Cuddly start gives way to Saukville Chamber talk about financial stress
In many ways, the setting and topic couldn’t have been more out of sync.
Members of the Saukville Chamber of Commerce were greeted last Tuesday by a cute, cuddly puppy as they entered the meeting room at the Wisconsin Humane Society shelter on Highway 33.
Then the luncheon talk turned far less comforting, as anxiety over retirement planning was the focus of a luncheon presentation by Matthew Van Egeren, regional vice president of John Hancock Retirement Plan Services.
Van Egeren said research done by his parent company shows worrying about retirement is the greatest source of “financial stress” for most Americans.
According to John Hancock researchers, 73% of working Americans reported feeling extreme stress over financial concerns relating to retirement last year, with 59% saying that stress caused physical or psychological symptoms.
Van Egeren said while company-sponsored 401(k) retirement programs are designed to ease those concerns, many employees do not take advantage of the tax-deferred option.
The answer, Van Egeren told the business owners in the audience, may be implementing auto-enrollment in a company’s defined contribution plan. He pointed overseas to demonstrate how a parallel dynamic could work.
“In the U.S., about 15% of drivers are registered organ donors. In Germany, about 85% are organ donors,” Van Egeren said.
“Why the difference? In Germany, you need to sign a form if you don’t want to be a donor. Here, you need to sign to become a donor.”
By having a similar automatic withdrawal program for 401(k) programs, he said the business owners are telling their employees, “I want you to get started saving as soon as you can and I want you to be able to retire successfully.”
Van Egeren said employers are likely to hear protests about setting up automatic 401(k) programs, even if the minimum amount to be set aside is small.
“Living from paycheck to paycheck doesn’t mean they shouldn’t start saving for the future,” he said.
“The result is reducing their financial stress and getting on the road to a more comfortable lifestyle.”
Again citing John Hancock research, Van Egeren said 95% of workers surveyed said saving for retirement is their highest financial priority.
The next-highest financial priority cited is creating an emergency fund, noted by 92%, and paying down debt, by 88%.
Curiously, the insurance company said 62% of those surveyed said their emergency fund is $1,000 or less.
The lunch talk was hosted by Travis Murphy, a financial adviser with the local branch of Edward Jones Investment.
He, too, said investing and anxiety often seem to go hand in hand.
“We fielded a lot of calls from clients who were unsure about what to do with their money during the uncertainty prior to the election,” Murphy said.
“My advice has always been to take a long-term view for their investment decisions. Don’t overreact to individual events. That is not always the answer clients want to hear, but it holds up pretty well.”
Murphy said 2016 was a prime example of how it doesn’t pay to get caught up in the moment.
Last year started with the country still rebounding from a substantial recession. Then came the Brexit vote, with the United Kingdom opting to leave the European Union.
Despite dire predictions that the markets were going to collapse, Murphy said, the world economy “recovered quite quickly” from that surprising election result.
The same held true with the presidential election in the U.S., when some forecasters predicted a win by Donald Trump would send investors running for cover.
“Obviously, that hasn’t been the case,” Murphy said.
Those concerned calls seemed to tail off as the markets began to rally strongly at the start of the year.
“We don’t get a lot of questions when the markets are doing well,” Murphy said.
As for the four-legged greeter, Beth Maresh of the Humane Society said the facility has become an increasingly popular venue for community events.
“We get requests from groups to hold meetings here from time to time, and the Chamber has held several events here,” Maresh said.
Image Information: BETH MARESH OF the Wisconsin Humane Society and a four-legged canine friend were the center of attention as members of the Saukville Chamber of Commerce showed up for a luncheon program on retirement planning at the Saukville animal shelter. Chamber members included (from left) Mark Brock, Yvonne Clemins, Elizabeth Kohl, Chris King and Travis Murphy. Photos by Sam Arendt