious sound to most millennials. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Millennials, generally defined as those born between 1980 and 1999, are thought to be an experiential generation, who despite the high cost of living, would frivolously spend their hard earned money with little or no considerations to save for retirement, which we say, is a couple of decades away. We crave for instant gratification, the cost notwithstanding.

We put on a flamboyant façade, eclipsing the grim reality of our financial struggles. We want to be “forever young” and dread the inexorable old age that keeps beckoning, especially one that would disrupt our profligate lifestyle.

Although every millennial’s dream is to live comfortably and financially secure when they retire, going by the current statistics, this might be a mirage for majority.

The Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) and industry players have made plausible efforts in drumming up awareness on pension products and services; leading to a rise in coverage from 15-20 per cent of employed citizens over the last five years, according to date from RBA.

However, relative to growing numbers of the workforce population, this may not be a good enough coverage.

Even as the total pension assets inch towards the trillion mark, the 20 per cent pension coverage significantly lags other African countries like Egypt and South Africa with a coverage estimated at above 80 per cent.

More than 12 million working Kenyans are not enrolled in any formal pension plan, and worse still, about 10 million who are not employed may not be saving for their retirement. This point to a potential social risk that should be addressed.

Looking at millennials, on one hand, we have the lot living from hand to mouth the unemployed. For them, there are far more important competing needs than saving for retirement.

With current unemployment rates at a high of 39.1 per cent, there is almost no disposable income to set aside for retirement saving. I believe this can be addressed through existing government policies on job creation.

My focus today, however, is on the working millennials, a vast majority of whom are not enrolled in any pension scheme.

The Achilles Heel and its Remedy Consumerism

Most are driven by a consumerism culture with little propensity to save. There is always an intricate balance between saving for retirement which is 40 years away or so, and paying oneself now.

Most working millennials would find themselves sliding into the pool party of instant gratification, as recently well coined by a betting jackpot winner, tumia pesa ikuzoee (make acquaintance with money by spending it).

Espousing a saving culture, both short and long term, is crucial for securing financial freedom. Saving for the next Dubai holiday or to buy a house is as important as saving for one’s retirement. We must try and kill the insatiable hunger to measure up to “peers”, making our social media pages appealing while stealing from our own future.

Assuming one works from age of 25, they are likely to have pay cheques for 35 years. Should they live for another 30 years post retirement, assuming one retires at age 60, with no more pay cheques; they would have to totally rely on retirement savings alongside other income generating investments, if any. It therefore means that starting to save now, even if it is a pittance is critical.

The power of compounding and a long investment horizon will help us accumulate enough to take care of us when we retire. Otherwise we might just never retire.

Legislation

Besides millennials’ averseness to saving, whenever they do, they break into the vault every time they change jobs, to purchase the next top of the range phone or car or a fix a temporal financial challenge. Surveys have shown that most millennials expect to work for at least five employers in their lifetime.

There might be some merit in introducing regulation barring access of at least 50 per cent of entire retirement savings until retirement age.

An Income Replacement Ratio (IRR) of 60 per cent is considered the absolute minimum for one to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle.

Although millennials may have a longer horizon to retirement, the constant withdrawals and relatively low contribution rates would still result to a significantly low IRR.

Furthermore, a paternalistic approach, by making retirement savings mandatory for all employed citizens, would help the millions of employed non retirement saving millennials build a sizeable nest egg for their retirement.

Communication

We are digital natives. We prefer succinct and fast communication. We abhor processes and red tape. We therefore would prefer to be able to see at a glance our retirement savings by swiping on our iPhones and not have to ask for statements.

It should also be easy to predict how much it will be in 30 years on a mobile app. Brief pop ups like, “did you know that saving 5,000 monthly for 30 years assuming an annual return of 10 per cent would earn you 11.3 million at retirement?” would intrigue one to save more.

An icing on the cake, would be adding a personal finance management tool, helping us to plan and analyse our income, expenses, savings and investments, all in one app.

Furthermore, since fundamental saving needs are generally common, there is need to develop financial products that are holistic rather than focussing on one saving need (retirement). The word retirement is a distant and unmelodious sound to most millennials.

Erick Omondi is Pensions consultant, Zamara Actuaries.

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